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Xixa group

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.

Best new breakfast

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



Must Be the Breadsticks


Attention was paid to the fact that cheaters love
chain restaurants.
But the real Business Insider doozy was this thing (can you even
call this a post or an article?) appearing online 15 minutes later about one anonymous
Wall Streeter getting shit done at Olive Garden.

I'll go on record saying that I ate at Bubba Gump on
Tuesday. I would totally take clients there if I had an expesnse account (and clients).

Selamat Pagi

Selamat pagi trio

You could take issue with white people better known
for their artisanal ice cream cooking Balinese food (I withhold judgment) or
that what they're calling Balinese is more generally Indonesian (ok, that’s
sort of an issue) but where else are you going to find rendang in North (or
South, for that matter) Brooklyn?

And the beef rendang was good, rich and stewed
tender in coconut milk, lightly spicy with cinnamon and star anise undertones.
The only weirdness were the pickles, which were, uh, pickles. I was expecting
crisper shallots and matchstick-cut carrots and cucumbers (yes, pickles are cucumbers).
You just never know in Brooklyn because at Three Letters it was the complete
opposite: fried pickles turned out to be fried pickled vegetables. For further
confusion there was a $4 seasonal pickle plate (as well as that old Balinese
specialty, deviled eggs) listed in the snack section—who knows what it

The last of the three snacks was shrimp chips with
three sambals—two very lemongrassy, one more tomatoey, all hot. It’s a nice shared
starter. Sambals, nam priks and their ilk are fussy to make, so I’m always
happy to eat someone else’s selection.

The non-small plates are served as entrées, not
family style, so my bite of mahi mahi coconut curry was inconclusive. I did not
try the tamarind tempeh that was also present.

Everything is organic; the beef is grass-fed.
Descriptors like wild, biodynamic and heritage make appearances. Items are
priced accordingly, which isn’t to say outrageous (the rendang was $17)
especially when you consider that there is now a food truck selling beef
rendang to go for $13.

If you come from Tørst like I did, you can continue drinking
Evil Twin beer. Hipster Ale, of course.

Selamat Pagi * 152 Driggs Ave., Brooklyn, NY

International Intrigue: Mexican Poutine to Rolls de Homard

Freemans tokyoFirst it was burgers and tacos, now Parisians have
moved on to lobster rolls. I wonder if deep-dish pizza or chili will ever take hold? [NYT]

Freemans in Tokyo somehow makes sense. Bowlers, antlers, DJs–they're just like us! [Freemans via Grub Street]

Stranger, is Agriculture Canada bringing Canadian cuisine (what?) to the streets of Mexico City. Oaxaca cheese poutine sounds pretty
good, though. [National Post via @Francis_Lam]

Hong Kong's Hutong will be opening a branch in London. There is already an offshoot in Beijing.  [BigHospitality]




Stranger, is Agriculture Canada bringing Canadian cuisine
(what?) to the streets of Mexico City. Oaxaca cheese poutine sounds pretty
good, though. [National Post via @Francis_Lam]

Pack(age) Rat: Eroski Miaou Bocaditos

Eroski miaou

The cat food bought at an Eroski supermarket somewhere
between Bilbao and San Sebastian is as good a Basque souvenir as anything. Keep
or toss? This can will also get a reprieve.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Spicy, Meatless, Horseless

Brooklyn taco duo

Brooklyn Taco The Saturday afternoon pop-up housed
inside Williamsburg's Donna was a pleasant surprise. Happy hour drinks
practically call for a little stomach padding. Guacamole (for god’s sake, never
say "guac"–do I even have to tell you not say "marg?")
always bores me to death and is overpriced to boot (I’m fine enjoying the
two-dollar's worth of raw materials in my own home) but for reasons I don’t
understand everyone always wants to order a shitload for the table, so I was a
mildly amused that the usual crowd-pleaser was fiery enough to elicit dismay. I'm
not even sure where they heat was lurking in the green mash. Same with the
tacos; those who went for the vegetarian version got dosed with a blast of
chile heat. Maybe the meat-avoiders were being punked? The cabeza was spicy,
not brutally so, and I was happy to have a chewy, substantial choice instead of
some stewed San Loco/Calexico blahness.

Blossom I probably wouldn’t have chosen a vegan
restaurant out of my own volition (though animal-free dishes are a step above
raw foods) but others’ birthdays are like that. And the
pistachio-and-pepper-dusted tofu was better than the sum of its parts. Probably
because of the foundational crepe stuffed with a root vegetable puree and the thick
lemon truffle sauce. It was more rich than austere. My camera photo was hideous enough that it decided to leave it out–I hate to give vegan cooking an even worse image.

Qi Bangkok Eatery I’m really not obsessed with Qi
even though I do get a kick out of the Williamsburg location (I'm pretty sure
I've mentioned it at least twice). It turns out that I now work a block from
the one on Eighth Avenue so I had to take a peek. I was surprised that they
also have a menu by Pichet Ong a.k.a. the “Bangkok Selection” (and that there
are still peep shows in Times Square) but it’s not the same as in Williamsburg,
no Ovaltine ribs, etc. and only available after 5pm. I just had the lunch
combo, steamed chicken dumplings that were kind of boring but not bad and
chicken basil chile stirfry that was spicier than expected for not having to
ask for extra heat. $7.95 isn’t a horrible price (you could pay $13 for a
takeout salad over here) for two dishes in a non-frenzied setting. I'll probably go back and just get a larb and a glass of Riesling (drunk lunch is my new midtown M.O.–don't tell anyone) You don't
like chandeliers in lucite boxes and Louis Ghost chairs during your lunch break?

Bonefish grill april duo
Bonefish Grill Ok, well, I am obsessed with Bonefish
Grill. Twice in one quarter is a lot even for me. This is a weirdo location in
Paramus that instead of sharing space with a fellow OSI brand like Carrabba’s is
attached to a Crowne Plaza next to a mall. So it felt like I was on a vacation.
There was no trout for my grilled fish with pan Asian sauce (pretty much soy,
ketchup and oyster sauce
) so it was scallops and shrimp instead. They did,
however, have a new appetizer, white tuna, a.k.a. escolar, a.k.a. shit fish
sashimi (that's seared) which I ordered because I’m wild that way. The seasonal sides have
progressively gotten more creative. I don’t mean that chickpeas, spinach and
turkey sausage is Michelin-worthy, just that it’s trying a little harder than the
usual mashed potatoes, rice or steamed vegetables.

Ikea Horse-free, I think, not that I would be
bothered by a little horse meat (apparently, the Swedes aren't either). I
haven’t eaten in an Ikea cafeteria in years—when did they replace the boiled
new potatoes with mashed?






The Last Lunch

Final yip's lunch

All good things must come to an end, and after six
year my office will be moving far away from Yip's, my favorite greasy-good by-the-pound
lunch buffet. It was nice knowing you, $4.16 worth of salt-and-pepper squid, shriveled
green beans, hunks of fatty pork belly and soggy zucchini in black bean sauce with
all the chicken picked out by 1:30pm.

I'm off to the land of the bi-level Dallas BBQ and
the new Buca di Beppo. The fact that there's one in the Excaliber casino tells me all I need to know about the Italian chain.

Things to Click

For the two or three readers interested in my
burgeoning side project, The Middle Ages, I've moved it to a standalone blog. I
have a lot to say on the matter and didn't want to distract from the
food-centricity here.

And while I'm promoting my own stuff, why not go take a look at my assessment of Yooglers (Spanish frozen yogurt) and Vivoli (Italian gelato) on Serious Eats.

Pack(age) Rat: Jimmy’s Beef Jerky

Jimmy's jerky

A combination of spring cleaning and semi-voluntary downsizing has forced me to revaluate all the crap I've accumulated over the years. And by crap I mean cans, bottles and jars of food purchased primarily for the labels. I'm keeping all the blue Pepsis, though.

First up, Jimmy's Chinese Style Beef Jerky, bought in a Canadian Chinatown who knows when–apparently, quite some time ago, based on this message string from 2006 about the brand's disappearance.
Nice not-quite-pastel color palette (you thought I was going to type palate?) and unintentionally(?) retro graphics, reminiscent of a '60s travel poster. No, this box isn't quite ready for the recycling bin yet.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bready

Saltie balmy sandwich

Saltie I'm extremely late to this tightly edited collection of mostly focaccia-based sandwiches (I'm still not clear how the little shop managed to fill an entire cookbook) because I never used to be anywhere near Metropolitan Avenue before 6pm and I am a sad person who tries to avoid bread and eschewing sandwiches is the easiest way to do that. You hear about the Scuttlebutt and the one that's mostly lettuce (don't think it's currently served) but the Balmy may be a sleeper hit. Like an American banh mi with the pate in the starring role, this hearty sandwich combines a thick layer of liver and shaved ham with pickled onions, carrots (and assorted other unidentifiable things) green olives, parsley instead of cilantro, a little jalapeño and swipe of mayonnaise. It's the soft bread (and lack of fishy component) that sets it apart.

Bien cuit duo

Bien Cuit Once the bread floodgates have opened,
there is no stopping. Even though I never once visited the full-service Smith
Street location, I was excited to hear about the weekend bread-only pop-up,
oddly situated on the ground floor of that odd narrow bright blue apartment
building on Metropolitan near the BQE turnoff that looks like something you'd
see in Amsterdam. I needed something grainy for an Easter butternut squash and
kale strata, but ended up going with the sturdy baguette instead of the
many-grain, which seemed too intense for what was essentially a breakfast
casserole. What I really wanted in addition to eat with two pounds of Acme
smoked salmon was a dark, chewy smorrebrod rye like they serve at Aamanns. Instead,
I returned Sunday and picked up that seriously dense many-grain (buckwheat,
wheat, millet, rye, amaranth and black sesame), which is described as being complementary
to cheese, but works with gravlax and dilled sour cream too. Unfortunately, I underestimated
its edibility and had to send a guest out for another loaf (plus a rye &
sunflower, for good measure and to help make sandwiches of leftover ham).

Nomad quad

The NoMad What do you eat when you've already tried
the chicken for two?
(Funny, this question came up this week because though I
know it's a whole chicken, it really doesn't seem so.) You could order it
again. Or you could jump all over the menu while slicing and picking at the freshly baked foccacia. The sweetbreads croustillant,
a.k.a. eggroll-style are a little odd because they seem too naked, just soft
innards in a shell and no sauce. Fun in theory, but they needed something more.
The gratineed bone marrow with anchovy worked better (and though I'm contradicting
what I just said,  I kind of like my
marrow plain and unadorned with nothing more than crunchy grains of salt). The
lobster wasn't a disappointing chicken alternative, and light despite being
bathed in rich buttery foam that had that nice subtle licorice quality from the
fennel. The smooth white globe of ice cream in the coconut-centric dessert
resembled a hard-boiled egg so much it was nearly distracting.