Chicha: tasty, healthy and novel plates
Chicha, 136 East Broadway, between Quebec and Main, 604-620-3693. Open for dinner nightly; for lunch maybe in the fall.
Even after more than a few years in this business, I never fail to be impressed when people hit the ground running.
When I bumped into chef Shelome Bouvette, back in April, and she told me she was leaving Lolita’s to “do Peruvian” (with co-owners Allison Flook and Kumiko Umeno) I figured it would be good. Shelome doesn’t do anything by half measure. But I wasn’t prepared to be wowed in the way that we were.
There’s nothing fancy about Chicha’s room but it’s smart, compact, super friendly—and works just fine. And I suspect the rent is right: not a small consideration, especially given that prices are pretty reasonable ($10-$17). Less if you just want to snack on quinoa fritters or cassava root fries.
The beer list is equally compact, but respectable, including a small, local draught selection that includes the likes of East Side Bitter and 49th Parallel Hopperazzi. The wine list offers an efficient offering of Chilean and Argentine labels, including Emiliana Novus organic Chardonnay Marsanne ($8 gls. – excellent!). Next time, though based on our Pisco sour alone, we’ll be doing more thorough research on the cocktail list.
You can tell so much about a restaurant in the first 20 seconds, which is about how long it took for the friendly staff to seat us. Explaining the menu took a little longer … The crew here are happy to take their time explaining some of the less familiar ingredients and tastes. It all makes for a great, new—and unique—addition to our scene.
Aside from being a traditional corn drink (sometimes beer), “Chicha” in Peruvian (according to Wiki) also means “an informal, popular, cheap and transient arrangement, creating the “Cultura Chicha” (“Chicha Culture”)”
We can’t wait to go back for more “Cultura Chicha” …
Here’s our review from this weekend’s Courier…
Hired Belly: Chicha dishes out all shades of Peruvian fare
Lolita’s chef brings tastes of Peru to Mount Pleasant
by Tim Pawsey – contributing writer
Can a restaurant’s appeal be directly proportionate to the time spent on the menu in blissful indecision? Such is the case at newly unwrapped Chicha, where our party of four sits transfixed, wondering out loud if maybe we should just order one of everything.
No doubt part of the lure is the novelty of Peruvian cuisine, for the most part new to Vancouver—though not to Chicha co-owner Shelome Bouvette, who swears it’s much more than just the Next Big Thing.
When we ask: “How come such passion for all things Peruvian?” her already beaming face breaks into a broad grin as she recalls her voyage of discovery to Mistura. Lima’s annual festival attracts not only culinary luminati from around the world (such as Ferran Adrià and Hester Blumenthal) but an audience of close to half a million people over its ten days.
Bouvette’s plan to introduce Vancouverites to Peru’s unique fare is well manifest at this compact but not cramped, utterly laid back and friendly, TV-free spot on Broadway near Main, which this night is bathed in early evening sunlight.
Our well travelled group is awestruck as we explore causa: brightly coloured combinations that transport the humble potato (and us) to new heights.
Friendly dissent breaks out (always a good sign) as to which is the favourite. It’s a toss-up between Cangrejo (perfectly piquant crab salad and avocado with mango and aji amarillo, $12) and Atün—delectably fresh Albacore tuna perched on top of an unlikely vibrant green tower of whipped cilantro potato that plays exquisitely off passion fruit ponzu and wasabi cream, $11.
Also not to be discounted, the Verduras ($9), with lima beans and black mint over vividly purple beetroot puréed potato. Whichever way, we’re hooked on a symphony of riotous taste and colour, the ingredients fresh and flavours simply conceived yet at the same time ingeniously clever.
It’s that artful point of difference and the little ambushes that sets these plates apart, such as velvet smooth butternut squash stew of quite extraordinary tacu tacu de locro: cripsy lima beans and rice cakes, topped with a fried quail’s egg ($12), or classic ‘cebiche’ of chilled cod with corn on the cob, cilantro and sweet potato. ($12).
An artfully piled quinoa salad with red onion, mango and avocado arrives with a zesty though not fiery cilantro jalapeño and Haucatay dressing, $10. (The Haucatay herb, sometimes compared to a cross between mint and coriander, is indigenous to Peru). Again, it’s the combinations and contrasts that make this dish one of the best vegetarian plates of the year.
The chef has a great, sensitive touch with seafood. We just couldn’t get enough of the chili crusted Tuna tatami with avocado cream and pickled radish.
Yet one more standout: perfectly tender Yarrow Meadows duck confit, served on a coriander and dark beer rice that imparts a gently roasted flavour. At $17 it’s at the higher end of the list—and worth every penny!
Desserts are a “must try” too, particularly the sweet potato pumpkin doughnuts—with sneakily spiced honey that, again, adds another dimension. Go for a platter, you’ll need it, although you might also fall for the flourless molten chocolate cake… or the cheesecake.
There’s more, plenty more. But you owe it to yourself to make your own discovery. Settle down with a pisco sour (one of the best between here and Lima, so you might need more than one). It works wonders for indecision …