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Xochitl


philadining
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Xochitl

408 South 2nd Street, Philadelphia

(215)238-7280

www.xochitlphilly.com

Philadelphia had suffered so long from dismal Mexican food options that it's almost dizzying to consider the array of restaurants available to us now. Finally, we have an array of basic bargain taquerias, refined fine-dining, and many points in between. This latest addition to the scene tends toward the upper end of that scale, with artful, but still homey food, and a sophisticated beverage program. Our first impressions were very positive.

The menu includes an entire page of tequilas, cocktails, wines and beers, as much space as is devoted to the food. It features a broad selection of Tequilas: several choices each of blanco, reposado and anejo, which can be enjoyed as shots, in small jugs, or in mixed drinks. My reposado came with a chaser vibrant with tomato, citrus and chile that practically lept out of its glass. The basic, classic margarita was excellent, not too sweet, scrupulously fresh. (If I have any complaints about the drinks, it's that they take a while to arrive, because it appears that all are being made from scratch, including squeezed-to-order limes. It's a nice touch, but does bog the line down a bit... ) A cocktail with tequila, lime and thyme was an interesting twist on the overexposed mojito - good enough that we got another one of those, oh, and heck, another margarita. Oh, and another drink featuring tequila, hibiscus and pomegranate was refreshing and exotic. Hmmm... I guess we got a little carried-away with the drinks...

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Anyway, plenty of interesting selections - there are some house-made aguas frescas at the back of the bar, and lots more cocktails and high-end tequilas to sample from the menu. There's a cozy, dark and comfortable lounge in the basement that ought to be just the right spot to plow through that list some evening.

The main dining room is pretty small, but one can eat in the bar next door, either at one of the 4 tables in that area or at the bar itself. They also serve food downstairs in the lounge, although there's only a small bar and couch-like seating areas, no conventional dining tables down there.

Even though they've only been open a few days, the place was packed, so, make a reservation if you want to eat in the dining room.

Sopes

Chorizo, Duck Breast, Goat Cheese with Nopales Salad.

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These were quite tasty, especially the chorizo. A tender, flavorful slice of duck breast, but not much other accompaniment adorned another - subtle, but still quite good. The goat cheese and cactus was crunchy and creamy, acidic and rich, a bold interplay of sensations. I'd get this again.

Gorditas de Huitlacoche

Masa pockets stuffed with Huitlacoche

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Who'd have guessed Huiltlacoche would be on so many menus in Philly? Jeeze, the stuff's spreading like, well, corn fungus. Thankfully, it makes a great filling for a gordita, with a musty mushroomy undertone to the corn crunch and peppery zing from the accompaniments.

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More huitlacoche appeared in the

Pechugas de Pollo Rellena

Sesame-crusted chicken breast, stuffed with huitlacoche, with guajillo pepper sauce.

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The sesame not only gave the chicken a great crunch, but the nuttiness blended into the guajillo sauce so harmoniously, it evoked the mystery of more complex moles. Excellent.

Chamorro de Puerco

Braised Pork Shank with red onions, manzano peppers and guacamole, served in an achiote sauce with fresh corn tortillas.

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I'll give them some bravery points for serving a big clump of meat with a couple of bones sticking out of it, it's one of the more in-your-face carnivore platings I've seen in a while! The achiote sauce was more of a rub - this didn't really have a sauce to speak-of - but the pork was tender and juicy and flavorful, so it didn't really need one. Toss some shreds of the meat in a hot, fresh corn tortilla, add some bracingly spicy peppers and onions, a dab of guac: that's a winning combo.

For some reason the tortillas are green. No matter, they're good.

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for dessert:

crepas

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Three sweet crepes, each filled differently. I forget exactly what was in them, I think one had diced papaya, another a tequilla-flavored cream... in any case, they were delicious.

Churros

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Light, crispy, airy, cinnamony churros, with a cup of hot chocolate for dipping. These were fantastic, and the liquid that accompanied was more of a conventional hot-cocoa consistency, rather than the ultra-thick, almost chocolate-sauce you get many places. I like both approaches, this one not only infuses the churro deeply with a chocolate flavor upon dipping, but at the end, you've got a nice cup of hot chocolate to drink, now enlivened with extra sugar and cinnamon. Life could be worse.

There's lots more worth sampling, including several ceviches, a chile-relleno-ish thing, a squid hot-pot, slow-cooked barbacoa...

This is not a bargain taqueria, but prices are not super-high either. Starters go for 7 or 8 bucks, mains from $15 to $25. Of course the drinks will always get you, I honestly wasn't paying attention to exactly how much they were. We ended up spending about $65 per person before tip, but that was 3 drinks, one starter, one main and a dessert EACH. About half of that was booze, so a reasonable person could get out for much less. If you're spending the evening drinking, as is the case anywhere with drinks of this quality: get a small bank loan.

One might think I'd get tired of saying "this is a great new addition to the Mexican dining scene" as more places open up around here, but nope... I'm happy to say it again and again. And indeed this is a welcome new facet to the increasingly complex terrain. I'm happy to have yet another option, in this case a serious kitchen doing serious food, but in a comfortable setting at a reasonable pricepoint.

I just need to set myself a limit in the drinks. Did I mention that they're really quite tasty?

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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The two places are certainly exploring some of the same territory, and I think the chefs at both places are originally from Puebla, so they're riffing on the same regional flavors, therefore it's probably fair to compare them.

The physical restaurant Xochitl is certainly a little more refined, especially given the full bar and location. I think both chefs are doing great stuff, I might give a slight edge to Dionicio Jimenez at Xochitl, just for the menu being a bit more adventurous. I've only eaten at each place once, so I don't feel confident making any broad statements about execution.

But to answer the question, the quality of the food at Xochitl is probably a little better, but it might be too early to say.

So yeah, Xochitl could probably safely be considered a tick up in refinement from Molcajete Mixto, although that might not necessarily translate to "better," whatever that means... And I'm still not giving up on the 3 for $5 taco joints either.

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Phil! When were you there? I was there Friday night -- I wonder if we just missed each other?

I was glad to be able to grab a few seats at the bar -- the rest of the place was packed by 7:30. Lots of neighborhood folk were dropping by for a drink and to check the place out... everyone was ordering the pork shank, which looked and smelled really good. I tried:

- The house-made (?) horchata. Maybe my tastebuds are perverted by the cheap sugary and possibly fake (but addictive) stuff they sell at hole-in-the-wall taquerias in Texas, but I thought the horchata at Xochitl was a bit chalky.

- A blood orange margarita (the house tequila is Hornitos, which is my personal favorite). This isn't on the menu but I noticed that they were using blood orange as a garnish so I asked for one. Smooth and tasty.

- A glass of gruner veltliner to go with my scallop and watermelon ceviche (when watermelon is in season, this will be awesome; it was still pretty good) and the sopes, which I will definitely order again.

- The chocolate y churros with some Patron coffee liquor thrown in for good measure. So good! I figured Steven Cook would not disappoint, and I was right.

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My wife and I were lucky enough to be invited for Friends and Family night. We love this place -- but that's not surprising, given it's a Steve Cook restaurant. Between the two of us, we tried all 6 tequila cocktails. My wife's favorite was the Senor Barriga: herrauduro blanco, mulddle lime, sugar and them, served on the rocks. It's a unique take on a margarita -- really refreshing. My favorite was a Quico, made with pomagranite liquer.

I had one of the best ceviches ever: the Tostadas de Ceviches made with shrimp, octopus, spanish mackerel, clinatro, jalpenios, tomatos and avacado. Highly recommended. My wife had the Gorditas, which in our opinion was the only disappointment of the night -- kind of bland and ordinary.

My wife had the Chiles en Nogada -- which we both could have gone on eating for the rest of the night. It's a cold dish consisting of poblano peppers stuffed with ground beef, dried fruit and nuts and served in a creamy goat cheese sauce -- although the menu says "creamy walnut and pomegranate sauce." I think it was goat cheese, but whatever, order it! I had the slow-cooked goat with cactus salad, guacamole and scallions, serviced with corn tortillas. The goat was amazingly tender and flavorful. I've had goat in the Caribbean, and it was chewy and gamy. Not at Xochitl. Just terrific.

For dessert my wife had a savory vanilla ice cream (with pepper?) and some sort of delicious choclate cake (hard to remember: we had 6 cocktails, don't forget), and I had a delicious and beautiful avocado and pear tart with kiwi.

Even though we were guests, we saw the bill -- and it was unbelievably reasonable.

Tell your friends!

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I had dinner at Marigold on Friday night and with our bill came flyers announcing Xochitl (and a coupon for $5 off). I'm always up for yummy Mexican food, but reading these posts today... philadining, you had my fiance at sangrita chasers, and mcwein, you had me at ceviche.

I would sell my children for good ceviche. Thankfully, I'm not a parent.

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Ahh, right, thanks urbanfabric, sangrita! I had a mental block about the name of that spicy tomato-citrus juice... yowza, that was a rocking version, more peppery that I've had before, but really nice.

I'm not sure if it automatically accompanies all tequila shots. I'd asked our waitress to pick a reposado for me, and that's how it came. I suppose one could ask for a "completo" and see what shows up...

Incidentally, the service was quite good at Xochitl, with very friendly, attentive staff. As I mentioned, the drinks came a little slower than might be ideal, but I think they were just swamped - and it looked like they only had one person behind the bar. I think that they're busy enough that they might need to add someone else back there! Even so, it was not a huge problem, and everything else ran very smoothly. Our waitress was very informed and helpful, and the various runners and bussers were efficient but not intrusive. It was a very pleasant experience overall.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I would sell my children for good ceviche.  Thankfully, I'm not a parent.

Love this. Might Pasion now have a competitor in that market?

Lisa K

Lavender Sky

"No one wants black olives, sliced 2 years ago, on a sandwich, you savages!" - Jim Norton, referring to the Subway chain.

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  • 2 months later...

Bumping this up to ask if anyone has been recently. I'm thinking of going on Sunday. If you were going for upscale Mexican, and didn't have many opportunities to eat out, would this be your choice? If not, what would your pick be? Lolita? Molcajete Mixto? (When did there get to be so many great choices?) :blink: Help an indecisive girl make a tough decision.

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i like molcajete mixto alot and would recommend it. however, it's not an "upscale" experience. definetly a couple big steps up from a taqueria, but it's byo, and on kind of a dreary cornor, but the food is really good.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I should preface this post by saying that I know next to nothing about Mexican food, a fact which I'm trying to remedy by sampling some of Philly's offerings. It was in this spirit that I was excited to try Xochitl tonight, along with eG's ever-popular Vadouvan, and eG up-and-comer rae, who rumor has it is going to do a detailed review of her namesake tomorrow. I'm not able to assess authenticity or how Xochitl's renditions compare to similar ones elsewhere; however, in terms simply of, as one person I know is fond of saying, "deliciousness", the meal was, well, very, very diasppointing.

We started with the sopes, the escargots and rabbit stew-like thing (don't remember the name), and the gorditas. The goat cheese sope was good; the duck breast sope didn't taste at all like duck to me; and and the chorizo was reminiscent of cafeteria-style taco meat. (I should say that I'm not really familiar with Mexcian, as opposed to Spanish, chorizo; I don't know if it tasted how the Mexican variety is supposed to, but I suspect not.)

I couldn't really taste the huitlacoche in the gorditas; they just tasted like fried. The broth in the rabbit and corn stew was very one-dimensional. V hypothesized at one point that they had cooked the chunks of corn in the broth, which had imparted an overwhelming corn flavor to it.

The squid hot pot was the best dish of the night. The squid themseleves were pretty tasty if fairly unadorned, though there were some quite hard to chew peppers in there, and there didn't seem to be anything particularly Mexican about the flavors involved. We also had the pork shank, which was second to the squid for the best dish of the night, though really just a completely basic braised pork shank, with not much depth of flavor. We also had the lamb; I don't remember how this was prepared, but it was quite dry and displayed no evidenced of having been seasoned in any way.

Oddly, our check came right after the mains were served. This was completely inexplicable. V had asked for "share plates", but it didn't seem like this could have been misconstrued as "check please".

The restaurant itself is quite nicely done, and the drink side of the menu quite elaborate; it seems more than a bit too upscale for the quality of the food being served, though.

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Something at this dinner made the right half of my tongue numb. It's still tingling.

I agree for the most part with Mr. Gordon. All the apps were big misses. The gorditas were overwhelmingly fried (and don't get me wrong, I love fried when it's good fried, this was soggy fried). The goat cheese sope was the best of the bunch, and I agree completely with what Mr. Gordon said about the chorizo. It actually tasted like the pasta they used to serve in my dining hall in college (for some reason the pasta always tasted like bad tacos).

On to the entrees. I actually didn't think the squid itself had much taste, but the dish overall was the best of the night (do not read that as good, just the best of what we had). I liked the pork a little more than the rest of my party did, I think, but when you added it to a tortilla with some guacamole (how they suggested eating it) the flavors of the individual components seemed to oddly negate each other.

All-in-all, a dinner full of one-dimensional flavors that even our secret stash of Maldon salt couldn't bring fully to life.

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I'm surprised! I had a few of those same things and was pretty struck by how fresh and flavorful they seemed. I think I know what you mean when you talk about the lunchroom tacos, and I thankfully didn't get that flashback from the chorizo!

It's a little too soon for them to be on autopilot... I wonder what happened?

Did you have cocktails?

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I'm surprised!  I had a few of those same things and was pretty struck by how fresh and flavorful they seemed.  I think I know what you mean when you talk about the lunchroom tacos, and I thankfully didn't get that flashback from the chorizo!

It's a little too soon for them to be on autopilot... I wonder what happened?

Did you have cocktails?

I had the Senor Barriga (their take on a mojito, with tequila and thyme). It didn't do much for me; in fact, I found the loose thyme leaves kind of unpleasant in the context of a beverage.

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i had a good cocktail when i went there in february. something with that stuff pama.

i thought the shank was good not great. seemed like it needed something. some kind of ... more of a meatier taste. the sopes and gorditas tasted like the usual suspects to me, but then again i like fried corn things.

mexican chorizo is different from spanish -- usually hotter, flavored with chili and garlic, not cured. you could try picking some up from one of the mexican markets down in the italian market area, and cooking it to get a sense of how it 'should' taste. it might bring a taco meat association to your mind no matter how it's cooked. i mean, that might not have been the fault of the place.

overall though we thought the food was pretty good there. because of the scene and the cocktails, of course, we sort of had a 'we could get this way cheaper somewhere else' moment, but it wasn't because of the food.

i would say a return visit is in order to see, but i go out too rarely and there are too many places i'm missing out on already to go back so soon.

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I found the loose thyme leaves kind of unpleasant in the context of a beverage.

There are better ways to do that. Perhaps had they hired me as their bar manager, this wouldn't have been an issue. :raz:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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here are better ways to do that. Perhaps had they hired me as their bar manager, this wouldn't have been an issue. 

Funny you should say that.....

I believe the *exact* quote during this dinner was....

"Katie Loeb or the Pegu guys would make a thyme simple syrup".

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See. You all are getting my not-so-secrets down pat. :wink::biggrin:

edited to add:

If the drink didn't need a sweet component that the simple syrup would provide, a thyme infusion directly into the spirit would work too...

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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mexican chorizo is different from spanish -- usually hotter, flavored with chili and garlic, not cured. you could try picking some up from one of the mexican markets down in the italian market area, and cooking it to get a sense of how it 'should' taste. it might bring a taco meat association to your mind no matter how it's cooked. i mean, that might not have been the fault of the place.

Ummm.... :unsure:

Not to go toooo off topic...

But to respond to Biggie's and Rae'e Chorizorama

A few years ago I used to wonder why I was addicted to spanish chorizo yet despised mexican chorizo until i figured out the obvious answer was the one ingredient they do not have in common.

D.O.P. quality Pimenton de la Vera.

Smoked Paprika rocks and the absence of it in mexican chorizo makes it taste like bad merguez.

As Biggie say's this is an almost universal reaction regardless of restaurant but Spanish Chorizo is far better.

If you can get your hands on the stuff from Fermin, that is the shizzy but D'espana is excellent and Palacios is OK.

I mostly use D'espana since you can buy it in person in Nolita while tasting 9 other sausages for free.

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I've had the gorditas a couple of times, and they seemed fine. My only real complaint is that they're a bit on the bland side. I'm no huitlacoche expert, but I was expecting a bit more of a truffle-y flavor perhaps.

One entree I had there that I *really* enjoyed was the Barbacoa de Borrego (slow-cooked goat). It definitely reminded me of some of the food that we had during our honeymoon in Mexico - tender and delicious, with a stack of warm tortillas on the side.

I've heard the complaints about the thyme leaves in the drink before, but for some reason they don't offend me. But then again, tequila is involved - which tends to alter my sensibilities a bit :laugh:

After one fru-fru coctail, I like to move on to the straight tequila and sangrita chasers they serve up anyway. The sangrita is pretty much worth the price of admission for me...

__Jason

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See. You all are getting my not-so-secrets down pat.   

edited to add:

If the drink didn't need a sweet component that the simple syrup would provide, a thyme infusion directly into the spirit would work too...

Absolutely katie, I am getting some fabulous drinks with either low oncentrations of steam extracted essential oils used to make simple syrup or simply spray a whiff of flavored Hydrosol into the glass before the drink is poured in or on the sorface of the drink

The hydrosol is basically a mistable suspension of the esential oil and water.

fantastic drinks.

W should get together sometime...

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Lemon verbena hydrosol as does orange blossom make fantastic drings

The Thyome Oil is oustanding but needs minute concentrations.

Good night.

Edited by Vadouvan (log)
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V:

I've got Thyme syrup as well as Orange Flower Water behind my bar right now. I'm totally intrigued by the Lemon Verbena.

The thyme syrup is currently in the Parisian, a twist on a French Martini. I'm waiting for my liquor order to arrive 'cuz I'm out of the essentials for it - Hendricks gin and Lillet. I'm using the Orange Flower to make a fakeout Vesper. Pretty tasty, even without the Lillet.

You know where to find me, and I suspect you know where the kitchen door is too. Stop by with your atomizer so we can play with the Lemon Verbena. :wub:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Smoked Paprika rocks and the absence of it in mexican chorizo makes it taste like bad merguez.

As Biggie say's this is an almost universal reaction regardless of restaurant but Spanish Chorizo is far better.

If you can get your hands on the stuff from Fermin, that is the shizzy but D'espana is excellent and Palacios is OK.

I mostly use D'espana since you can buy it in person in Nolita while tasting 9 other sausages for free.

yeah but that would be really weird in a taco with potatoes and the cilantro/onion mix. they just taste so different i can't imagine spanish chorizo in mexican food. i mean the fact that it's cured while mexican isn't would be weird enough.

although there is that recipe in the jose andres tapas book that's chorizo and potatoes stewed together. but still it would be weird in a taco.

back on topic: further thinking back on my meal at xochitl, the general memory i still have of it was that everything was a little timid. the big bold flavors i associate with mexican food weren't as big and bold as i wanted them to be. (edited to say, apparently unlike you guys' experience...) everything tasted good and was cooked correctly, but it just didn't taste as much as i wanted it to.

i like a big pile of barbacoa, though, so maybe a return visit is in order. or maybe i'll hit that up in south philly on sunday... mmmm weird spaghetti....

Edited by mrbigjas (log)
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