When most chefs pair up for a special dinner they split the bill: one chef takes appetizers, the other does a salad, and so on—a game of friendly one up-manship.
But Smallwares’ Johanna Ware and Xico’s Kelly Meyers ditched that separate but equal convention last night at the two chefs’ deliciously unique Mexican/Asian “Xico-Wares” mash up dinner at Meyer’s SE Division Street restaurant last night: mole verde mingled with Thai basil, silky egg custard hooked up with spicy chorizo, and peach kimchi and peanut sauce took their rightful place atop carne asada tacos.
“There’s a lot of crossover flavors in those cuisines: herbs, acidity, nuttiness, and spiciness, so it’s fun,” says Ware, who originally worked with Meyer at Nostrana. Instead of muddying each chef’s distinct vision, the patchwork of Asian and south-of-the-border flavors enhanced and enlivened dishes.
Watching the pair work elbow to elbow in the kitchen plating their wild array of fusion ideas was inspiring and tasty enough that diners lobbied both chefs for a brick and mortar home for Xico-Wares. At the very least, Ware is up for doing a second Xico-Wares dinner in the future, perhaps at Smallwares. “It also makes me want to do more collaborations,” says Ware. “What about Country Cat? Asian-Southern barbecue! Just mash it up!” Our favorite bites of the night:
Three Ceviches: Fresh albacore and avocado sprinkled with nori perched atop the world’s finest toasty, soy-caramelized rice cake while tender octopus hid under Oaxacan chile marinated cubes of kohlrabi, potato, and zucchini, plus seaweed and bits of mizuna. A zingy, super-fresh mole verde and threads of Thai basil turned simple spot prawns and cherry tomatoes into happy shout of summer flavors.
Watermelon Salad and Fried Corn: Meyer’s flew solo for an add-on salad that goosed juicy melon cubes dressed with queso fresco, avocado, and peppery arugula with a major pop of chile heat. Ware’s lone-wolf response? Fresh fried corn slicked with toasty-hot Korean spiced mayo and adorned with frizzy shallots and Japanese furikake seasoning (a Smallwares staple)—each bite an explosion of hot, sweet, crunchy ridiculousness. This is street food heaven.
Carne Asada: Marinated flank steak as culinary mullet—dynamite mole verde on the bottom; creamy Asian peanut sauce popping with red chile and peppercorns up top—all surprisingly delicious. The meat shared the stage with a crunchy tangle of radicchio slaw, some of the city’s best creamy black beans, and the funky-sweet burn of green onion-laced peach radish kimchi. Wrapped up in one of Xico’s fragrant tortillas and eyes around the restaurant rolled back with happiness.
Want more? Check out the slide show above for a dish-by-dish “When Johanna met Kelly” cooking lovefest.