241 South 4th Street, Williamsburg
It’s a Mexican miracle—a milagro. Elote, that magically messy, spicy-sweet, cheesy, creamy, citrus-spiked corn-on-the-cob has been transformed from street food to first-date food. At Xixa, the ears of corn are replaced with long, thin, charred and caramelized carrots, the greasy mayo-and-cheese topping is swapped out for rich honey butter, lime crema, coriander, feta and dill ($6). Like all good elotes, you’ll want to rub your face in it—but in this case, you can just as easily use a fork. Located on the edge of Williamsburg’s Hasidic section—and just a few doors down from its deliberately non-kosher sister restaurant Traif—Xixa is pronounced “shiksa.” This once-disparaging term for a non-Jewish woman has taken on a warmer meaning in the present-day vernacular; at this dimly lighted small-plates joint, it’s a tribute to Chef Jason Marcus’s girlfriend and business partner, Heather Heuser.
The flavors of Mexico inspire the menu as loosely and dreamily as the Spanish language inspired the sultry spelling of Xixa. A light and creamy guacamole (which gets a touch of earthiness from braised artichokes) and roasted peanut salsa is served alongside tortilla chips and chircaron de queso, a dressed-up version of the cheese that seeps out of a quesadilla and hardens to a delicious crisp on your baking pan ($5). The sweet, floral crunch of diced green apple adds another layer of flavor to an elegant plate of fresh, citrusy scallop ceviche with spicy shaved jalapeños and a touch of buttery avocado ($8). Small and plump rock-shrimp gorditas make for succulent, satisfying bites ($7). A bowl of hearty, cinnamon-kissed lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce ($11) was just the rib-sticking thing we needed to turn a bunch of small plates into a full meal. Though the plates were brought to the table in an odd sequence—the heavy and assertive meatballs preceded some much lighter fare like the delicate scallop ceviche—our six dishes made a scrumptious, tasting-menu-style meal for two for only $45, making Xixa one of the best new date-night deals in town.
The wine list is organized by flavor and essence and grouped under the names of gentile women. The bottles in the Helen Mirren section are described as “concentrated, baked fruits, transcendent” while the Coco Chanel-esque wines are “perfumed, aromatic, and avant-garde.” Wine list whimsy aside, the most intriguing bebida on the menu is the mezcal, which is mixed with duck fat, frozen, strained and then served neat, leaving a trace of warmth and smokiness, which smoothes out the oft-biting Mexican spirit. A side dish of smoky salt and grapefruit wedges makes for nice noshing between sips. Get another round at dessert to help keep you warm while waiting later on the chilly platform for the Marcy Avenue JMZ.
Photo by Austin McAllister