On a recent week night, we went fora late dinner to Xai Xai (a South African wine bar that also serves small plates in the Hell’s Kitchen area of NYC). South African wine bar sounds exotic and exciting, especially if one has never been to one such.
The other couple of South African restaurants / wine bars that I have been to are Braai (owned by the same owners as Xai Xai and on the same street as Xai Xai), and Tolani, both of which had good food and great wine.
Xai Xai has brick walls on which shelves are loaded with wine. The wooden decor seems heavy yet appealing, given the tall ceiling. The doors/ windows were left open on that warm, but not sweltering hot evening that we visited. Although the website indicates that sidewalk seating is scheduled, seating was completely inside the restaurant that evening. The wine bar was not too busy may be because it was a week night.
Don’t be alarmed to find Indian and Malaysian items on the food menu. South African food is influenced by French, German, Dutch cuisines, brought along to South Africa by the colonists in the 1600s or by the Malay slaves or Indian laborers brought by the Dutch East India Company.
About the food
- Xai Xai salad
- Goat cheese stuffed pepperdews
- Boerewer’s in a blanket
- Ostrich sliders
- Xai Xai salad: This was a baby greens salad with roasted mushrooms, papaya, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese in a ginger- lemon-guava vinaigrette. This had more mushrooms than papaya (am not a huge papaya fan, although green papaya in Thai cuisine is an exception) and I had to hunt for the sun-dried tomatoes. I was also unsure if I would like the guava dressing, but it turned out to be a non-issue. The dressing was very fresh and did not overwhelm the palate with guava or ginger. I would definitely get this salad again if I were to go there.
- Pepperdews (or are they called peppadews?) stuffed with goat cheese (anyone notice the goat cheese theme in the dinner yet?). The same dish was available in a bacon-wrapped version but we chose not to (just weren’t in a mood for bacon that day). The pepperdews, supposedly spicy, were in fact slightly sweet and the goat cheese stuffing was creamy and soft. This dish is worth getting if you want to stick to vegetarian food.
- The Boerewors in a blanket looked like little pigs in a blanket. I thought the sausage was dry and not tasty or was it because I do not enjoy beef sausage? I prefer pigs in a blanket.
- The ostrich sliders were not the best ostrich sliders one could get in the city. The sliders were well done (not sure we asked for them well done) and dry. The sliders were also somewhat tough and chewy. Did that turn you off ostrich sliders? The ostrich sliders at Braai were excellent! I remember that even though I had them almost 2 years ago, it’s a dish worth remembering. The peri-mayo on top of the caramelized onions added so much flavor and the burgers were perfectly medium rare. How can the same sliders at two restaurants owned by the same owners be so different? Well, that is not a very logical question, I realize that now, so please ignore the question. BTW, In case you were wondering, ostrich meat tastes slightly like chicken does, but many people seem to think that its tastes like veal or lean red meat. It’s apparently one of the best sources of lean protein, comparable to chicken and turkey according to this site.
Other vegetarian dishes at Xai Xai include:
- Warm potato and beet salad in a tangy date dressing
- Green bean salad with blue cheese and toasted almonds in a lemon vinaigrette
- Greek bread salad (seems to be the usual Greek salad, wonder why the name includes the word “bread”
- Cape Malay spiced paneer in skewers
- Braai’d (i.e., grilled) vegetarian burger
- Couple of sandwiches – mushroom and goat cheese, 3 cheese and pesto
- Melted goat cheese in a roasted tomato gravy
- Asparagus with melted brie in an orange honey glaze – I want to try this the next time
The wine we had was very good for the 40$ that we paid. My wine palate is not developed enough for me to distinguish and write about the notes, bouquets and hints and my wine memory is not great either. (Note to self: When writing about a wine bar, try to remember the name of the wine. At the very least, don’t forget to take a picture)
Would I go back to Xai Xai?
Yes, and when I do go back it will be with a group of friends to enjoy the wine and may be share small plates., but not expect too much from the food. The food is good, but perhaps not worth the effort to go just for the food.
Folks, please do go by all means if you want to check the box on having tried South African food in NYC. Btw, Tolani wine restaurant in the Upper West Side has better food and has a great selection of South African wines.
Other restaurants in NYC that serve South African food and wine or are run by expat South Africans are:
- Kaia Wine Bar (Upper East Side): Has the best Yelp ratings for South African restaurants / wine bars, I am yet to check it out,but its on my list when I am in the Upper East Side
- Tolani Wine restaurant (Upper West Side): The food is was delicious and has a range of vegetarian options. The place is casual and relaxed, its open late on most nights, and has a seasonal changing menu. I went there so often when it just opened that I did not want to go there any more. Time to visit this wine bar again!
- Madiba (Fort Greene): The menu looks very appetizing, but offers very few vegetarian options. May be the oldest restaurant in NC in this list
- Bunny Chow (Lower East Side): Formerly known a Saffa. Closed now per Yelp