The residential neighborhood off of Diamond Lake Road fittingly edges up against a baseball diamond, giving it the quaint air of a small town. And like a small town, there are few options for dining within walking distance of the handsome homes and manicured lawns that populate the neighborhood.
Xavi has recently moved into the old First Course space, and after a first look, we don't think this is any small-town dining.
Chef Mike Agan (formerly of Jean Georges, Solera, D'Amico, and other illustrious local restaurants) and partner James Elm are fulfilling their dream of a New American restaurant where they can do whatever the heck they want and not be too boxed in by definition. And thus far, whatever the heck they want is looking pretty darn good.
A starter of a "Fatty Crab" (in reference to the famous New York City Malaysian restaurant) pork belly with watermelon salad had us swooning. Precise cubes of seemingly laser-cut crisp pork belly paired with watermelon were the perfect foil for one another. Unctuous fat vs. liquid refreshment duking it out in your mouth in what results in a stylish ballet. Terrific.
We were similarly gaga over the beef tartare that riffed on a reuben. Served with mustard seed, cabbage slaw, and pickle spice aioli, all of it over toasted rye crostini, the ultimate challenge to this tartare is sharing it.
The space is dark and handsome, with a glowing little faux fireplace and an open kitchen. There's a small bar area that would be exactly the thing for pairing these small plates with the tight beer and wine list, priced affordably with glasses hovering around $9 and beer around $5. Romantic lighting is just right for ogling your special someone, or the plates, which are at least as pretty.
We weren't quite as taken with the entrees. While cooked technically properly, a hangar steak was plain, paired with arid hunks of grilled Chinese eggplant and a wee smattering of kimchee. Nothing bad, but nothing special either. A nicely seared striped bass was the star of the show over a relatively pedestrian tomato chorizo sauce with chickpeas, but the accompanying baby octopus were tender and rich, and a nice surprise.
Entree prices also go a bit higher than our comfort zone, generally around $24-$25. Small plates stay around the more agreeable, and totally worth it $9-$10 zone.
Rhubarb pie for two with custard, strangely served cold in a skillet, wasn't notable and also a bit expensive at $12.
While those entree plates weren't quite as impressively inventive as the starters, we're already planning another visit, where we'll spend more time on the left side of the menu. Small plates make up the bulk of the selections, and we suspect that's what they'll become known for. Things like mushroom broth with pork dumplings, and "la belle" duck breast with xo sauce were taunting us in the light of day, like the ones that got away.
Service could not have been friendlier or more attentive. It's the kind that makes you feel like you're in a home and not a business.
Keep in mind that they've barely been open a month, and keep expectations consistent with that knowledge. We suspect that as summer thrums along, we just might see some great things emerge from this surprising, glittering little place at the edge of a baseball diamond.
5607 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis