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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
To make a reservation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.