Monday, July 21, 2008

Xai Xai--NYC

After attending the theater (a funny production of Young Frankenstein), we decided to have a drink and a couple appetizers at Xai Xai, a new South African wine bar. I have read a bit about this place and wanted to check it out as I love South African wines, especially Pinotage.

Xai Xai started as a idea between three Partners Tanya Hira, Brett Curtin and Dorian Gashi. They wanted to showcase South African wines, which are unfamiliar to many. They also wanted to provide an environment fitting to the wines. The Name "Xai Xai" is more of an indulgence for the owners. It refers to a small beach town in Mozambique.

It is a small place, with a tiny bar and numerous small tables. There are several, ancient cypress logs that rise from the late flooring to the ceiling. It is modestly decorated, avoiding being kitschy. There are large windows in the front where you can watch the people passing by. We were lucky to get the last empty table, right next to the windows. It felt like an intimate place, very cozy.

They have a very diverse selection of South African wines, including a fair share that I had never seen before. In general, they had about five wines of each type, mostly divided by grape. Not all of the wines were available by the glass, maybe closer to one-third. Prices did seem high based on the wines that I did know, over twice the usual retail.

We tried a Pinot Noir that we had never tried before, though the name escapes me. They had the Hamilton Russel Pinot Noir on their list, which is one of my favorites, so I wanted to see how another producer would do with Pinot. It was a good wine, though nothing stellar, and certainly not competition for the Hamilton Russell.

We also ordered the 2003 Stellar Winery Sensory Collection Pinotage, which is organic.
Stellar Organic Winery, situated in Trawal, is the largest producer of fine organic wines in South Africa and their wine maker is Dudley Wilson. The Sensory Collection of wines are intended to showcase wines displaying particular character. I very much enjoyed this Pinotage, finding it to have good, dark fruit flavors and a spicy backbone with a touch of earthiness. I will be looking for this wine in my local area.

Their food menu is basically all appetizers, including several South African dishes. We tried the "Mielie" corn fritters with melted cheddar cheese. These were small, pan-fried corn cakelets and they were very tasty, with a good, moist corn flavor and the cheese added a nice sharpness to the corn. I would definitely order them again. We also got the Meat Plate which consists of Biltong, garlic Droe Wors, salami and mixed olives. Biltong is a type of dried meat, almost like jerky, and it was fairly meaty with interesting spices. The Droe Wors was a small, thin sausage that also had excellent spices. The salami made for three tasty meats, which went well with the Pinotage. I would have liked to see some exotic meats on the menu, more game meats. That might have brought the menu for me closer to South Africa.

Overall, I liked Xai Xai though the wine prices were a bit offputting. It is a place I would occasionally visit, though it would not become a regular hangout. Though it is still relatively new so things could always change.

Xai Xai
365 W51 St.
Hells Kitchen
New York, NY
Phone: 212-541-9241

Xai Xai on Urbanspoon

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