12/07/2012 12:56:00 PM

First Bite: Traif Team Does Mexican (and Duck Fat Mezcal) With Xixa

Mackerel tartare
When chef Jason Marcus and his partner, Heather Heuser, opened their first restaurant in 2010 in Williamsburg, they named it Traif, meaning “unkosher” in Yiddish. It was a cheeky move for an eatery right on the edge of a Hasidic neighborhood, and they've employed the same sense of irony for the naming of their new Mexican-leaning concept, Xixa, which opened recently just a couple doors down from Traif. The name is a play off "shiksa," a non-Jewish girlfriend.

The only obvious shiksas you'll find at this charming space are on the wine list, which the owners have organized according to famous women’s personalities. Say for instance you want a dark, rustic and spicy vino - head to the "Eva Peron" section and maybe choose a glass of Loca Linda Malbec or a bottle of Austrian Blaufrankisch by Schreiner. Appropriately, the greatest selection of wines can be found in the Helen Mirren section, which gets described as “concentrated, baked fruits, transcendent.”

Xixa also highlights tequila and mezcal, although they don’t have as many options of liquor as they do wine, nor to they link leading ladies to the tipples. They do, however, offer a duck fat-washed vida mezcal, which they do in-house. It’s not as scary as you think, as our server explained, and it’s traditional in Mexico to add a chicken breast to the bottle to help smooth it out. So, at Xixa they take duck fat and add it to the liquor, freeze it so the two separate, and then strain it out. What we got was clear and tasted like smoke, not foul or fowl.

That brings us to the food menu, which proved equally as impressive as the wine list. It’s organized into six categories including cheese, bread, vegetables, grains, seafood and meat. Then, each group gets ordered from lightest to heaviest dishes. For example, we tried the extremes of the vegetable list and ended up with an uber-light and citrus-tinged guacamole of braised artichokes with cheese chips, and a rich dish of grilled carrots done elote-style with a thick lime cream, honey butter, coriander, feta and dill.

The small dishes are meant to be shared, though some feel like mini meals on their own, like the pozole stew off the grains menu. This rustic offering features half of a Guinea hen, little beans that turned out to be packages of foie gras, mushrooms and hominy. The risotto of huitlacoche, which is a dark brown corn fungus, proved hearty as well and was graced with large chunks of oyster and shimeji mushrooms nestled into the tender rice.

Off the seafood menu, the green apple-mint butterfish ceviche sang with cooked pistachios, cucumber, avocado and a little jalapeƱo, a combination unlike any Mexcian food we have had before, but in a good way. The Spanish mackerel tartare with mango, chilies and a cool avocado mousse also played with the palate in a fun and surprising way.

Finally, bellies full we took notice of the simple decor. The low-lit space isn’t large, but they've managed to make each section feel like a separate room. Horseshoe-shaped booths make for comfy perches, and a large bar takes up a good fifth of the restaurant.

Another good thing to note is that Xixa’s kitchen stays open till 1 AM most nights, so it’s easy to grab a seat at the bar on a Wednesday for a late night snack of foie gras al pastor with grilled pineapple. It wasn’t slammed when we peeked in around 9 PM on a Thursday, but as soon as word gets out about this new haunt, the boys will come running in search of a shiksha  to call their own.

The Details: 241 South 4th St., Brooklyn; 718-388-8860

1 comment :

  1. i too was there late yesterday evening. this place is not to be missed. nothing in the neighborhood that hits these flavor accents