A most serious issue has emerged where I’m just not going to be able to try all of the restaurants I would like if it requires convincing a dining companion. I do not surround myself with the foodish, through financial circumstance (not that I’m sitting on a pile of gold) or dietary predilection–bones, spice, meat, offal, all fish, raw fish have been deal-breakers–the pickings for company can be slim.
I’ve toyed with starting a column just for the subject, but there’s no surer way to get ridiculed, particularly if you’re female. Solo dining is divisive. On the one extreme are the solo shamers who find an aversion to eating alone ludicrous, and then there are the anxiety-ridden who would rather just go hungry (or go on Seamless) than suffer the perceived indignity. I don’t mean grabbing a slice of pizza for lunch. How many would dine at Noma alone? (I would say El Celler de Can Roca to be more timely, but apparently one of those Roads & Kingdoms dudes has written an essay on exactly that already. And I’m not surprised it’s a guy—there is something more pitiable than a lone lady.)
Thankfully, I was able to coax a friend into wandering over to Xixa (revamped Fatty ‘Cue was a no go–there’s brisket in the mustard greens and pork dressing on the eggplant) where even on a Saturday night there was an open spot for two at the end of the communal table (which wasn’t horrible–I’m not a good space-sharer–but it does require a suck-in or a
stand-up for others to get in and out if you’re against the wall). And really, the bar would’ve been perfectly fine for a single diner.
First off, Xixa, despite what’s been said about it, isn’t particularly Mexican. I mean, more so than Traif, and there are avocados and chiles, but this is “tacos,” “tamales” and “guacamole” territory.
The grilled carrots, sweetened with honey and smoothed with a lime crema and feta, were amazing. The coriander was expected; the dill was not.
The hunks of avocados with raw vegetables and puffed rice cakes, a.k.a. nam prik num, was surprisingly weak. This was the one dish I was gung ho on trying because my new favorite breakfast (above) consists of mashed avocado, crunchy sea salt and a few dabs of sharply hot and shrimpy nam prik ta-dang (I alternate with a catfish version—both from Sripraphai) on toasted German pumpernickel health bread. I wanted that extreme burst of salinity, fishiness and heat.
The chile rellenos stuffed with burrata and a zucchini-mushroom-fennel escabeche, and the corn flan with crab and a poblano cream were not mine. I made personal entrées of a butterfish tartare with an avocado mousse and chips and the standout duck lettuce wraps, which came with dark slices of meat mixed with raisins and peanuts, and a banana puree and cubed cucumbers and halved grape tomatoes as garnish. It’s a lot of sweet, and the banana had potential to be creepy, despite plantains making total sense with these flavors, but it all worked. Even the non-meat-eater who is slowly and selectively acclimating to poultry, as long it’s chewy and well-done, gave these a try.
The meal begins a tiny amuse (a snap pea turned into a taco filled with crema and a frico) and ends with a one-bite sweet (a brownie-like thing), both extra touches that make the meal more special. Even if every small plate wasn’t perfect, the overall effect was pleasing.
P.S. I know these photos look like hell. I’m kind of over SLRs at the table, but iPhones don’t cut it. A new in-between camera arrived just hours ago; we’ll see how it pans out.
Xixa * 241 S. Fourth St., Brooklyn, NY