En route to opening a second D.C. branch of their fast-casual, Chinese-Korean outpost in Dupont Circle, chef-owners Scott Drewno and Danny Lee incorporated some lessons learned from their time on Capitol Hill. For one thing, the new Chiko has a lot more prep space for the cooks. For another, the tables aren’t bolted to the floor, making it easier for groups to eat in the spinoff, which opens with a mural depicting the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Otherwise, fans of the original idea should rest easy; the popular “orange-ish” chicken, chopped brisket served over rice with furikake butter, and cocktails made using airplane-size bottles of booze made their way across town to a pleasant space with a barrel-vaulted ceiling that veteran chowhounds might remember as a Pizzeria Paradiso in another life.
Not that the new menu is an exact copy. For Dupont Circle, the chefs came up with a delicious riff on shrimp toast. Instead of slathering ground seafood on a piece of bread and frying it, they’re serving the toast — wedges of buttered ciabatta — separately from the springy shrimp and frizzled herbs in XO sauce, hence the name “shrimp & toast.” (The crisp bread makes a great mop, FYI.) Green beans blistered in the wok are another fresh idea; the addition of meaty mushrooms and a swipe of fiery red soybean paste turn the toss into something memorable. Patrons of both locations are able to explore the recently added chilled noodle salad, crunchy with roasted peanuts and slick with chile oil, too.
A perch at the four-seat counter, requiring reservations, gets customers a kitchen view and a class in wok cookery — along with a blast of heat and some smoke. The drill features much of the standing menu, presented in courses, and a tiered tray of salads and other goodies to start the fun.
“I’ll be your sherpa tonight,” says one of several cooks. He makes as good a first impression as the opening morsels: a rainbow of vegetables punched up with numbing Sichuan peppercorns, kicky kimchi, slender chicken spring rolls best dipped into Chinese mustard. The rest of the night is a joyride that brings to occupants of the counter a refreshing avocado salad; pork dumplings that also reveal kimchi and butter in their centers; smoky cumin lamb with slippery wheat-flour noodles, and more. The finale is cloudlike coconut panna cotta accessorized with candied almond slivers, lime zest and a lashing of caramel and displayed in a coconut shell. Be still my heart.
The heat emanating from the furnacelike wok, loud enough to be heard in the dining room, makes a customer worry for the cooks, if not themselves, come summer. Not to fret, says Drewno. “We tested the A/C and it seems to work pretty well.”
The cherry on top: Unlike Capitol Hill, this Chiko serves lunch. Chicken fried rice with bacon, here I come!
2029 P St. NW. 202-331-3040. chikodc.com. Entrees, $15 to $18. Kitchen counter tasting menu, $50 per person.