A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and came upon a photo of the most beautiful spread of dumplings. Upon closer inspection I noted that the picture was taken at Jose Andres’ restaurant China Chilcano in Washington D.C. What luck! I would soon be traveling to D.C. with some family for a long weekend and would be in a position to sample these delightful dumplings myself! I promptly made a reservation and informed my family that we would be having lunch there.
China Chilcano is one of the many restaurants owned by celebrity chef Jose Andrés, who is credited with bringing the small plates craze to the United States. The concept of this restaurant is a Chinese, Japanese, and Peruvian fusion. Weird, right?!? And I know in my last post on Suishaya, I wrote VERY disapprovingly of restaurants that mixed cuisines. Well, here is where I literally eat my words!
We ordered mostly dumplings but included a few other dishes as well to mix it up.
The Ceviche Clásico was the only dish with mainly Peruvian influences. It was delicious and bright with citrus, served with plenty of thinly sliced red onions and slices of steamed sweet potato.
As we finished the ceviche, the parade of dumplings began.
The first dumpling to come out was the one that actually was the hands down crowd pleaser. The Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings or juicy buns) with pork and crab were petit and packed with big flavor. Everyone at the tale loved these, including my seven-year-old niece who insisted we order a second round. Despite their deliciousness and popularity, I do have a couple of criticisms on them. First of all, we were not provided with any spoons to eat them with and you really NEED spoons to eat soup dumplings. Secondly, the wrappers were tasty and delicate but perhaps a little too delicate since they kept falling apart and spilling their precious soup all over the bottom of the steamer basket before we could get them to our plates.
We ordered two kinds of Siu Mai: the Tradicional and the Pollo. The Tradicional was a tasty pork and shrimp version (similar to the standard dim sum fare) to give it a twist, it included jicama and was topped with peanuts – a touch that weirded out some of the less adventurous eaters among us. I thought they were perfect and pork and peanut is one of my favorite flavor combos. The Pollo was good as well (and I think in general enjoyed by the table at large), it was a bit more basic despite the inclusion of the exotic “Cloud Ear Mushroom.”
In my opinion, the best dish we had today was the Pegao Norteñoa – this was an amazing dish of petit, succulent lamb potstickers with “cumin lace” which was a golden cumin flavored cracker that was decorated with gold leaf. The cracker when broken off and eaten with the the dumpling added an extra pop of crunchy cumin flavor to the chewy, already cumin flavored dumpling. It was so unusual despite having the traditional flavors of lamb and cumin together.
The hearts of palm salad we ordered was not anything special and I would admit I get much greater enjoyment eating hearts of palm directly out of the can over the sink at home.
The final dish called Concolón – was a combination of rice, pork belly, Chinese sausage, bok choy, egg, and mushrooms served in a large rice pot which was stirred tableside by our waiter. This was obviously a take on the traditional clay pot rice dishes and there was a perfect, crispy rice “crust” on the bottom and the sides and the proportion of rice to meat and vegetables was very generous.
Overall, I highly recommend this restaurant. The interior has a funky, casual modern feeling that I would say is more Peruvian than Asian and the bathrooms have chalkboard painted walls so you can write messages in chalk while you are powdering your nose which is fun. I would be tempted to delve further into the Peruvian part of the menu next time I visit since that is a cuisine I am very unfamiliar with, but the dumplings were so good that I fear that may be impossible!