Chifa, 707 Chestnut St. , specializes in a hybrid of Peruvian and Cantonese fare found in Peru. There’s a backstory on how the two cultures met on a culinary level, but the results are far more compelling than any history lesson could convey. The message is simple: Cultural mashups kick booty.
When you take into account the scope of the menu, the breathtaking décor and the attentive service at Chifa, the prices are exceptionally reasonable. The hybrid concept is apparent from the start — at the bar. The Chicha sangria ($8 per glass, $32 per pitcher) is lighter and spicier than one would expect from sangria — and more refreshing. The Inigo Montoya is Chifa’s take on a margarita, a pleasantly complex citrus and peppery drink that takes a few sips before you can completely wrap your head around what you are tasting.
Daring flavor combinations are abundant in Chifa’s dishes as well.
The Peruvian tuna ceviche (market price) thrived among the complementary flavors of wasabi, lime and ginger. The marvesta ceviche (market price) was also especially tasty, with chilled shrimp accompanied by a tomato marinade and avocado.
The Thai beef salad had a light touch, a nice crunch and a fiery kick, thanks to an excellent sesame and sweet chili vinaigrette dressing.
Diners who don’t want to take their taste buds on too wild a ride might find comfort in the pork belly boa buns ($8), a sinfully tasty spin on barbeque parked on a soft miniature bun and topped with pickled daikon and togarahi mayo. The salted baked shrimp is another safe bet ($16), as they are large and well seasoned. You almost don’t need the sriracha mayo that comes with this dish.
Back on the adventurous side of things, the Thai sausage ($8) was a standout: It was succulent and accompanied by the best aromatic rice we’ve had in recent memory. The pulpo ($17), baby rock octopus in olive oil, was also excellent. The humita ($12) was a more refined version of the traditional tamale, filled with a velvety and rich mixture of charred corn, bacon, mushrooms and cream.
The Chifa Chicken ($22) is a house specialty, and for good reason. The presentation and execution of the dish are top-notch, with the bird perfectly roasted and absorbed all the subtle flavors of the accompanying soy consommé and bok choy.
As with most of the dishes that preceded them, the desserts were full of surprises. The turron de chocolate ($8) at first glance looks dense, but one bite proves the chocolate cake with a thick layer of ganache is light without sacrificing an ounce of decadence. The cuajada was another delight, thanks to the explosive flavor of the innocuous-looking passion-fruit curd and sesame meringue.
Chifa just might be chef Jose Garces’ most exciting effort to date. And considering the quality of Garces’ other area establishments, that’s saying a lot.