There’s a new Mexican restaurant in town, but it’s not the kind you may be used to.
As the name implies, Xocolat Posh Mexican Cuisine (located on 11th Avenue S.W.) isn’t cheap, but it isn’t your typical Mexican fare either. If you want a one-of-a-kind Mexican dining experience in Calgary, this is the place. And while you’re opening your wallet, you may want to keep your mind open to the array of fresh and house-made ingredients Xocolat brings to the table under the direction of executive chef Erik Yeverino.
My husband and I visit Xocolat on a bustling Saturday night. Reservation in place, we are asked to wait while the staff prepares our table. As it becomes clear that the process is taking longer than anticipated (the couple before us hasn’t left), we’re given complimentary glasses of prosecco. It’s a nice touch from the friendly front-of-house staff.
Once seated, we start off with drinks from the innovative cocktail list. The Vampiro ($11) is a fun mix of tequila, sangrita, lime juice and real Mexican orange Fanta in a glass rimmed with chile, lime and salt spices. It’s a vibrant flavour combination.
To experience a little bit of everything, the best appetizer to start with is the antojitos ($14). This basket features a range of savoury bites: the sope, a thick corn tortilla round topped with cheese, lettuce and chicken; succulent flautas wrapped in a flavourful house-made flour tortilla and stuffed with duck confit spiked with passion fruit and chipotle; a tamale; and delectable quesadilla stuffed with queso fresco (a salty-sour Mexican cheese similar to feta). These are accompanied by Xocolat’s fresh guacamole and salsa verde.
If you like the sound of the antojitos and want to dine on a budget, you’ll definitely want to visit for the late-night menu (Thursday through Saturday, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.) for classic dishes like tacos al pastor (ancho pork, cilantro, onion and pineapple) ($13), queso con chorizo (think Mexican fondue) ($13) and gorditas ($17). I can’t wait to go back for this.
From the salad portion of the menu, we try the Langosta ($16), a lobster salad tossed in a light, spicy dressing with avocado, heirloom tomatoes and cilantro. Served in the shell, the chilled lobster tail and salad burst with freshness — this is an inviting and invigorating dish.
The entrees feature an exciting array of less familiar flavours. Dishes like the Pipián (a piquant Mexican sauce) duck breast with foie gras and pumpkin seeds ($32), or the Chile en Nogada, served with poblano peppers, pecan, rice and pomegranate ($25).
Tonight, I’m trying the Pozole ($27), Xocolat’s take on a traditional Mexican stew. Topped with tender, seasoned quail, the dish features layers of hominy (corn that has undergone a special processing technique), shredded iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced radishes and onion in a shallow pool of broth. Even though I love the bean-like texture of the hominy, the balance of ingredients doesn’t do it for me. I would have liked more of the flavourful broth and quail and less of the shredded lettuce.
My husband’s dish is a great mix of rich and meaty goodness. Originating in the Yucatán Peninsula, the Puerco Pibil ($28) is a traditional slow-roasted pork dish marinated in citrus juices prior to cooking. Served with puréed black beans and thinly sliced habanero peppers, Xocolat’s achiote-spiced pork is smoky with a tangy and juicy finish.
Like the rest of the menu, the dessert portion has much to offer. The table next to us orders the Tequila ($9) — a tequila mousse served in a frozen dome of lime and agave syrup that diners need to “pop” before eating. I go for the Churros ($9). Served on a white platter with a small pot of melted chocolate, the soft churros are dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. For me, this is a fantastic way to end the meal.
My husband tries the Chocoflan ($9). Served in a ramekin, the moist flan is layered with delicious vanilla custard and topped with melted caramel. Yeah, I’d say the desserts here are a safe bet.
The only letdown was our inexperienced server. I’m guessing management knew she wasn’t quite up to snuff because the manager visited our table a few times to chat and ensure that everything was okay. In these visits he explained that all three owners are of Mexican heritage with years of fine-dining experience. He also told us the artwork, serving baskets and hand-carved toothpicks come from an artisan village in Mexico that the restaurant is helping to support. Warm fuzzy.
If you’re still not persuaded to try the tasty food and drink at Xocolat, then maybe the chili-powdered chocolates that come with your bill will do the trick. Go on a date night or with a group, but either way, be adventurous.
The Avocado Raviol (photo by Josh Naud)