The restaurateur that owns Chi-Cha Lounge, a longtime hookah bar on U Street NW, recently introduced a full-scale overhaul into a Peruvian restaurant with an accomplished young chef from Lima and a renovation that fosters Amazon rainforest vibes.
Now known as El Secreto de Rosita, the bar at 1624 U Street NW serves pisco cocktails alongside ceviches, comforting Criollo food, and other dishes that speak to Peru’s culinary influences from Japan and China. Eugene Perret, a 28-year-old who’s cooked at Michelin-starred restaurants such as (now-closed) Siren, Komi, and Kinship, gets his first executive chef job courtesy of Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, the owner of Latin Concepts group who opened Chi-Cha in 1997.
Perret starts off his menu with teriyaki wings, chicken gyoza, sizzling shrimp (gambas al ajillo), and ribeye yakitori, followed by five types of ceviche. A “Mercado” ceviche — a mixed medley of fried calamari, rocoto chile base, mahi mahi, and fried plantain chips — loops in the same ingredients Peruvians grab at their local street market to fill up their family, Perret says.
“I am passionate about my country and love my food. I want to share the tastes and flavors of Peru with people,” Perret says, adding the menu will change throughout the year “depending on the best things in the market.”
Criollos, or Peruvian comfort foods, include lomo saltado and arroz con pollo, followed by a section of “Peruvian Asian” dishes such as arroz Chaufa (fried rice with a choice of protein) and chi jau kay, which presents chicken, steak, or tofu in a soy-orange reduction over fried rice.
Fraga-Rosenfeld’s company ran Maté in Georgetown before rebranding it as Nikkei restaurant Susheria in 2018. He picked rustic white plates from a street market in Lima to amp up the traditional feel. The new place is named after Fraga-Rosenfeld’s grandmother, Rosita.
“He wanted to recreate how he felt when he was a child going to his grandma’s,” says general manager Manuel Olivera, an alum of luxe Spanish restaurant Del Mar.
Beverage director Alan Cabrera, who formerly managed the drinks list across Fabio Trabocchi’s portfolio, is making his own chicha morada behind the bar. The popular Peruvian drink, made with purple corn, pineapple, apple rinds, and cinnamon cloves, gets turned into a syrup for a frothy, lavender-colored take on a pisco sour.
Passionfruit puree makes its way into a pisco cocktail, and the fruit’s juice gets used to dress a Japanese-style sashimi. Reduced with ginger and cilantro, the juice joins leche de tigre and gets poured tableside atop a bright row of raw ahi tuna.
An attached cafe next-door is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily with to-go Italian coffee drinks, empanadas, muffins, and French pastries from Fresh Baguette. The team is also making its own labneh and hummus with help from Fraga-Rosenfeld’s Middle Eastern wife and her family recipes. The grab-and-go fridge is also stocked with fresh fruit and veggie juices full of ingredients like turmeric and carrot. Meanwhile, its largely by-the-glass wine list shows love for grapes in Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay.
The cafe component doubles as a seating area for four-course, customizable tastings for parties of six or more, that “feels like you’re eating in a Latin market,” says Olivera, the GM. The sporadic dinners, featuring an amuse bouche, ceviches, and family-style orders set to optional wine and cocktail pairings, will become more frequent with time.
A large patio past its swinging doors will host live Latin music at dusk when weather permits. Weekend brunch is scheduled to join the mix by the end of the month. When D.C. enters its full-capacity reopening phase on June 11, 100-seat El Secreto de Rosita plans to evolve into a late-night hotspot with DJs.
“We definitely want to go with the vibe of U Street and be an industry bar,” Olivera says, adding a lot of early regulars are friends of staff. “As soon as the city opens we want to work on our bar crowd.”
Initially operating as a pop-up as the team got its legs, the new name and menu officially went into effect in late April. A soon-to-arrive El Secreto de Rosita awning topped with a rose logo is the final piece of the permanent rebrand. Hours are Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
The redo features chandeliers, velvet jewel-toned chairs and couches, a smooth marble bar, and Amazonian forest vibes from dangling plant life and wild, jungle green wallpaper. Vintage lamps, reclaimed wood tables, and paintings of naked women on the walls round out the elegant-meets-edgy look.