My 89 year old father (in another state) suffered a serious medical setback yesterday, so my heart was heavy with worry all day. Fortunately, he came through the procedure with flying colors and was recovering rapidly last night, so I met a friend for dinner to celebrate that and to simply relieve some of the tension that I had been feeling.
It’s always a treat when my friend, Denise, flies in from Tuscon. Last night was no exception. We had a lovely evening at one of my neighborhood’s best restaurants, Xico. Located at 3715 SE Division Street, Xico offers a small array of freshly prepared, gourmet Mexican food and designer cocktails.
The wait staff is highly knowledgeable about both food and beverage. This is always a winning element for me. I like it when the staff knows the food well and can talk about it intelligently. Here is a little video of Denise and the waitress discussing some of the food:
After hugs and greetings, we started our meal with smoky margaritas made with Sombra, one of the restaurant’s “suitcase” mezcals from a mysterious collection that Xico owner Liz Davis hunts down in dirt-floored Mexican palenques where men still hack agave cores with machetes. It also had fresh lime juice, honey and a half-rim of rust-red, “worm salt” or sal de guasano, a condiment traditional to Oaxaca but little known here.
3 appetizers accompanied our cocktails. We had a small dish of the Queso Fundido, which is usually served with chirozo (Mexican sausage) but, of course, being a vegetarian, I asked that this ingredient be omitted. It was a perfectly perfect blend of broiled queso barra and muenstar topped with serrano-tomatilo salsa, radish, cabbage and Xito’s fresh-pressed tortillas that were bursting with organic corn that they grind themselves, right in the back room. They smell like wildflowers. A lot of this restaurant’s ingredients must be smoked, crushed, pampered, or flamed before being blended into their masterful concoctions. This dish was complex with multi-layers of salty, smoky flavor and bursts of fresh herbs. Wow. There are simply no words to fully describe how delicious it was.
We also had the Blood Orange and Apple Salad, that consisted of tequila-infused apples, pomegranate, cucumber, chile arbal, queso cotija resting in a drizzel of blood orange vinagrette. Mmmmm! It was as delicious as it was beautiful!
The third appetizer we tried was the Fried Cauliflower. These were cruciferous flourettes in an arbol salsa with queso cotja, creme and cilantro. It was light, full-flavored and delicious. It seemed the flavors of all the food at this restaurant are so perfectly balanced. It is unbelievable how they do it. For every tart flavor, there is a counterbalance of sweetness, and everything was so masterfully prepared and presented.
We each had a main entree, too. I am not going to write about Denise’s entree because she had pork and fish…but my own was a delicious, roasted Chili Relleno with Amaranth and Black Beans.
This dish was prepared unlike any chili relleno I’d ever tasted, starting with the fact that it was roasted and not fried. The chili was filled with black beans, amaranth, sun-dried tomatoes and requeson. It rested in a tomato-canela broth and was topped with sour cream, guacamole, sauteed hedgehog mushrooms and sliced vegetable escabeche garnish. It was served with a side of Mexican rice. By the time it arrived, however, I was so full that I could only eat a bite or two, so I had it wrapped and took it home to enjoy for lunch today or tomorrow. It was light (despite the sour cream, which I pushed to one side…) and delicious!
Denise and I had the best talk! I enjoyed her company so much, and especially enjoyed the fact that we talked about a future business that we are planning to do together. She and I just click, in terms of our belief systems and the things that are important to us. We both had such a good time.
I walked home, ever thankful for my good friends, for my family, for living as close as I do to restaurants such as Xico, for the crisp, cool evening and for just being alive. Evenings like last night make all of my hard work worth every minute of it! Oh….and speaking of hard work, I should get back to it now.