Xarello is the grape of cava, Spain’s effervescent wine. Its namesake restaurant has taken longer to ripen.
This streamlined, Mediterranean-inspired spot uncorks in the bar-and-restaurant slice of a space where Ivy Cottage and, briefly, Madison’s resided.
Owners John Alexopoulos and Claudia Peralta worked at now-gone Picholine in Manhattan. So did executive chef Katia Ramirez Malave. Peralta’s resumé also includes the grand, departed New York dining rooms, Lespinasse and Alain Ducasse, plus the elegant Italian star, Del Posto.
So, the provenance immediately makes you optimistic. But in its first couple of months, Xarello had more ups and downs than January’s Dow Jones. What’s good is that it currently seems on the rise.
Today, the seasonal menu is a bit more focused and many of the disappointing dishes have been cut. Service has improved markedly since early December, too
It all starts with a basket of puffy, warm pillows of pita and fine olive oil. Then, choose crisply coated cod cakes, accented with cilantro and topped with a taste of harissa-spiked aioli. Just as flavorful: sheaves of smoked salmon from Acme in Brooklyn that rise like turrets from thin potato pancakes, and are capped with crème fraîche and Osetra caviar.
But the dreary cauliflower soup is undone by an overdose of paprika oil; and butternut squash agnolotti with pecan, sage and brown butter arrive jarringly sweet. The butternut squash soup with duqqa, the Egyptian herb-and-spice blend, becomes a respectable amuse, as if making amends for the waterlogged appetizer version.
Dry “paella rectangles” have exited, along with the arid chicken empanadas. Charred baby octopus, with fingerling potatoes and romesco and olivada sauces, stays and satisfies. Likewise, the salad of red cabbage, pears, walnuts and manchego cheese; and the lamb shank with parsnip purée.
Cornish hen “under a brick” shows up juicy and well-seasoned, on a ragout of white beans, arugula and bread. Dense bread pudding supports an ample smoked pork chop.
Filet of sole, as light as it is generous, benefits from the saffron-infused “stew” that takes in chickpeas and piquillo peppers. You can skip any return of the papery, overcooked skate wing, which curved along a “bouillabaisse reduction” and definitely diminished the term.
The house’ spin on cheesecake, with feta mousse, is a curious, deconstructed work, but good. So are the toffee cake and the brownie with a tahini crumble. They’ll make you forget the pasty plum torte.
Well-chosen wines accompany all this. That’s fitting. After a flat start, Xarello shows some sparkle.