Oaxacan cuisine at Xochi, Houston
Pretty plating and painstakingly authentic
Located on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis in Houston’s lively Downtown area, sophisticated fine diner, Xochi (pronounced so-chee), is the latest undertaking of award-winning chef Hugo Ortega, winner of Best Chef: Southwest in America’s prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards. The restaurant’s painstakingly authentic, insect-infused dishes celebrate Ortega’s home State of Oaxaca and its menu, coupled with incredible service, has seen Xochi fast become one of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in what is one of America’s greatest food cities.
Salt of the earth
And this reviewer concurs with the accolades. My meal began with a perfect mescal margarita, the glass rimmed with sal de gusanom, a salt made with dried gusanas (larva). It is accompanied by fresh warm corn tortillas and a selection of mouth-watering moles, a staple of the region. Each is prepared a different way; one salty, one smoky, one tart and one intriguingly infused with chicatanas (flying ants). It is not the only dish that draws on the Oaxacan love of bugs, with gusanas and chapulines (grasshoppers) also making appearances on the menu.
Shell out for oysters
The meal continued with share plates of smoky wood-roasted oysters topped with mole amarillo, cotija (a cow’s milk cheese) and breadcrumbs, and crispy goat tacos with a full-of-flavour salsa verde. This was followed by masa cakes stuffed with potatoes and chorizo, a dish of sautéed shrimp with chile de ajo, and an exquisite ceviche of flash-seared tuna.
Toast to tostadas
When our dessert arrived, delivered by chef Hugo’s charming brother Rueben – his business partner and resident pastry chef – I didn’t believe it possible for the many elements of this flavour-packed meal to be topped. I was wrong.
Rueben Ortega’s ingenious white chocolate creation “Cacao” appeared to be a realistic-looking cacao pod fashioned from crisp, airbrushed chocolate. But under its crisp lid, I found a cornucopia of chocolate textures and flavours secreted away. There was a milk chocolate cloud, soil, ice cream, mousse and foam, all made straight from house-roasted and ground cacao beans. It proved a fantastical finale to a most memorable meal. xochihouston.com