Jose Andres’ empire is huge, he owns Jaleo (Washington, DC, Bethesda, Arlington & Las Vegas), minibar by José Andrés (Washington, DC, & Bethesda), barmini by José Andrés (Washington, DC), America Eats Tavern (Virginia), Zaytinya (Washington, DC), Oyamel (Washington, DC), é by José Andrés (Las Vegas), The Bazaar (Beverly Hills, & Miami Beach), China Poblano (Las Vegas), Mi Casa, (Dorado, Puerto Rico), Pepe (Washington, D.C.), Beefsteak (Washington, D.C.), Tres by José Andrés (Los Angeles) and Bazaar Meat by José Andrés (Las Vegas, Nevada). After a weak meal at Jaleo in Arlington and a recent meh meal at Jaleo in Penn Quarter I have been feeling that Andres is overextended and the dumplings at China Chilcano solidified my view. Overall I think China Chilcano is dangerously close to being an ‘apostrophe S’ chain restaurant food experience.The Dumplings: The dim sum corner of the menu includes shumai and dumplings that fuse Chinese and Peruvian ingredients. Of the eight available offerings I tried three plates, the Dorado Shumai, the Kam Lu Wantan and the Pegao Norteño. Judging from what i sampled nobody would accuse China Chilcano of over stuffing their dumplings – all the dumplings were pretty small and the prices are up there.
Kam Lu Wantan – these shrimp and pork filled fried wantons were over cooked and tasted like they were cooked in old burnt fry oil. The modest amount of shrimp and pork stuffed into these wontons couldn’t muster enough flavor to overcome the greasy old fry oil flavor. The dipping sauce sounded like it was going to be good, but it wasn’t (see below).Pegao Norteno – these lamb filled potstickers are prepared in my favorite style, embedded in a sheet of lacy, crispy fried batter. China Chilcano serve these dumplings flipped so the sheet of batter lace is on the top. I love the textural contrast of the crispy batter and the soft dumpling wrapper. The lamb filling was pretty good, it had a mild cumin flavor that nodded to, but didn’t embrace, the bold flavors of lamb and spices seen in Northern China. Despite being prepared in my favorite style, these dumplings were a fairly pedestrian experience. Dorado Shumai – These shumai were the best of the three plates of dumplings that I tried, they were actually quite good. The shrimp, pork, jicama, shiitake mushroom and peanut filling was really tasty and I could really see how each component was contributing to the dumpling. But the best part was that each shumai was topped with a quail egg that had become lightly poached during the steaming. Quail eggs on pork, YUM!. Each shumai also came with a little flake of gold leaf on top, I don’t know why.
The Dipping Sauces: it was in this department of the dumpling experience that China Chilcano really fell down. The Pegao Norteno came with artfully plated sun beams of yellow sauce painted onto the plate, but the sauce had no discernible flavor. The waiter said the sauce was made from sweet potato and a Peruvian red pepper but somehow all that potential pepper flavor was absent from the sauce. The Kam Lu Wantan were served with a pool of Hoisin-Tamarind sauce with a swirl of sriracha sauce on top. The Hoisin-Tamarind sauce was thick and gloppy, like they had put too much cornstarch or some other thickener into sauce. It had the consistency of the mystery brown sauce at an airport food court Chinese stall.
The Location: China Chilcano is the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington DC and shares a block with the original Jaleo. It is in the space that Wagamama spent three years threatening to open a location at. I didn’t like China Chilcano much, but it was way better than a Wagamama – a terrible British chain that does “Japanese inspired” noodle bowls.