>> [CLOSED] Chicha Cafetin & Cocktails | Eat the World NYC

09 May 2018

[CLOSED] Chicha Cafetin & Cocktails



This space in Bushwick has been a long time coming. Word of a new Nicaraguan restaurant was circulating about a year ago, and since then this block has become a regular feature in some long-distance walks to check on progress. Until last month, I never saw any hints of what could actually be called progress. But a couple weeks ago a big new neon sign was up and on, advertising simply "RUM" while the front facade was clean and finished with fresh newspaper blocking the views inside. It was finally happening.

A couple weeks later was opening weekend, and the place seems to be hitting the ground running. I always hold Nicaraguan memories dear to me but did not expect so much from what was going to be a "chef'd up" version of the cuisine. Happily I can report that Chicha is doing it right. Yes the plates of food are modern, but almost everything we sampled stuck its landing perfectly.

"Jungle Boogie" rum cocktail

The space is not enormous for the warehouse section of Bushwick but feels like it because of incredibly high ceilings. The geometrically-shaped bar rises like the pipes of a cathedral organ, a polytheistic church that celebrates each and every god of rum.

Besides a cocktail list with a heavy focus on this spirit, joy washed over me when the beer list included Toña and I was immediately transported to a seafood shack on the Pacific Coast, waves crashing in and surrounded by freshly caught and cooked fish.

Nicaragua's most famous beer

At the moment there are more cocktails on draft than beer, but it looks like they put in plenty of lines for the expansion of either. Other more recognizable light Latin American lagers are available, but also a pilsner from the Nicaragua Craft Beer Co.

The alter of rum and other spirits gives you a sense that quality is good here. Nowhere to be found are the eight varieties of flavored vodka or other staples of generic watering holes. Each bottle is hand-selected to do important work, even the small amounts of gin, whisky, and tequila are good options.

My own appreciation of rum has only come in the last decade, long after returning from Nicaragua, home to one of the best. Flor de Caña is well-represented in the cocktails here and they carry all of its aged and dry versions.

Blufields Swizzle

On nice spring days, the front of the restaurant has large windows that are opened fully to the street, but a large box truck was conveniently parked to block it all out when we first arrived. The neighborhood is full of these, and worse. Garbage trucks rumbled by for hours. When the truck finally moved, the team went scrambling to replace the parking spot with someone's vehicle. The energy is already fun to enjoy.

Inside, the color schemes keep the open restaurant feeling light and airy. Pastel pink table tops and blue barstools and napkins are complemented by shiny gold chairs. The action is at the bar, which accomodates patrons from the front of the restaurant to the back, but big wrap-around booths seem like cozy spots for groups of four.

The city's only flirtation with Nicaraguan cuisine was a brief transformation of a grilled cheese shop into Little Nica a few years back. This "pop-up" served quesillo, a food so common and popular in Nicaragua that cities fight over who has the best. At its simplest, quesillo is a freshly grilled corn tortilla with creamy cheese and pickled onions. They can be found on city streets or roadside stops where buses give breaks to their passengers. Once purchased, they usually fold over like a Mexican quesadilla and are eaten by hand.

The tipico ($4.50, not shown) and Baho-style pork quesillo ($5.50, above) were both sampled and delicious. Much smaller than a Nicaraguan quesillo, these are meant to be ordered in higher volume, each one just a couple bites. The house made tortilla and hand-pulled cheeses are both exquisite.

Somehow I never came across guacamole in Nicaragua, but it is a thing. Avocado trees are everywhere, so it only makes sense. This Central American version uses diced hard-boiled eggs to take up volume with the avocados and a healthy portion of lime juice and pinch of salt. They crush and toast pistachio here, add this to the top, and serve it with a bowl of plantain and root vegetable chips ($11, above).

Elotitos ($10, below) are grilled baby corn served with smoked guajillo chili dipping sauce and sprinkled queso seco.

Chicharrones mixtos ($11, below) is a heaping bowl of pork, chicken, salmon, and crispy seaweed dulse.

On an initial inspection of their menu, the dish below ($12) was called arroz con pollo buñuelos, but that last word seems to have been replaced with "arancini," possibly something more familiar to most? Nicaraguan buñuelos are usually served sweet, doughy balls full of syrup, sugar, and cinnamon prepared by roadside vendors.

Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) is a popular lunch for hard-working Nicaraguans, so why not surround this heartiness with dough and deep fry it into a buñuelo? We are here for this.

The chicha belly ($10, below) in orange mojo (reminds you of the Cuban version) was so good we ordered a second plate.

Pincho de carne ($10, below) are skewers (pinchos) of grilled beef topped with a lovely chimichurri.

Curtido ($10, below) would be prepared for any meal at home. The version here adds a few things to the cabbage, tomato, and vinegar and comes with sea beans and pickled green papaya. You can eat this alone or use it to garnish other dishes. Recommended.

Any seaside restaurant up and down the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua will have the famous conchas negras ($3/each, below). They do their best with local ingredients here using littleneck clams topped lemongrass and jalapeño. A delicious sweetness comes from the white foam coconut on top, these go down incredibly easy. Recommended.

The most boggling dish of the night certainly was the salpicon rilletes ($18, below). I love Central American salpicon, but had no familiarity with rilletes preparation, which is something similar to a pâté. Salpicon is normally a cold meat salad, full of onions and peppers and plenty of spices.

The cross-section below shows that the short rib beef has been covered with a gelatinized green pepper layer and foamy smoked coconut on top. We were advised to "give it a good mix" before starting, but I liked to pick out the flavors individually.

Gallo pinto, a simple dish of rice and beans very popular in Nicaragua, does not make an official appearance on the menu, but the chips served with this dish are supposed to be inspired by it. Regardless of whether they pass this test, they are good, and perfect for spreading the jar's contents.

If you were adding things up along the way, you will notice that a meal here won't exactly be cheap. All of this food was for three people, although it could be admitted that we overate. That being said, the prices do not seem unfair and the quality levels are all so high. This was a very exciting meal.


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