Our first date night out in months, courtesy of the reopened and reimagined XR Cafe
This last weekend, Crossroads Hotel’s XR Cafe reopened with a drink and dinner menu stacked with Napoletana style pizza and fall-forward fare thanks to new Executive Chef Ian Wortham.
To say my interest peaked would be an understatement.
In July, I visited Percheron—the hotel’s rooftop bar with breathtaking views—for my first cocktail experience of our COVID summer. The drinks were divine and the sun was sweat-down-your-neck hot. It’s a memory that warmed me during our now brisk (and now, uh, snowy?) weather.
With XR’s reopening, I was reminded of the fact that I haven’t left the house beyond grabbing groceries in a few weeks. And of the fact that my partner and I haven’t been on an out-of-the-house date night since February. We’d gotten into the groove of porch-front hangs with friends, small outdoor gatherings, and virtual chats when we weren’t binge watching really any movie series on our couch. As an anxious human who spent the first part of quarantine in a state of sheer panic, I’d slowly worked my way towards cautiously over-prepared. Hell, I’d even taken to accessorizing with my mask.
So what better time to return to the Crossroads Hotel?
Masked-up and hands freshly sanitized, my partner Travis and I arrived at our 6 p.m. reservation ready for dinner and drinks. Our table was nestled into a leather couch seated in between XR’s expansive bar and the stone oven that produces Lazia’s crunchy pizzas, which are available on XR’s menu and to-go through Pizze di Lazia while the restaurant remains closed. Our couch had a cozy view of the bar’s filled—though spaced out—seating. Servers were masked up along with incoming patrons, and the menu was a new placard with a QR code to scan into your phone.
I ordered the Carmeline, $14, a refreshing mixture of Rieger’s Midwest Dry Gin, agave, cynar, elderflower, and grapefruit. Nothing has changed since my summer Crossroads visit—I still love a fruity drink. Our waiter recommended a surprise nonalcoholic beverage from the bartender for my sober partner. It was ginger beer heavy and, on his account, delicious.
A stop by XR for cocktails alone is worth it. The stools at the bar are now spaced out, and the view of masked mixologists brings you right back to bar days of old. But we went there to eat, and eat we did.
Dinner began with the Beet Salad, $11—a mix of endive (a leafy vegetable I had to Google), beets, and the French hard-boiled egg and mayo-style sauce gribiche—and the Pork Rib Fritti, $12—a delicately breaded pork rib cooked to both crunch and melt in your mouth, with apple, fennel, and spicy greens.
Next, we warmed up with the Cannelloni, $18, a stuffed pasta with winter squash, brown butter, sage, and roasted peppers, which nearly had me licking the bowl clean. There’s nothing quite like squash on a fall day. So we ordered another squash-dish: the Apple + Delicata Pizza, $15, with apple, delicata squash, fennel, taleggio, and apple vinegar—which nearly outshone the crunchy, Napoletana-style crust.
But the real star of the evening was the Octopus and Bone Marrow, $19, a Spanish baked octopus with chickpea, fennel, and tomato. It was the most buttery octopus my partner and I have ever eaten. We rounded out the evening with a slice of Almond Polenta Cake, $8, over the second dessert option of Flourless Chocolate Cake, $8, which was just the right amount of sweet.
I didn’t list the entire meal off only to get your mouth watering (seriously, it was delicious), but also to share this: Indulging on one night in the midst of this insanity felt like a warm hug I hadn’t realized I was craving. Nights cuddled up on our couch watching movies was comfortable, but taking time to go out of our way and do something different—like stuff our face with Chef Wortham’s cooking—made me feel less lost in the mess of all of this. We are still in a pandemic, local businesses are struggling, and as the weather begins to inch down in degrees, it’ll be tempting to just ignore coronavirus and try to skip forward to when it’s safe again.
But we can’t.
What we can do is take precautions, remind our friends to keep their masks on, book a table at a restaurant like XR with limited capacity and order half the menu, then spend the next week picking up carry out and tipping generously. We can watch movies on the couch with our loved ones and make time to get out on the town for a drink. We can take care of each other, and in a year from now we can look back and remember the times we indulged a little, and the nights we stayed home to keep others safe.
In July I said a rooftop patio cocktail wouldn’t fix everything, and I’ll say it again about dinner indoors, but what evenings like this truly do is remind some of us of that vitality we might have lost during these months locked up. So visit XR, order that octopus, soak up every ounce of the evening, and let it carry you for the next few weeks to come.