Lolita’s on Davie has long been one of our favourite spots in Vancouver for a laidback meal; with a distinctive atmosphere and a menu comprised of contemporary renditions of classic Mexican dishes, the restaurant serves up tasty food and delectable cocktails that never disappoint. We were thrilled to learn that Lolita’s head chef, Shalome Bouvette, had recently opened up a new spot in the lively Mount Pleasant neighborhood with an enviable location on the corner of Broadway and Main. Chicha, which offers a West Coast take on Peruvian fare – a cuisine that is receiving a considerable amount of attention in North America of late – resembles Lolita’s in both the tiny nature of the space and its emphasis on casual share plates. The menu is divided into a number of sections – “little cravings,” salads, cerviche, causa, and platos de fondo (Peruvian classics) – all of which are tapas size and are best experienced shared. We ordered liberally from a number of sections and while we can’t speak to the authenticity of the dishes (this was our first foray into this particular Latin American cuisine), everything we tasted was expertly prepared and unlike anything else on the Vancouver restaurant scene.
The menu, which is larger and more ambitious than we were expecting from such a small operation, features a wide variety of Peruvian dishes that have been interpreted from a West Coast perspective by making generous use of BC ingredients and catering to a local palette. We opted to start with the Papas Fritas and the quinoa fritters from the “little cravings” section of the menu. The fried potatoes were beautifully prepared with a crispy, and surprisingly not greasy exterior that gave way to a soft, tasty middle. The fries pared perfectly with the Peruvian version of tarter sauce that accompanied the dish. The empanadas also impressed; with a hearty pastry crust and a filling comprised of kale, corn, squash and cheese this was one of the best versions of this South American staple that we’ve sampled in Vancouver and definitely one of the highlights of our meal. The tuna casa – cold, whipped potatoes topped with fish and seasoned with black sesame and wasabi cream – was a revelation. The dish was unlike anything we’ve tasted before and we’re already clamouring to return to try the other versions (a vegetarian and a crab and avocado) of this Peruvian delicacy. The dish was seasoned to perfection and the hint of wasabi provided a subtle yet sharp bite that complemented the flavour of the tuna. We completed our meal with a fresh chopped salad of beans, cheese, corn, olives and heart of palm that was an unexpected combination of ingredients that somehow came together to create a harmonious dish.
Chicha’s cocktail list is just as inventive as the food menu. The drinks all make liberal use of the tasty, and hard to find, pisco (a Peruvian grape brandy), which affords the libations that hint of exoticism that makes you feel as if you’re somewhere far away from Vancouver. We opted for the Chicana – pisco and ginger ale – and the Pepina Wasabi Coctel – a bizarre concoction that paired the sweet pisco with the spicy intensity of wasabi and ginger syrup. Somehow this unusual combination works, and we could have easily downed a number of these extremely tasty drinks over the duration of our meal. The wine and beer offerings are limited, though the selections are well curated and feature a number of local options, most notably our current obsession Parallel 49 on tap. While the space is miniscule and decorated on a budget, the atmosphere is lively and like Lolita’s the tables are extremely close together so you are practically sitting on top of your fellow diners which contributes to the communal, convivial experience of the place. Chicha is an excellent spot to grab a drink and snacks with a few friends – the dishes are expertly prepared, beautifully presented and refreshingly unusual. We’ll definitely be back to sample some of the other small plates as well as the desserts, which we were too stuffed to try on our last visit.