Monday, February 15, 2010

Chifa (Philadelphia) 02/10

Here's a trivial pursuit question for a foodie. What is a Chifa? And the answer is it is a sort of Peruvian cuisine created by a combination of Peruvian creole cooking and Chinese cuisine. It is very common in Peru where the restaurants serving this kind of food have become known as Chifas. This style of cooking has now spread to Ecuador and Philadelphia now has a Chifa, which is its name. The executive chef is the suddenly famous Jose Garces, an Ecuadorian born US chef. He has been winning awards for his innovative and attractive cooking for the last few years and became very well known when he defeated Iron Chef Bobby Flay in his Iron Chef America debut and has been described as "a compelling voice for America's thriving Latin food movement"
Garces is not only innovative but also entrepreneurial. He has five restaurants in Philadelphia serving different sorts of meals and all highly regarded. We could only go to one and chose Chifa.
This is an strangely decorated establishment with a Japanese influenced area downstairs

including a semi private area and an indefinable style ground floor area It has is a wall of pottery as you enter
and further on a wall of small empty bird cages.
Opposite is a wall of louvred wooden doors
behind which there is absolutely nothing! None of that matters to much because we came for the food and what food it was.
The menu for lunch is called the Hiram Bingham Express. Looks like another trivia question. Bingham was an anthropologist who rediscovered Machu Picu in 1912 but I could not find any closer explanation for his name being applied to lunch. Two courses and a glass of wine for $18 with side dishes $6 or $7 and desserts $3 is quite inexpensive even with the tax and tip to be added.
The menu descriptions were not especially helpful although they gave us an idea of what we would be getting. We started with an oyster ceviche described as 'leche de tigre', conch, lemon espusa.

There was an oyster in it and there was a lemony taste, among others. For me it was peculiar, interesting and, as with most of the dishes here, the tastes were unfamiliar and hard to describe. We followed this with a crispy empanada filled with jumbo lump crab decorated with shaved cucumber and served with a sweet chili reduction.
This was very tasty but rather small serve. We could have done with a couple more.
Next came a couple of soups. The first , called a hot pot

was described as glazed cod, Tianjin broth, bacon beech mushroom and tofu was delicious, as was the second,
a beef noodle bowl with sesame seeds, cilantro, red chili, Chinese white noodles and beef ribs but, beyond displaying a photo, we were both excited and surprised by the tastes. It is unlike any Chinese food we have eaten before and unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine there is nothing with which to compare it. The only thing that was really familiar was a side dish of French fries served with a red chili mayo. Another very good tasting side dish was called scallion pancake
which had crispy peanut, ginger and cauliflower filling. We finished the meal with a beaut dessert of coconut sorbet with passion fruit curd, coconut meringue and young coconut.
It was a very strange meal. We couldn't really compare it to other restaurants and found it hard to give it a mark. We both enjoyed it and on another trip to Philadelphia we will certainly go to another of Garces restaurants.
Score:14 /20

No comments: