We dropped in to Xai Xai on W. 51st St. between 8th and 9th on Monday night for a drink and food after seeing one of the shows at the Times Square Theater Festival:
I thought that one of these inexpensive, off-off-off Broadway plays and musicals would be a nice combo with a dinner in the neighborhood and it turned out to be so. (Hint, hint ...)
Xai Xai is casual/intimate Hell's Kitchen wine bar serving South African wines and high-concept South African food. We arrived at nearly 10:00 pm. The rustic-themed dining room -- we had napkins made out of some sort of soft canvas -- was nearly dark, but comfortable with romantic mood lighting. The other tables were mostly couples having hushed conversations.
Menus came out soon after we were seated. Menu items seemed a little too "thematic" to me -- Truffle Biltong Mac & Cheese, Ostrich Mini Burgers, etc. The house salad had some tart flavors like papaya that I thought would probably be murder on a wine tasting -- this was a wine bar, after all -- and I wished that there were some more basic options.
We ordered the feta salad, some chicken livers, Boerewors sausage in pastry, stuffed peppadews, etc. Everything was tasty -- but strangely, no real surprises in terms of flavor or preparation, considering how exotic-sounding the menu was.
The real standout was the wine. The wine list is all South African and we tasted a variety of reds and whites -- the South African pinotage being highly appreciated by the party and a Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc being highly appreciated by me.
Service was fast, friendly and very accommodating.
I think the pluses for Xai Xai are its location, atmosphere -- romantic -- and uniqueness of theme, as well as the good service that we enjoyed. The minuses are that it is so high-concept that it verges on gimmicky. It's the kind of place that you would take a date for a one-off, unusual night out. But perhaps not the kind of place where you might become a regular.
365 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019