A recent visit to Las Vegas happened to coincide perfectly with the opening of The Venetian’s newest restaurant, a highly-anticipated collaboration between chef Lorena Garcia and restaurant group 50 Eggs (the brains behind Miami and Vegas’ acclaimed Yardbird) called Chica, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to pay it a visit. Chica accomplishes the difficult task of effortlessly grafting the diverse flavors of Latin America into one menu, and it also happens to be a whole lot of fun.
The lively space is located just off the Venetian’s casino floor in the hotel’s “Restaurant Row,” but it’s fully self-contained in a funky, modern space with a lively bar, a spacious raw bar, an open kitchen showcasing a massive wood-burning oven and plenty of Latin American decorative touches.
The menu is divided into a selection of 7 hot and 8 cold small plates, 8 main plates, and 6 sides. We started with the Trio of Picos (above), a platter of three different salsas (salsa verde, sweet corn poblano, and spicy tomato), served with six fresh arepas and a mound of plantain and tortilla chips. The salsas were super-fresh and full of flavor, the tortilla and plantain chips were housemade, and the still-warm arepas could have been a meal unto themselves (you can order them topped with braised short rib if you’re so inclined). Grilled corn “lollipops” were elotes rolled in butter and cotija cheese and kicked up with a squeeze of lime and chile piquin, and were addictive and spot-on. Pulled pork tacos (below) piled mojo-marinated shredded pork, guacamole, salsa verde, slaw, cilantro, padron peppers, and microgreens onto small freshmade corn tortillas, and each one was two perfect bites.
For the main course, we sampled the Meyer Lemon Chicken and the Yucatan Halibut, both of which hit the nail right on the head. The chicken, roasted in a rotisserie, topped with chimichurri and served with Peruvian purple potato salad, was incredibly juicy and nicely complimented by the chimichurri. The halibut (below) was achiote-rubbed before being roasted in a banana leaf and served with pineapple, charred orange and sweet plantains, and a habanero salsa. The fish was moist and perfectly cooked, and I liked that pickled onion and a handful of cilantro sprigs were served on the side to vary the flavor. Make sure you wash it all down with one of the 12 creative specialty cocktails, two sangrias, or two plays on gin and tonics.
To give you a better idea of just how pan-Latin Garcia’s menu is, here are a smattering of other menu items: chicken chicharrones, grilled Peruvian octopus, tuna ceviche, crab and shrimp salpicon, shrimp and quinoa cazuela, rodizio-roasted Brazilian beef tenderloin, and strip steak with Oaxacan black mole and huitlacoche.
At Chica, chef Garcia isn’t just smashing a bunch of quasi-Latin flavors and ingredients together and calling it fusion. She’s actually serving representative dishes of a wide variety of Latin American countries using authentic preparations and high-quality ingredients, showcasing not only the similarities among the cuisines of each culture but also the differences. It requires a deep knowledge of the region to be able to pull a menu like this off, and Garcia makes it look easy.