CHIKO: Favorite Restaurant of the Moment
Chinese/Korean Counter Service Draws Crowds in Barracks Row
The newest addition to the increasingly popular Barracks Row neighborhood is a Chinese/Korean collaboration called CHIKO. Well-known DC chefs Scott Drewno and Danny Lee team up to create the ultimate Asian-fusion concept that will leave you wanting to come back every. single. day. It is 100% my favorite restaurant of the moment, and I highly encourage you to get in to CHIKO before the line wraps around the block.
The restaurant is a casual spot, where you order at the counter and share the tables community style. However, the food is anything but casual. Although comforting and served quick, the flavors are bold and complex, utilizing sustainable ingredients that are sourced locally.
I was lucky enough to secure one of the four highly coveted bar seats at the chef's counter for a tasting menu experience - which is exactly that - a taste of the entire menu. For $50, this tasting menu is the best in town. I was surprised, excited, perplexed, satiated, and most importantly - HAPPY!
From the moment I walked into CHIKO, the warmth from the staff delighted me as the food dazzled me. So... what did I eat? Let's find out!
As I sit down, I notice the playlist setting the mood for the evening. Every single song was fun and nostalgic - from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Carly Rae Jepsen and the Spice Girls; Scott and Danny know what's up. They told me the playlist was curated to make people feel happy and that the house song is, "Call Me Maybe." 😂😂 I was so into it - it made me want to jump up out of my seat and do a literal food dance.
To get things started, I ordered a mix-your-own Gin & Tonic with basil seeds. The tonic itself was phenomenal and the basil seeds added a refreshing herbaceous note, as well as a fun texture.
The tower of snacks almost made my eyes pop out of my skull - it's everything I love about Korean-style cuisine. Salty things, pickled things, spicy things, oh my! It was an incredible way to whet my whistle, and every element of these snacks was clearly very well thought out. I snacked on Napa cabbage kimchi, Sichuan spicy cucumbers, turmeric pickled daikon, potato and egg salad, marinated chilled littleneck clams, and some bomb ass gulf shrimp. As we were frantically trying to eat all the snacks, Chef Drewno assured us they would leave the snacks for the entirety of the meal so we could enjoy them at our leisure 😂.
NExt: Eat all of the appetizers!
So, I have a weakness for all dumpling-like products and the potsticker really won me over. The crisp on top is outrageous, and also made me realize I've been plating my dumplings wrong all this time. The funk from the kimchi and tang from the ponzu dipping sauce is pure tastebud bliss.
In my notes about the siu mai I wrote, "So fun!" (??) I was clearly in a state of euphoria, but the shape and presentation were indeed fun, while the flavor was delicate and complex.
And then, we have the Maryland crab dumpling soup!!! I'm from Maryland, my favorite food is dumplings, so...this was basically made specifically for me. The broth was spicy and sweet with jumbo lump chunks of crab and more wonton "noodles" to tide you over after you've devoured the dumpling. I chugged the broth out of the tiny coffee mug, which is basically the equivalent of licking the plate clean.
My favorite dish of the evening was the half-a-cado salad. I think about it almost daily. It was so amazingly refreshing with a variety of exciting textures [hello candied almonds!]. Ripe and fruity avocado is accompanied by crisp cucumber, a crunchy lotus chip and slivered breakfast radishes. Lightly tossed in a citrus soy, it's completely addicting.
Hungry Hangry Hippo: Entrees
Time to bring out the big boys. These entree dishes are typically double the size and are the perfect thing to eat if you're craving something comforting, rich and delicious (think hangover cure, people!).
The catfish... drool... ya'll, it's so good. The catfish is so crispy and it's hot AF, like spicy hot, with squid ink fried rice and fresh herbs. It's the epitome of comforting and impossible to stop eating. Also, if you didn't know, catfish are a nuisance to our Chesapeake Bay region as an invasive species. So Scott and Danny fry those suckers up to create something beautiful and delicious, while saving the Bay!
Wagshal's brisket with the soy brined egg is so rich and luxurious with a refreshing bite from the pickled chiles. There's butter, dippy egg, chopped brisket, and rice..... what more could you possibly want? ::mouth watering::
Second fave of the night, the bulgogi with rice cakes. Verbatim from my notes: "Bulgogi with rice cakes!!!!!!!! Yum!! So much black pepper happiness and perfect chew to the rice cakes." Needless to say, I LOVED it. I'm obsessed with rice cakes and I wish they were more popular at every restaurant in DC. It was just delightful and I ate it in less than two minutes.
Yes, there's more - and yes fried chicken gets it's own category. It's worth going to CHIKO, or ordering takeout, just for the chicken, FYI.
The double fried wings should be illegal, they're so good. The skin is salty and crispy, almost like candy, with the juiciest meat hiding inside. Ugh! So good.
You'll never have orange chicken again after you have CHIKO's orange-ish chicken, it really is the "ish." The chicken is fresh and juicy with real orange sauce made from candied mandarins that is bright and citrusy, not like that cloying sugar syrup you typically find. The sauce surprises you with a little kick at the end, but it's light and refreshing. Devine.
The Fruit Bowl
Well, our journey has finally come to a sweet ending - the fruit bowl.
Using flavors of the season, the one dessert offering at CHIKO will likely change frequently. My particular bowl was filled with ripe Toigo Orchards strawberries, sour orange sorbet in collaboration with Dolcezza, candied basil seeds and crunchy slivered almonds. It was sour, sweet, and the photo finish to our marathon menu tasting.
CHIKO makes me really happy. From the brilliantly executed menu, to the interaction with the chefs and staff, it's the most fun I've had at a restaurant in years. Chef Drewno even took a break to snap some photos of me and my hangry bf, since I spent a majority of the time snapping photos of him! It made my day, and captured some really cute moments of the two of us having a remarkable evening. I can't wait to go back, and I hope you get the chance to check it out soon! See you there ♥.
Three Hangry Stars for CHIKO!
M–Th: 5pm – 11pm
F–Sat: 5pm – 12am
Sun: 5pm – 10pm