Rick Bayless has received so much adulation over the years, it's hard for me to continue piling on the praise. His new venture Xoco is still amazing enough to have put the superstar chef on the map all by itself when considered apart from the rest of the Bayless empire.
Though Bayless is a man who needs no introduction, I'll provide it anyway just to put the whole thing in perspective: Rick is the greatest American ambassador of regional Mexican cuisine. His restaurants (Topolobampo and Frontera Grill) are two of the nation's finest restaurants, elevating Mexican cuisine to a place that seemed unthinkable in a previous era. Bayless' television series Mexico: One Plate at a Time explains the finer details about the preparation of classic Mexican cuisine. His most well known television performance, however, came when he won the crown on Bravo's first season of Top Chef Masters against a virtual who's who in the culinary world.
Xoco is the latest addition to Bayless' portfolio. Xoco translates as little sister in Mexican parlance, and Xoco is the least formal and least expensive member of the Bayless family tree. While it cuts costs, however, Xoco more than makes up for it in quality of ingredients and presentation.
The menu at Xoco centers on sandwiches, soups, salads and other staples. Xoco has a limited selection of alcoholic beverages, and they also feature amazing agua frescas (including a cucumber mint lime one that was a refreshing delight) and house-roasted single producer Mexican chocolate drinks.
There are not a lot of options on the menu for vegetarians. However, there are many vegetarian salads and sides on the menu in addition to a wild mushroom sandwich and a vegetable, bean and rice plate that are full-time menu options.
I started with the Frontera guacamole. The cup of guacamole was flecked with cilantro and jicama, and it was served with perfectly prepared chips that were adorned with a delicate dash of salt. The dish was a success on all levels.
The side salad was prepared with romaine, arugala, jicama and cucumber in a tangy avocado lime dressing. The appearance of the salad was understated, but the dish exploded into a bright, beautifully harmonic symphony of flavor.
I sampled a daily special, which was a local micro greens and wild greens sandwich prepared with Indiana goat cheese on a griddled bun with a side of corn and black bean salsa. The greens gave the dish an earthy flavor that contrasted with the tangy cheese.
Prices at Xoco are amazingly low. I ate everything that wasn't nailed down and still left paying less than $20. It's a great way to sample Bayless' magic without breaking the bank.