Andean restaurant El Secreto de Rosita opened this month on U Street NW after several months of ironing out the kinks as a pop-up. The new venture from Latin Concepts owner Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld is led by general manager Manuel Olivera and Peruvian chef Eugene Perret. It specializes in a mix of criollos, or Peruvian comfort foods, and small bites inspired by Japanese and Chinese migrants to the country paired with Latin American wines and pisco-based cocktails.
El Secreto de Rosita replaces Chi-Cha Lounge, another Latin Concepts venture. The name comes in part from a ceviche dish on the Chi-Cha menu, but it’s also a reference to Rosenfeld’s grandmother. You can find pictures of her throughout the restaurant among other family photos. The pandemic presented the opportunity to take Chi-Cha Lounge in a different direction, but some parts of the former business will be preserved as a daytime cafe and market adjacent to the newcomer.
Rosenfeld was inspired by the relaxed nature of Rosita’s home in Ecuador and had it in mind when designing the interior. With nude figure paintings on the wall and a noticeable lack of tchotchkes, it’s much sexier than most any grandmother’s house. The abundance of greenery and plush seating gives it an atmosphere akin to a Latin American ranch home. Rosenfeld’s daughter painted the mural inside the restaurant. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available.
While Rosenfeld named the restaurant and dreamed up the decor, he otherwise left Olivera in charge of his new restaurant. Olivera comes to El Secreto de Rosita with a decade of experience in restaurants, including at both Barcelona Wine Bar locations in D.C. and Del Mar from Fabio Trabocchi at The Wharf. Many of Olivera’s staff members are former colleagues. They were difficult to find, given the circumstances. “This is our baby,” he says, “so we want to make sure that the people working here are super passionate and not just stopping by.”
Olivera has worked with both Perret and beverage director Alan Cabrera in the past. Perret is only 28 but started working in D.C. nine years ago as a busser and food runner. Working close to the kitchen, he developed a passion for food and secured a position at Siren. The Robert Wiedmaier restaurant earned a Michelin star before it closed in February 2019. Following Siren, Perret also worked at Kinship and Komi. Olivera and Perret teamed up at Barcelona Wine Bar in 2015 and 2016.
Taking inspiration from the tasting menus he’s served in the past, Perret has started experimenting with building one at El Secreto de Rosita featuring the key facets of Peruvian cuisine, from Nikkei and Chifa dishes to Andean classics like seco de res—braised short rib with a beer-cilantro sauce served with pinto beans and rice. Nikkei and Chifa, respectively, refer to the dishes that became common in Peru following the influx of Japanese and Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century. Latin Concepts’ Georgetown restaurant, Susheria, is inspired solely by Nikkei cuisine.
Olivera says the tasting menu will kick off with “cheffy dishes” like a tiradito of ahi tuna brightened with ginger and passionfruit before building up to a hearty rendition of lomo saltado. To make the latter, Perret fries ribeye steak in a wok and serves it with tomato, onion, fries, and rice. Both dishes are available on the daily a la carte menu available to view at the restaurant via QR code.
Highlights from the a la carte spring menu include ceviche del mercado with mahi mahi, fried calamari, Andean chili peppers, and plantain chips, aji de gallina, and four dishes under the “Peruvian Asian Cuisine” category that lets diners pick their proteins. See the menus below.
Cabrera is a sommelier and although he’s had little experience with pisco, Perret has helped introduce him to the spirit. Some cocktails using pisco riff on classics. A Manhattan-like drink stars cinnamon pisco while another, akin to a Moscow Mule, highlights aji pepper pisco. There are also rum and bourbon cocktails that incorporate Peruvian produce like guanabana or lucuma. The cocktail combining chicha morada syrup and pisco has quickly become a crowd favorite. Made from a purple corn variety cooked with fresh fruits, chicha morada has a grape-like flavor.
After weathering a devastating year for the hospitality industry, the team is excited to launch something new. “Mauricio gave us this place that is beautiful as our clean slate,” Olivera says. “I feel very honored and happy that I was able to form a team of professionals and friends of the industry, and [that] we have the creative leeway to do our own representation of what hospitality is here.”
El Secreto de Rosita is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to midnight; and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. They are closed on Mondays. Starting May 15, the restaurant will open at 11 a.m. on weekends for brunch. Chi-Cha Market & Cafe is open weekdays starting at 8 a.m. and weekends at 9 a.m. It closes daily at 3 p.m. Happy hour at El Secreto de Rosita is offered Tuesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Try $8 cocktails while you listen to live music, weather permitting.
El Secreto de Rosita, 1624 U St. NW; (202) 234-8400; elsecretoderosita.com