Monday, March 15, 2010

Xochitl...New Hole-in-the-Wall Mexican Joint?

Two things we love about dining at the bar in Xochitl are the tall wooden chairs and the interesting small-plates on the menu. And while the plates never disappointed, the bar was always a bit on the cramped side. The dining are always seemed a separate & distinct part of the place and never really drew us in.

When I heard that the wall dividing the bar and dining area had been opened up, I was curious to see what the effect was on the atmosphere. More importantly, when I heard that the menu had been re-worked and the price-points lowered, a whole new side of the menu had opened up for us in terms of interesting offerings for the eating at the bar.

Our server explained the new menu concept and gave a few tips for sharing orders, maybe two or three plates from the antojitos & mariscos, then two from the tortas & tacos.

One of the only disappointments, we started with the Tamal. Usually served with rabbit, the lamb substitution added alot of flavor, the filling was a bit sparse and the tamal came out barely warmed over, which made the texture of masa seem a bit leaden and waxy. Even with the addition of the spicy salsa verde, the dish was dubbed tamal-lame by my wife.

The Chicharrones, on the other hand, were the perfect bar snack; still glistening from the oil-bath, these gigantic folds of fried porkskin were crunchy and delicious. While we would have loved to have seen the chicharrones prepared with a bit of fat still attached to the inward side of the skin as it's done in other places, they were very much enjoyed. The spicy salsa verde again making an appearance with some oddly placed but welcome radishes. The chiffonade of aromatic mint sprinkled on top of the pork skins was a new twist that flavored each crunch just enough to keep the dish from having too much of a single-note taste.

Pulpo & Morcilla - The classic octopus & potato pairing was joined by the blood sausage, like a traditional black pudding with an overload of Latin spices. The octopus had what tasted like a quick seared exterior, but was very soft in the center...the smaller pieces were more tender and held up better than the larger hunks of octopus, but this was some of the more well prepared pulpo I've had recently - try Varga Bar's octopus for the current reigning champ of cephalopod cooking. The black garlic mole wasn't overwhelming in taste and simply served to provide a bit of moistness to the drier bits of the skewered meats, which was probably best as the Morcilla was definitely in charge of leading the flavor on this dish.

As good as the Pulpo y Morcilla was, the real star of the evening was the Cazuela de Chorizo y Papas. The fresh chorizo sausage was finely ground and filler, all crumble and mercifully lacking the puddle of red grease that you can run into when dealing with excessive amounts of chorizo. Kale was mixed into the potato & sausage and a vinegar possibly added, as we both picked up on a distinct tartness mixed into the crumble. The potatoes were flavor magnets, soaking up the chorizo & kale juices. The dish was perfect for a rainy evening and really reminded me alot of the Pork, Clams and Crispy Potatoes dish we had eaten at KooZeeDoo a few months ago.

Although we had anticipated venturing over to the tacos on the other side of the menu, we were close to full and went for desserts instead. The Churros weren't bad...a firmer, thicker variety than what I'm used to and a little too much cinnamon & sugar, but it still made for a decent finish to what had been a really good series of new dishes.