Chez Wong: Lima’s Hidden Gem

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Lima, as a whole, was pretty underwhelming.  We saw some nice sites, had some nice food, and probably spent most of the time stuck in traffic – the congestion there was worse than any other city I’ve been in.  I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d go back, and it was a largely forgettable end to a great trip through Peru save one thing: Chez Wong.

Chez Wong is run by chef Javier Wong, who is a Peruvian of Chinese descent. And I do mean it is run by him quite literally – he is in the kitchen, and there is one other person who serves as doorman, server, and does some light prep work.  Everything else is Wong, who breaks down a massive Pacific sole for the meal and prepares it a multitude of ways.

01 cebiche
First course: ceviche

I don’t even remember anymore how I had heard of Chez Wong in the first place, just that I had wanted to go there.  I made reservations well in advance, and via e-mail, because if you don’t make reservations, you won’t be let in. It doesn’t matter if there are tables available – if you don’t book in advance, don’t bother showing up. Which would be a whole different matter, as no one seemed to know where it was, and we finally had to get a helpful woman in a bank to look up directions, print them out, and then explain them to our cab driver.

02 tiradito
Second course: tiradito

Once we finally figured it out and were dropped off in what basically appeared to be an alley next to a very busy street, we located the correct door and gave our names.  We were scrutinized against what was on the list and I had a momentary panic that I had somehow bungled the reservation, but we were eventually seated at one of the 10 tables – about half of which ended up being filled.  After trying to explain in spanish with little success about LeeAnne’s orange allergy, we ordered a bottle of wine.

03 wok
Third course. O, the scent!

The first course came shortly thereafter and consisted of a beautifully fresh and bright ceviche of sole and octopus, all with a bowl of chili on the side.  Following this was another Peruvian classic, tiradito, which is a close cousin to ceviche – thinly sliced raw fish in citrus. Here, we had more sole, topped with crumbled pecans.  Both were excellent ways to start off the meal – light, flavorful, and incredibly delicious. (Note: these descriptions are mostly conjecture, as there is no menu at Chez Wong – just whatever the chef wants to cook.)

04 wok
Final course: more wok action

For the third course, Chef Wong went to the only cooking surface in the place – a huge burner – to stir fry more flounder.  I walked back to the bathroom – which you have to go through the kitchen to get to – and almost couldn’t take my eyes off of his cooking.  Not only do I love watching people cook, but he was so close to the massive flame that I didn’t know how his hand wasn’t a burnt husk of nothing.  His body must be completely heat-resistant at this point.

The third course was a quick stirfry of sole, mushrooms (I wasn’t sure which kind, but the texture reminded me of wood ear), and snow peas in a brown sauce – the ingredients of which can change day to day based on what food he has on hand.  I wish I could convey in words the smell coming off of this dish when it was set in front of me. In the picture, you can tell just a small portion of the glee I felt to get to eat this.

burner
Chef Wong, impervious to flame

Finally, we were treated to another dish from the wok, this one a spicier take on the sole, with larger chunks of fish, vegetables, and scallions.  Just as good as the other dishes, if not better (I like spice), it was a hell of a way to finish off the meal that would be the only plausible reason for me to return to Lima.

All in all, I can’t say enough about the food and the experience.  If you’re going to Lima, the restaurant should be a must-do on your list.  You get amazing food, plus the added bonus of feeling like a VIP finding a place that apparently cab drivers need help to get to, that has no website or social media presence, and that you have to be on a list to get in.  As many great restaurants as Lima has – and the list is significant – don’t let yourself miss this one.

flounder
L to R: Myself, LeeAnne, Chef Wong, Pacific Sole

To make a reservation, e-mail chezwong7@hotmail.com.

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