Xolo, Ajijic’s new Latin American restaurant, is pronounced something like Scholo. If you can’t pronounce it, you may never be asked to find it.
The menu is timid and features some dishes unfamiliar to many, although the fare is basically Latin American fusion. But menu offerings require some interrogating for those unfamiliar with Latin dishes. The food is freshly prepared and presented with exquisite care. Most of the dishes are Peruvian, with Peruvian spellings. Entrees are listed as Catch of the Day, done with a ceviche or citric marinade. The chef is a female Argentinian with a creative flair for what’s not available at Lakeside.
It’s a re-design of the venue, which was once Restaurant 4 (Calle Donato Guerra), and is chic and modern, in keeping with the Hispanic dishes on the menu. Decor is simple and elegant while the table spacing is generous allowing for intimate dining.
We started with appetizers— Sopes with pork, tender and delicately sauced; and vegan sopes with avocado and sautéed red onion. Both were tantalizingly brief but a nice start, served on a small corn tortilla. These were enough to savor your dinner wine, which was a medium-bodied Montepulciano. Several other varieties of fine house wine were available.
Other appetizers were just as exotic: a fried calamari, tender and almost diced in size, listed, quite accurately, as chicharrones, crispy and flavorful, and served with a spicy salsa verde.
I tried the mushroom tacos for a main with sautéed red onions, fresh cilantro and tender-cooked mushroom pieces served on small but firm and filling homemade tortillas. My guest had a vegan ceviche with palm hearts, mango, red onions and sprouts, which came in a soup bowl flavored with a delicate tiger’s milk ceviche. Leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, is the Peruvian term for the citrus-based marinade that cures seafood in a ceviche. It usually contains lime juice, sliced onion, chiles, salt, and pepper – along with a bit of fish juice. It is light and subtle, enhancing the mango and palm heart flavors. Although the menu offers some standards – ribs, pork belly and shrimp with mango – these are mainly more exotic treatments of Latin dishes, creative and first-class. The coffee comes from Veracruz and flows from a French press and you can opt for added spices to the coffee, including turmeric.
The service was ready and helpful. Prices are fair. But the atmosphere was missing – as if the setting was just an eatery where ambience didn’t matter. It does here in competitive Ajijic and I hope the Xolo management will consider the suggestion.
If Latin American fine dining is something you enjoy, Xolo has an interesting spread of recommendations. (Note: Xolo is a handsome hairless Mexican dog, short for Xoloitzcuintle.)