Weekend in Review–Part 1: Xoco
|February 4, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Chicago Young Foodie Spots, Lunch|
Tommy was in town visiting this weekend and we enjoyed our time together to the fullest. Per usual, this meant trying out some new restaurants, enjoying some old favorites and eating a lot of delicious tasting food!
One low light of the weekend was Friday night’s dinner at a new Streeterville restaurant called Little Market Brasserie. I didn’t take a single picture while I was there because I did not think that the restaurant warranted an official review on the blog. While the food was decent (we got mushroom toast and the poutine and called it quits), the drinks were delicious (I would recommend the Burning Monk and the Little Market), nothing can make up for the absolutely terrible service that we got.
To give you the highlights – we arrived for our 8:30 reservation and ended up waiting 45 minutes to get a table. The hostess never committed to a time when we asked how long it was going to be and so we stuck around because she kept insisting “it would be soon.” When we finally were seated, we were taken to a drafty corner table that was located right near the window. While the restaurant did buy us a round of drinks to make up for the wait, the terrible service continued while we ordered and waited for our food to arrive. The waiter was completely disengaged and it took forever to get his attention. After the two appetizers, we were so fed up we had to leave.
Luckily, that was the only negative food experience of the weekend! We started fresh again on late Saturday morning with a visit to Xoco, Rick Bayless’ “quick-service café.”
The concept behind Xoco (which translates to “little sister”) is “contemporary expressions of Mexico’s most beloved street food and snacks.” Basically, you come inside and tell the hostess how many people you have in your party. If they have a table available for you, they allow you to order at the counter and the food comes out steaming hot about 10 minutes later. If they don’t have a table available right away, you hang out until one is ready.
I was particularly excited about trying out Xoco because I had heard that its soups were out of this world. And considering it was about 10 degrees out and snowing, soup seemed like the perfect option. In addition to soup, Xoco also offers tortas (sandwiches), salads, starters and pastries. Because I was “doing research for the blog,” I made sure I sampled something from every one of these categories so I could report back!
To start, we took the suggestion of the cashier and ordered Chicharrones, which are Mexican friend pork rinds.
Despite the fact that pork rinds are considered pretty pedestrian food, these chicharrones could not have been further from that. These were perfectly fried and had a crunchy, thick consistency and were smothered in a Tamazule hot sauce (I actually thought it tasted a lot like a more complex Franks hot sauce!), queso, onions and cilantro. I also sprayed mine with lots of fresh lime juice. While the first few bites of these chicharrones did not seem spicy, it was the type of heat that really caught up with you by the end. Tommy and I actually had to take a quick break between eating these and our entrees to get the senses back in our taste buds! Luckily, we also had delicious drinks – margarita for me and an amazing non-alcoholic hibiscus juice for him – to cool off with.
Next up, we ordered the Pepito Torta and the Carnitas Meal-in-a-bowl Caldos, or soup. Both of these were also per the suggestion of the cashier and were absolutely amazing. If there was a lesson in all of this, it is to trust the people who work at Xoco. Or maybe everything is this good?
The Pepito Torta was filled with braised short ribs, caramelized onion, artisan Jack, black beans and pickles jalapenos.
The sandwich was delicious on its own, but with the addition of the tomatillo sauce (which we decided, predictably, was FAR superior to mine!), it was absolutely unbelievable. It had such complex flavors and textures going on – heat from the tomatillo sauce and jalapenos, saltiness from the short rib, creaminess from the cheese. The bread (homemade I am sure) also had a ton of flavor and was the perfect mix between doughy and crunchy. All together, these flavors came together into the perfect sandwich. If you don’t think that you can have fine dining flavors on a sandwich budget, Xoco’s torta’s will prove you wrong.
As for the Carnitas soup, I am not even sure where to begin. Xoco calls their soups “meals-in-a-bowl” and I think that this is just about the perfect descriptor. They are somewhere between an entrée you might find at the best Mexican restaurant you have ever eaten at, a fresh salad full of veggies and a warm spicy bowl of soup!
This particular soup had slow-cooked pork carnitas, potato-masa dumplings, chayote, roasted serrano chili, greens, arugula and avocado. Potato-masa dumplings? Who know such an amazing creation existed. It was sort of like a cross between a gnocchi and a tortilla strip and was so good.
I think that the serrano chili in this dish was actually cooked with the broth? We didn’t find any bits of peppers, so this is what we figured. Plus the broth had incredible spiciness to it that I think was achieved by allowing the chilies to cook into it slowly over a long period of time. Overall, both “main dishes” were absolutely incredible and served as the perfect food on a cold winter day.
And because I am always working for you, I just had to try Xoco’s Churros with Chocolate Sauce.
Tommy and I were first introduced to true authentic churros with chocolate sauce when we traveled to Spain a few years back with my parents and Kate. Ever since then, I have had a hard time finding anything that lived up to those churros, but Xoco finally did it. Not only were the churros covered in the perfect amount of sugar and cinnamon, but the chocolate sauce was rich, not overly sweet, and the perfect complement.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this meal. While it is not as fancy as a traditional “sit down” restaurant, I don’t think that you sacrifice any service or flavor. All of the wait staff worked feverishly and were extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Plus, other than the other Rick Bayless restaurants in Chicago (he owns Frontera Grill and Topolobampo), you will not find better tasting or more authentic Mexican food.