Erol West, Mike Himani, & Marcelo Martins
The elevation of Mexican cuisine has reached a pinnacle with IXTA, the new Bowery hotspot whose December grand opening drew New York City’s trendy set and foodies alike. The upscale restaurant, located at 299 Bowery, is the brainchild of industry veteran Mike Himani with business partners Marcelo Martins and Erol West, whose passion for creating enticing, innovative cuisine and delivering expert service make IXTA a destination for anyone with an appreciation for highly curated Mexican food. Its sleek bar pushes boundaries with a curated library of tequilas and mezcals for exploration, and an intriguing aphrodisiac drink with an edible scorpion.
Fresh Oaxacan Dishes
IXTA occupies the space formerly held by Daniel Bould’s legendary DBGB Kitchen and Bar, which shuttered in 2017. Himani resurrected the IXTA name from his NOMAD restaurant of the mid-aughts and took over the sizable location with a soft opening in the fall that generated impressive buzz and critical success. A few tweaks to the menu later, the Mexican offerings focus on Oaxacan dishes that are fresh and mouthwatering with the aim to build new fans.
“There’s a huge influence in Mexican cuisine from different countries marrying native flavors with those arriving with the Conquistadors,” said Martins. “We wanted to draw upon all of those influences, yet with a modern flair.” Regarding the culinary specialties, Martins shared, “Chef Francisco Blanco, an alum of the famed French Laundry in Napa Valley, California created the innovative menu. We have a 32-ounce tomahawk steak that comes out on a wooden board with artisanal Mexican peppers that is a crowd favorite. It’s visually spectacular and a treat to the palate. Our stunner, though, is a suckling pig that needs to be reserved 72 hours in advance. It’s a whole suckling pig stuffed with the works. We prepare it carefully in-house, resulting in crunchy skin on the outside, and it is very juicy on the inside. Before we take the suckling pig to the table, we walk it around the whole dining room—we do a lap with it. You should see how people react. Suddenly, everyone wants it, but it is very special to us and really does require the three-day advanced notice. It definitely plants the seed for the next visit.”
Cocktail Artistry: The Mixology Program
“Our mixology program is the creation of our beverage director, Jenny Castillo,” said Martins. “We could have opened up just another mescal bar with a couple of hundred different varieties, but we wanted to elevate that. And what she did was take the basic model of engineering a cocktail and transform that into an experience. Tequila and mezcal are the top spirits in the world right now; their consumption has taken over brown spirits. Our bar translated cocktail artistry and the unique selections we have into the concept that we envisioned from the beginning. And we are very confident with the results.”
Now back to the scorpion. West said, “It’s pretty cool. This is an aphrodisiac scorpion that you do with a tequila shot. We haven’t even named the drink yet, but it’s pretty, and it’s catching on fast. People are coming in specifically to start with that drink because they’ve heard about it on social media. We educate the guests about how to consume it, and they get to enjoy the results.”
The Panna Cotta, Tres Leches, & The Amazing Donuts
Dessert is not to be skipped, no matter what reason. Martins explained, “The panna cotta is by far the best one I’ve ever eaten. It comes with candy salt on top, so there’s a little bit of a crunch in the texture, while it is served in a margarita glass for a gorgeous presentation. And the tres leches is over-the-top! It’s a different type of design for tres leches, as usually the cake is prepared with the milk poured over it. Our chef actually puts icing over the top of the cake and places the milk in the base, which absorbs from the bottom up; it’s amazing. The doughnuts—I don’t even want to get started on the doughnuts! The doughnuts redefine what a doughnut should be.”
Ceviche Vegan: Vegetarian Options
Martins explained that the concept was underscored by the importance of making the service as strong as the menu. “We really wanted to bring back traditional hospitality; that’s something that we pride ourselves in. We brought in a strong team of people who aren’t part-time servers or bartenders, but really a team of professionals who do this for a living.”
“There are a lot of vegetarian options,” Martins said in closing. “As vegetarian dishes have increased in demand over the years, we are able to accommodate that with a wealth of flavors. There is the delicious Ceviche Vegan, which is a must, and our salads are anything but basic; they are rich in flavor and texture as well.”
“And then the next thing you know, there’s a pig coming through the dining room,” added Martins with a laugh.
New York, NY 10003