IT’S VERY VERACRUZ
EATERY OFFERS FANTASTIC FARE FROM COASTAL MEXICAN REGION.
You might not expect a national flag to inspire the phrase “mouthwatering”. But when a hearty plate of enchiladas — successively sauced in green, white and red like the Mexican flag — arrives at your table, you can be forgiven the urge to salute the fragrant, steaming platter.
The enchiladas at Xalapa are exactly what one would expect of an authentic Mexican restaurant. The spicy red and the super-spicy verde (green) sauces smother the fresh tortillas and the meat-and-cheese filling without making things mushy.
The corn shell is firm enough to provide a nice texture to the whole package. And these enchiladas are big boys — four to a plate — so there’s plenty to share or take home for tomorrow’s lunch. And at 45-55 yuan ($7.50-$9) per plate, the enchiladas are a teriffic value for money.
More unusual in China are well- executed mole dishes, and Xalapa shines here, too, with similarly generous portions. We opted for the chicken platter, with a leg and thigh soused with sauce that was rich with cocoa and chilies. Not cloyingly sweet, this slowcooked sauce had a savory spiciness that made us appreciate having plenty of rice and beans on the side. In addition to the chicken mole, you can order mole tamales and mole enchiladas.
The quesadillas were also delicious, though surprisingly this appetizer was the hottest thing we tried. Lemon water, beer and rice were little match for this pleasurable burn, but we were saved by the horchata, a rice drink that was a little bit sweet and milky enough to do the job of a fire brigade and salve our mouths. Fans of Sichuan cuisine will be smiling through their tears.
On another visit we started with the sopa Azteca, a delicious tomato broth enhanced with a smattering of sour cream, shredded chicken and pungent cilantro.
A terrific surprise was the tacos al pastor, spit- roasted meat served in a trio of piping hot corn tortillas with a side of black beans and a perfect chipotle sauce.
Owner Esteban Zottele is a native of Argentina who grew up in Xalapa near the Mexican city of Veracruz. That coastal community is famous for its cuisine — which has been shaped by indigenous, Spanish and Afro- Cuban influences over its history — and vanilla, corn, seafood, rice and a heady mix of spices permeate the traditional foods.
The first Xalapa restaurant was founded in Buenos Aires in 1996, featuring the culture and cuisine of Veracruz and other regions, including the tropical flavors of Yucatan state. Here at the new eatery in Beijing, Zottele hasn’t found a satisfactory supply of the seafood that is so loved in Veracruz, so the emphasis is on pork, chicken and beef dishes.
A glass case of shimmering desserts tempted us mightily, and we saved just enough room to sample some. The housemade flan is divinely light, and the tres leches ( three- milk) cake will leave you smiling with its nice rum finish. The arroz con leche, a simple- sounding rice pudding, was just sublime — and a good choice if you’re feeling too full for a monster slab of rich cake.
While the food is excellent overall, the service doesn’t always match. The staff is sweet as pie but sometimes seems overwhelmed — a large party in the house can make it hard for smaller tables to get attention. Call it growing pains — a common challenge in a new restaurant.
Designed in the style of a house of Xalapa, the restaurant features a lot of decoration brought from that region. A mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of largely Catholic Mexico, graces a pillar near the entrance, and the luminous bar features a selection of tequilas among its cocktail-hour offerings. Mangos deliver one of the sweetest kisses of tropical Mexico, and the mango margaritas here are particularly good.
The restaurant is located in Xintiandi Huguo, a newly developed street of shops and restaurants that seeks to be Beijing’s next hipster haven a la Nanluoguxiang.
It’s a lively spot with new enterprises opening all the time, and Xalapa is likely to entice the new waves of visitors to keep coming back.
Quesadillas are familiar appetizers for Mexican food fans wherever they come from.
Enchiladas shimmer with the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag. A platter of sassy chicken mole marries cocoa and chilies, while a mango margarita offers a taste of the tropics.