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