First Bite: Xochitl
BY BRIDGET SALMONS
Not very long ago we mourned the loss of chef Erin O’Shea at beloved foodie haunt Marigold Kitchen. O’Shea and restaurateur/owner Steve Cook pulled out of the West Philly BYOB to open Percy Street Barbecue on South Street. And now, even more changes in the Cook Empire, but this time at Xochitl. Gone is chef Dionicio Jimenez, who will be cooking at Stephen Starr’s unnamed Mexican restaurant at 20th and Chestnut. In his place is chef Lucio Palazzo (who has cooked at Zahav and was most recently the sous chef at Percy Street), and a more casual, small plates menu of tacos and tortas.
The space, too, is different. The removal of the wall that separated the bar from the main dining room has opened up the tiny spot — a change we can get behind. The lively bar and its must-order margaritas now seem to be Xochitl’s strong suit. In fact, the two new happy hours — a daily HH from 5 to 7 p.m., and a late night one on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays — boast some of the most enticing bar deals in the city, including those margaritas for $5 and the $6 “Guero Special” (a shot of tequila and a can of Tecate).
The new menu, however, at this early stage, falls flat. The baja tacos, with mahi mahi and fresh pineapple and avocado, were light and refreshing, but also tired and uninspired. And the flank steak in the falda de res torta was so tough that as we struggled to eat it, the table across from us gave up and sent it back. Thankfully, the much praised mixed grill remains, but gone are lamb and blood sausage in favor of more accessible meats like duck and pork belly. With chef Jimenez at the helm, Xochitl’s uncomplicated and authentic Mexican cuisine was unrivaled —so we can’t help but see the new taqueria menu and its Americanized flavors as a definite loss for the city.