Over-the-top, genre-busting outrageousness has long been the name of the game in Brooklyn's restaurant scene, and there aren't many new menu items that have the power to raise an eyebrow at this point. If any new spot can get a rise out of diners though, it's Xixa, which opened in South Williamsburg last week.
Take the drink list, which forgoes cocktails in favor of tequilas and mezcals, including a duck fat-washed option. This mezcal--a smokey, throat-busting Mexican liquor made from the agave plant--is frozen with duck fat, so that the fat rises to the top and can be skimmed off, leaving behind some rich, fowl-y residue. The liquor is then strained and served clear, alongside a slice of grapefruit and a chili-salt mixture. Gimmicky? Yes, but also ridiculously rich, smooth and easier to sip than any other mezcal I've tasted--I usually find it harsh and difficult to swallow.
Xixa is a spinoff of chef Jason Marcus and Heather Heuser's Traif, which opened two years ago, a few doors down South 4th Street from the new spot. (Traif is a Yiddish word referring to non-kosher foods, and the restaurant's name was a provocative dig by Marcus, a bacon-loving Jew, at the neighborhood's ultra-Orthodox population.) Continuing on that theme, Xixa is pronounced "shiksa," referencing Heuser, who is not Jewish, but rewritten to reflect the restaurant's Mexican and East Asian influences.
The lengthy menu takes traditional Mexican dishes such as pozole (a hearty, meat-filled stew) and adds upscale elements, in this case guinea hen confit, foie gras and slivers of duck-fried potatoes all floating in a spicy ancho-guajillo broth. Guacamole comes with braised artichokes and a roasted peanut salsa, plus chircaron de queso--fried cheese crisps--for dipping. Bone marrow tacos are no big deal in New York's current culinary moment (see Belcourt, Lulu & Po's), but here they're served with steak tartare and a pepper marmalade, on dark blue tortillas made from recado negro--a dried chili paste. The dessert menu features salty churros alongside a cranberry-jalapeno sorbet. On such an inventive menu, there are bound to be hits and misses. I loved the hearty, winter-warming confit pozole, but the bone marrow-tartare tacos were just a bit too much fatty-greasiness, even for me.
Oddly enough, the very best thing I tasted at Xixa was vegetarian. The grilled carrot elotes rethink the traditional Mexican street food--usually corn on the cob slathered in lime juice, chili and cheese. In this version, charred baby carrots are subbed in for the corn, then covered in honey butter, lime crema, coriander, feta and dill. It's an exquisite, perfectly balanced dish that matches the sweet flavor of the carrots with the rich, creamy textures of feta and cream. Hmm...maybe you don't need duck fat and foie gras to make a delectable dish after all.
Xixa, 241 S. 4th Street; 718-388-8860
Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.