of the Beesand the Beans, and the Chiles . . .
50 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington,Mass.,
(413) 528-2002. Serving dinner daily 5-10, brunch Sat-Sun
11-3. AE, MC, V.
Cuisine: Regional Mexican
Entrée price range: $11 (cauliflower in red sauce)
to $16 (lamb in parchment with herbs, spices and red sauce;
trout in red sauce)
Ambience: upscale peasant
Clientele: eclectic mix of old and new Berkshires
the most memorable food I ever ate was in an open-air shack
on the beaches of Xtapa, Mexico. There, as the sliver of a
hot afternoon’s sun dipped into the ocean and maritime breezes
lapped at bare, bronzed skin, my host/bartender presented
a platter piled impossibly high with the most luscious, pale
coral-colored shrimp, freshly shelled and ripe for the taking.
The combination of the open air (always appetite-enhancing),
just-caught shellfish and its accompanying condiments of sea
salt, limes, chopped tomatoes and cilantro, remains an special
moment in my culinary awakening.
Sadly, it is often next to impossible to find such beauty
on the menus of American Mexican restaurants, where goopy,
orange cheese sauces and undistinguishable beans reign supreme.
However, I am heartened by signs Xicohténcatl in Great Barrington,
Mass., is heading in the right direction.
Pronounced she-ko-ten-kat, the restaurant’s name comes from
a Tlaxcalan warrior prince and protector of Tlaxcala, chef
Angel Espinoza’s homeland in Mexico. The word means “home
of the bees” in the Nahuatl language, and indeed, on our first
visit there, during a flawless, sunny late-summer’s day, bees
flitted betwixt and between the vine-encircled columns of
the porch’s outdoor dining area. Not to worry, as human and
apiarian coexisted peacefully, with only occasional visits
by the latter into our freshly minted mango-peach smoothies
On that day, my family and I enjoyed a leisurely, utterly
delicious brunch, punctuated by the freshest eggs I’ve tasted
this side of Spain and the equally fresh, clean notes of cilantro
and other herbs. I had the chili rellenos de espinaca
($11), and although I feared a deep-fried, congealed cheese
mess, what I got was firm, fresh poblano chilis stuffed with
a delicate mix of spinach and cheese and topped with a piquant
My heat-fearing (in food, that is) mother was thrilled that
her vegetable burrito ($7), containing grilled zucchini, eggplant,
carrots, onions and poblano chilis, didn’t set her to perspiring,
while my husband, who is less phobic about such things, liked
the heat and spiciness of his huevos con chorizo ($7),
which melded chipotle en adobo, cumin and other spices,
tomatoes and refried potatoes created a flavorful taste sensation.
Overall, this al fresco brunch was a reminder of my earlier
forays into outdoor dining à la Mexico, and we looked forward
to returning to try dinner. While the same helpful staff and
cozy, warm atmosphere (albeit, this time indoors) were to
be found, this dining experience was slightly less perfect.
The menu is a bold and exciting listing of unexpected offerings,
straying far from the usual burritos and fajitas. Appetizers
include camarones machos ($9), four jumbo shrimp sautéed
with butter, lime and a touch of jalapeno, and guaranteed
to leave you clamoring for more. There are many nonmeat choices,
such as crepas de hongos ($8), wild mushroom crêpes
in a light cream sauce, and the subtle, complex frijoles
con queso ($4), which finds smashed pinto beans transcending
their innate humbleness when combined with epazote
(a strong herb somewhat similar to coriander), cilantro, onion
and feta. The success of the guacamole de xicoh ($7)
rests on its base of perfectly ripe avocados, tomatoes, jalapeno,
onion and lime.
Given the fresh taste of so many components to the Xicohténcatl
menu, it was disconcerting to be served, as a side dish, rice
dotted with what resembled a Swanson’s frozen mixture of corn,
peas and diced carrot. The rice itself had a pasty quality
that did a disservice to the mains, both of which were outstanding.
My husband’s lamb adobo ($15) featured tender, juicy
nuggets of meat stewed in a blend of chipotle and spices.
This was food to both inspire and sustain. My carnitas
(“little meats,” $13), tangy-seasoned slow-cooked pork served
with grilled scallions, grilled cactus leaf and roasted red
salsa, was a tender concoction marred only by having been
Other tantalizing choices included molé oaxaca, in
which chicken is served within a concoction of onion, garlic,
several varieties of chilis, ground seeds such as sesame or
pumpkin and known as pepitas, and a small amount of
Mexican chocolate. The idea that chocolate is cohabiting with
animal protein sends many diners looking toward the chicken
burrito, but the chocolate merely adds richness, not sweetness,
to the sauce.
The restaurant provides a children’s menu and is genuinely
friendly to kids, as the number of families dining there proved.
(Additionally, there were a number of childless couples as
well as older, well-heeled looking parties.) Having filled
up on chips and a variety of salsas, including borracho
(pasilla chilis and tequila), mexicana (fresh
tomatoes, serrano chilis, cilantro and lime), and verde
(tomatillo), my kids were too full to eat much of their chicken-and-cheese
quesadilla and chicken burrito. What I tried of both impressed
me in the quality of the ingredients, but disappointed in
the absence of flavor. Why not impart a little heat and spice
when, as has been shown time and again, kids love flavor?
Among the desserts offered are a mango cheesecake (a special
on this night), which married the seemingly incompatible old-fashioned
cheesecake notion to the lush, New World paradise of mango;
flan covered with a caramel sauce; creamy rice pudding; flambéed
mangos with tequila; baked plantains, and bread pudding with
sliced almonds, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar.
Its name may be a mouthful, but I’m willing to bet that Xicohténcatl
will be on everybody’s lips come “the season,” when it might
be more difficult to get a table. If you head over to the
Berkshires sometime during the colder months, you can acquaint
yourself with the intriguing Mexican food that Espinoza is
offering—before the summer people, and the bees, return.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.