It took five knocks on random doors to find the right house, even though I had been there before. When I finally found Chez Wong I was told that I couldn’t come in because I didn’t have a reservation. I looked behind the doorman and no one was there. I pleaded but no luck. He handed me a business card with a phone number and asked me to call later. The following week, this time with a reservation, I returned to Chinese-Peruvian chef Javier Wong’s closed-door cebicheria in his house in La Victoria, an unassuming neighborhood of Lima, Peru near busy avenue full of auto body shops.
After entering, I hopped up a short flight of stairs into what should have been the family room to a small tiled dining room with a half dozen tables that opened to an even smaller kitchen at one end. The dining room is bare minus a few framed news clippings and old photographs of Chef Wong.
Only two people work at Chez Wong. One is the doorman, who is also the waiter and does some prep work in the kitchen. He takes my drink order and that’s the last time we speak. Then there’s Wong. He has these big sunglasses on and walks back and forth from the kitchen and dining room. Sometimes he stands at a small table slicing small pieces from a nice size Pacific flounder. He comes to my table and asks if I have any food allergies. “Cebiche OK?” He doesn’t really ask. He more or less tells me that is what I am going to order. I really don’t have an option. There’s no menu. You get served what he wants to serve you or you leave. He goes back to the kitchen and ten minutes later the waiter brings a plate of Wong’s signature cebiche. It has flounder and octopus, along with purple onions and fresh ground pepper, which is not used in any other cebicheria in Peru I have ever known. there are bits of rocoto pepper served on the side. If I was sentenced to death and had a choice for my last meal, this might be it.
A few minutes after the waiter takes the plate away, Wong comes back.
“Sweet or Salty.”
“Uh, salty?” I’m not even sure what he’s asking.
He goes back to the kitchen and dumps a bowl of something into a giant wok that sits on a simple charcoal grill in the middle of the kitchen. Apart from a small table and sink, the grill is the only piece of equipment in the kitchen. For five minutes he flips the ingredients in the wok with his wrist and the flame from the grill flares high into the air. The saltado is immediately plated and put before me. It’s almost too hot eat. There’s flounder, octopus, mushrooms, and onions again, all smothered in a heavenly brownish sauce. I would drink the sauce in a mug if they served it. I’m full, yet when the waiter comes to take my plate, I ask if he can tell Wong to bring the Sweet too.
Chez Wong (a.k.a. Sankuay)
Enrique León García 114
La Victoria, Lima, Peru
For Reservations: chezwong7 [AT] hotmail.com
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.