Friday, June 12, 2009

Hail to the Chifa

My husband and I are in the process of trying to learn Mandarin, in preparation for a big trip to China(I'm so excited!). So far it's proven to be a slow and somewhat painful process. Think... trying to teach monkeys long division. That's what it feels like to me. I mean. Learning French wasn't so bad. When you're actually in France and want to eat something like a souffle all you have to do is order a....ta-da....souffle. I mean, even Clark W. Griswold in the National Lampoon classic(btw...I find it funny that National Lampoon movies fall into the "classics" category in my mind...the hubby thinks I have the worst taste in movies EVER) European Vacation got that down. Remember the part on the plane when he asked his wife for a French word to put into his new handy dandy pocket translator and she said, "souffle" and he said, "souffle means...souffle. It's got to mean something else...". But no, it doesn't. And thank god for that because it made our trip to France delightful and easy. I even had an hour long conversation in horribly broken French with a bartender and we kind of sort of understood each other. One of the high points of my traveling career I tells ya! But back to the language at hand. So far I can only properly pronounce and identify one word...Chi Fan...and I have to say...if I could visit China armed with a single word vocabulary this would be the word...because it means "eat meal"(I think...remember...this monkey is still learning).

So a few days ago when my husband took me to this wonderful new Peruvian restaurant in Philly called Chifa, for my birthday, I became happy and intrigued all at the same time. The restaurant specialized in a particular type of Peruvian food that is influenced by Chinese immigrants that settled in Peru. The name of the cuisine(and any restaurant that serves said cuisine), Chifa, may have come(some say) from the only Mandarin word I know, chi fan. I felt like I was playing six degrees of separation...the global edition. Long story not so short....I was proud to make that correlation and even more proud that after a few days I still recognized most likely the most important Mandarin word I'll learn...chi fan!!

So what, you ask, is Chifa cuisine like? I'm glad you asked. I'd love to tell you:

This restaurant served small plates. When I looked into traditional Chifa cuisine I didn't see anything about it typically being served as "small plates", but tapas in one form or another seems to be quite popular these days AND the chef/owner of Chifa also owns a place called Amada which is a traditional-ish Spanish Tapas restaurant in Old City Philly so I guess he figured he could use the same dishes and silverware at his new establishment ;) And please don't get me wrong. Good food is good food whether you're eating a few small bites of it or whether you're eating it out of a feeding trough. I just have a love-hate relationship with the small plates. I LOVE the ability to try many different dishes without feeling like I need to be taken out of the establishment in a wheelbarrow. I HATE the inevitable sticker shock that occurs when the bill is brought out. $10 plates add up to $100 very quickly. So when we sat down at Chifa and noticed it was small plates we went right ahead and signed up for the $55/person 9 course tasting menu. Better we know how much it's going to cost up front so we can enjoy the many little plates and avoid the buyer's remorse when the check comes. Although $55/person sounds like a pretty penny I have to say I'm glad we did it. The food came out in a perfect, steady flow. We had the ability to taste MANY different menu items. And it was delicious, interesting cuisine that left me with a full belly... very UNcommon when walking out of a tapas joint.

Our meal went as follows:

Bread: The most AMAZING, tiny, Manchego packed rolls I've ever sunk my teeth into. Not really bread. Not really fried cheese. More like nutty-string-cheese-bread. It came with a sweet and spicy spread...Siracha and guava is my best guess.

Dish 1.) Bluefin Tuna ceviche: Ceviche, so I read, is EVERYWHERE in Peru. Chifa offered quite an extensive list of ceviche so I was happy that we were able to taste two different types that night. The tuna was less like ceviche and more like sashimi but it was perfect. It sat on a bed of sweet coconut sauce and was accompanied by pickled fresno(a type of chili pepper) and kecap manis(a sweet, syrupy soy sauce).

Dish 2.) Ecuadorian ceviche: This, so I also read, is a very traditional and oh-so popular type of civiche in Peru. It was shrimp in a sort of gazpacho-like sauce. It was quite a hearty ceviche but the freshness of the tomatoes added a certain lightness to the dish. The hubby didn't like it quite as much as I did...but then again I eat salsa out of the jar with a this was right up my alley.

Dish 3.) House green salad: Nothing special here. Leafy greens with a chile vinaigrette. Good but I wouldn't have paid for it if it didn't come with the tasting menu.

Dish 4.) Conchitas(picture): I'm not sure if this is actually the name of the dish or where it comes from. I googled it and found it to be a seaside town in Peru. As I sit back and think about the dish itself I can definitely see sitting at an outdoor restaurant on the Peruvian coast, eating this dish. It was chopped scallops in a truffle-parmesan cream, topped with caviar. The truffle-parmesan cream was amazing and the caviar added the right amount of briny flavor. The taste was fantastic...I just wish they left the scallops whole. The best thing, to me, about scallops is that "like-butter" consistency they have when they're just warmed through. The fact that they diced the scallops made me a little sad, but after licking the cream and caviar out of the scallop shell I eventually forgot all about it ;)
Dish 5.) Pork Belly Buns(picture): This is one of those menu items that not only speaks to me, but downright calls out my name. Pork...Belly...Buns! Uhhhh. They were delicious!! Pork belly with a hoisin glaze on steamed buns. Served with a Fresh and crunchy pickled salad of daikon and carrot. If I ever go back I will probably just order 3 plates of these.

Dish 6.) BBQ Ribs: They too came with daikon and were topped with a sweet & sour glaze. They were great but not one of the most memorable items we sampled.

Dish 7.) Chaufa: This, so I am told, is probably one of the most traditional items on the menu. I wouldn't have ordered it if it wasn't on the tasting menu and I wouldn't order it if I went back, BUT, when I got home and read up on Chifa cuisine I found that this rice dish is one of those universal dishes in Peru, so I'm glad I got to taste it. Everyone eats it...young, old, rich, poor. This one consisted of stir fried rice, chorizo, mango, edamame and it was topped with a perfectly cooked(whole!) scallop. It was yummy and filling. Quite flavorful with it's tangy sauce and interesting mix of flavors and textures. I can see this dish being dressed up or down and being suited to every kind of taste. It was ok, but think of a make your own sundae bar...with fried rice.

Dish 8.) Aji Mushrooms(picture..crappy..I'm was SO yummy that I dug into it before I could snap a lovely picture). If you had a menu of 40 plus small plates to choose from would you ever think of ordering mushrooms? No. I didn't think so. And neither did I. But when this pot of wild mushrooms, tofu and potatoes came out, topped with a flaky pastry crust and then drizzled with the MOST delightful aji(hot pepper) cream sauce on the planet, I was a believer. By this time my belly was showing signs of fatigue but I pressed on and ate the majority of this dish myself. If you go here you must try it. It was creamy, earthy, spicy and crispy all in one bite.

Dish 9.) Rack of Lamb: Have you ever eaten a piece of perfectly cooked red meat? You know, the kind that is so tender, so juicy, so buttery that it gives you chills(not actual chills...if you get them after eating a piece of meat you might want to head to the doctor)? I'm not sure if it was because it's spring and we got a perfect piece of spring lamb. I'm not sure if the Peruvians know something about cooking red meat that we don't. But honestly, I don't care. This piece of lamb was perfect. The sauce that came with it was good. The quinoa(a grain) that came with it was bad. But neither of these things mattered. The lamb probably would have melted on my tongue if I had given it enough time to do so...but that wasn't happening ;)

In Philly? Going to Philly? I think you should try this place out. It was a wonderful birthday dinner(thanks Nick) and I think it would make for a great date night as well. Plan wisely before you go. If you're looking for a cheap night with a few drinks you might want to grab a hot dog off a street vendor on your way. If you're looking for the Peruvian experience you might want to skip lunch. Oh, and one more thing. We didn't even attempt the dessert menu but they DID bring us a little sweet treat with the check....a rice crispy treat stamped with a picture of a dragon. Me likey :)

Chifa on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment