Chow, Baby would have to be heavily bribed to go to a place self-described as “Northeast Arlington’s ultra-contemporary restaurant lounge,” and that’s pretty much what happened.
No cash exchanged hands at Xouba (pronounced SHOO-ba)’s VIP/Media Party a couple of weeks ago, but cool tropical drinks and Peruvian-Japanese appetizers were on the house that night. And a beautiful house it is, with a richly appointed Sultan of South Beach theme that indulgently fuses Middle Eastern, art deco, and Upscale Arlington Party Lounge threads. Lots of red and gold, lots of cushy banquettes and couches, lots of exotically patterned fabrics. Lots of hip. Critique-wise, though, the evening was a waste. Chow, Baby couldn’t judge the food on price (because it was free!) or on quality, as any too-dry/too-soggy flaws could be attributed to the party’s buffet presentation. Service was great – Chow, Baby’s pisco sour was constantly replenished – but again, party manners. Obviously Chow, Baby had to return (and pay) for a real meal.
Xouba (pronounced SHOO-ba) – Chow, Baby presumes that the parenthetical pronunciation is part of the official name, as that’s how it appears everywhere – opened at 2301 N. Collins St. last August, did pretty good business through the holidays, but has been looking rather dead for a couple of months now. (Source: Chow, Baby’s waiter at its dinner visit, an entertaining guy who truly had nothing better to do than chat, as we were his only table.) With only two other diners in the room, Xouba (pronounced SHOO-ba) was cavernously depressing on a recent Thursday evening: It threw a party and nobody came. And Chow, Baby thinks it knows why. You know how after you drop more than $100 for dinner (for two people, but still, $100) you have one of two feelings: either pleasantly replete and mellow, or slightly nauseated. Not sick from the food, but from Omigod I just spent $100 I can’t believe I just spent $100 omigod I could have bought shoes with that.
Xouba’s menu is actually an interesting concept. As everybody knows, and Chow, Baby learned at the party, Peruvian cuisine has Japanese and Chinese influences; thus chef Roberto Castre, a graduate of the presumably illustrious Culinary Institute of the Andes, offers everything from ceviche and sashimi to paella and stir-fry. It’s a fusion that you wouldn’t expect to work, and in fact it doesn’t. The problem is not necessarily in the theory, because everything on the menu sure looks good, but in the execution. A ceviche appetizer had nice pieces of fish, shrimp, and octopus in a heartburningly acidic marinade, ridiculous at $14. The loco maki – tempura shrimp, smoked salmon, avocado, and queso fresco – was the opposite: mushy and bland, and there’s $12 squandered.
We were hoping for a taste sensation from the empanadas – puff pastry stuffed with crabmeat and plantains in a peach sauce ($9) – and were again mushily disappointed. Our best dish was our entrée (which, by the way, came out first), Peruvian-Japanese stir-fry beef tips with very nice crisp-edged onions, tomatoes, and potatoes but a too-salty juice, not worth $18. Our pitcher of mojitos ($25) was the only purchase that tasted as good as it looked on the menu, and the only one we didn’t omigod I can’t believe I spent that much regret. Sigh. Baby really does need a new pair of shoes.
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