I’ve always known Alfonso Zhicay, the Ecuadorean culinary star behind Woodside’s Casa del Chef Bistro knew his way around ceviche, but it took a pandemic and a vegetarian ceviche of all things to fully convince me.
Like many chefs, Zhicay has pivoted during the pandemic, launching a new concept called PapaViche, a collaboration with fellow Ecuadorean Chef Humberto Guallpa of Freemans. I wanted to do only potatoes and then he said, ‘what about with ceviche?’” Zhicay said. “Potatoes and ceviche, why not let’s do it.”
When it comes to ceviche I tend to prefer the bracingly citric Peruvian version to the soupier and sweeter tomato-based Ecuadorean version, but Zhicay’s shrimp ceviche—listed on the menu as Alfonso’s Ceviche—knocked my socks off. The plump shrimp lounged in an orange liquor that was as bright as a gazpacho, but also had an incredible depth of flavor. “It’s a twist. It’s not exactly Ecuadorean ceviche,” Zhicay says noting that one of the secrets to its depth is roasted tomatoes that are added to a shrimp shell consomme.
If Zhicay’s ceviche falls on the sweeter side of the spectrum, then Humberto’s Ceviche falls on the spicier, drawing on leche de tigre for inspiration. The marinade for both is thickened with yucca, an unusual and welcome touch. One thing that took me by surprise was the vegetarian ceviche. It’s a verdant bowl of hearts of palm, cucumber, and asparagus in a broth made from cucumber and avocado. It eats like the very essence of summer.
Potatoes take the form of salchipapas French fries topped with hot dogs, which like ceviche is a popular street food in Ecuador. I tried the duck chorizo version which come top with a hefty link from Hudson Valley Duck Farm.
“Salchipapas is more of a street food, but it’s so good it’s delicious,” Zhicay said. “I grew up eating this stuff a lot.” There are streets carts in Queens serving ceviche and street carts serving salchipapas, but until now there’s never been a place to eat both on the street while enjoying a cold beer.
PapaViche, Casa del Chef Bistro, 39-06 64th St, Woodside, (718) 457-9000