Friday, April 13, 2012

Xni-Pec de Yucatan

Both Hackknife Jr. and Hackknifette are on Spring Break from their respective educational institutions this week, so with Mrs. Hackknife also taking some time off to enjoy the kids, we loaded up the family truckster and headed to Brookfield Zoo yesterday. The zoo itself wasn't very crowded and the weather was really pleasant - as a result, we managed to fit in a full day of activities before they closed up shop at 5. Rather than immediately head home for dinner, I suggested we visit a local restaurant in downtown Brookfield that has gotten a reputation for good regional Mexican cuisine (something we don't see a lot of around here outside of the Rick Bayless empire) called Xni-Pec de Yucatan, which bills itself as the only Yucatecan (or Mayan) restaurant in the Midwest. Much like the zoo, we pretty much had the place to ourselves and settled in at a 4-top with some excellent chips and salsa to start (one salsa was mild and featured chopped tomatoes, with the second coming in a tiny bowl and described by our server as "very, very hot" - I tried a little of it and I can tell you that he wasn't just whistling Dixie). After much crunching and drinking of water, a complementary appetizer of two sopecitas (small round tortillas topped with beans, lettuce, and queso) arrived at the table courtesy of an online check-in (thanks, Yelp). The missus and I washed these down with some house margaritas served in tin mugs, potent concoctions flavored with blood orange, giving them a little bit of a bitter overtone (or I suppose it could have just been the tequila).

Simmering happily with tin cup in hand and trying to ignore the progeny agitating in their chairs, our server spent a minute explaining the differences between Mayan cuisine and the catch-all "Mexican" food that's ubiquitous in these parts. In Yucatan, the food is not spiced with hot chile peppers; rather, something called achiote paste or "recado rojo" is the staple used for flavoring most dishes; this paste contains ground achiote seeds (also referred to as annatto), cumin, cloves, Mexican oregano, salt, pepper, garlic, cinnamon, and allspice. This paste featured prominently in Mrs. Hackknife's entree, shredded pork marinated in achiote, topped with pickled Yucatan red onions (the very same kind that I made in the Commissary a few months back) and served with rice/black beans. I opted for the roast chicken smothered in mole rojo sauce (listed on the menu as containing 4 chiles, sesame seeds, almonds, cocoa, and herbs), also served with rice and a slice of grilled plantain (see photo above - after mulling over for a while if the picture was too unappetizing to include, I decided to show it anyway).

Both entrees were delicious and very filling, although not so much so that we could skip dessert (plus, the progeny felt they were due some recognition for the probable-house record 5 visits to the restroom while we were there). Mom and I enjoyed a bowl of rice pudding with pineapple, coconut, and rompope (a sort of Mexican eggnog) while the kids mostly turned noses up at a tasty bunuelo (a fried tortilla soaked in golden piloncillo molasses), which we then helped them eat. All told, we (at least the parents, that is) liked the food at Xni-Pec enough that we're already looking forward to stopping by again after our next zoo visit...

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