New drinks at Chima created by Hop Sing Laundromat's Lê

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If you’re one of the 2,000 or so people on Hop Sing Laundromat’s famous ban list — or simply someone who doesn’t want to submit to the gatekeeper’s interrogation required to enter the acclaimed Chinatown bar — there’s now an easy way to sip a drink by cocktail impresario Lê.

Just breeze through the revolving door at Chima Brazilian Steakhouse. The reigning Hop Sing despot created three new drinks specially for the giant rodizio at the corner of 20th and JFK.

In many ways, Chima is the polar opposite of Hop Sing.

The dining room, which just emerged from a $1 million renovation with a sleek black-and-white sheen, is brightly lit, not illuminated by candlelight. It’s sharp-edged and modern, not full of ornate antiques. And instead of liquid-only sustenance, there’s gobs of food, from the overflowing salad bar to the loaded skewers carried by the roaming “gaúcho” waiters so they can fill your plate with fresh-carved slices of glistening spit-roasted meat — as much as you want for a set price of around $65 per person.

At Chima, you load up your plate at the salad bar, then wait for meat to be sliced to order at the table Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

But Lê happens to love the place. “It’s not like an American steakhouse,” he explained at a Thursday night event introducing the new drinks, “where you order and it’s always too much food. Here, you can stop eating when you’re full.”

He takes advantage of Chima’s prix-fixe dinner often, he said, and he has become friends with the managers and the Brazilian family that owns the mini-chain (there are four locations total, including Philly, Tyson’s Corner., Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte). So he decided to help them up their drinks game.

Chima corporate chef Eder Dorne Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

All three of the new cocktails are built around cachaça, a distilled spirit made from fermented sugar cane that’s considered the national booze of Brazil. They’re built around inexpensive cachaça, in fact, since Lê found it worked much better than the top-shelf stuff he initially reached for.

Drinks one and two are appropriately called The Gaúcho and The Gaúcha, and see the cachaça swirled with freshly crushed blackberries or raspberries (respectively), lemon juice, soda and simple syrup.

Drink three is slightly more complex — but not much, because of Lê’s overarching philosophy that simpler is better. Made with oolong tea, cachaça and a ton of fresh mint, it’s called the Rio-Cha, a Brazil-ified tip of the hat to the Vietnamese iced tea staple known as “tra da.” Said Lê, “I wanted it to taste like Snapple.”

Chima does have a bar where you can order apps a la carte, so you don’t have to commit to the full meat-centric dinner to taste these drinks. Even better is their price: $10 each.

Get apps like grilled shrimp at Chima’s bar Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Also available for $10 a glass are three new wines that Lê helped select — and set the price for. There’s a Talbott Chardonnay, a Talbott Pinot Noir and a Seven Hills Petit Verdot, all from 2013. Since each of them sells for $34.99 per bottle at the state store, the sawbuck price tag is a serious deal.

“We’re selling them at cost, basically,” said corporate manager David Pereira. “We believe wine is a big part of the experience, so this makes it easier for customers to take part.”

One of three new $10-per-glass wines Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Of note, if you do want to splurge, the restaurant does carry several bottles by Opus One, a trophy wine that runs $300 to $1,200 retail (and so can be triple that when dining out). Lê became fully aware of this when a guest identified as “Bruce” at the invite-only free event on Thursday decided to order a bottle for himself and his date, on Chima’s dime. “Who does that?” asked Lê incredulously.

Something tells us the Hop Sing ban list may have just scored another entry.

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...