Before it became a reconstructionist Cuban restaurant, before it moved to Melrose from Pasadena, Xiomara began as a sleekly modern California bistro, firmly grounded in modern French cooking. Now that Nuevo Latino cuisine has transformed into whatever John Sedlar is doing at Rivera, Xiomara shed its accent and turned -- into a California bistro, a bit less sleek this time, but also grounded in modern French cooking and geared toward shared small plates. It's kind of a modern gastropub, without the pub part.
The dishes of Michael Reed, a chef who practically grew up in the kitchens of Sona and Osteria Mozza, are congruent with the farmers-market-tinged cooking you find at places like Lazy Ox and the Yard, things like pork-stuffed squid with shell beans in a garlicky romesco sauce; crisp pork belly with sunchokes and a smoky charred-eggplant puree that makes the concoction taste like bacon; and lamb ribs with pickled green beans.
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Are there a few duds? Of course. Reed is too fond of truffle oil -- in the rock-shrimp risotto, you can taste scarcely anything else -- and the gnocchi were a bit stodgy. But the braised pork chop with pancetta, kale and pork jus is beautifully balanced for a dish that is essentially pork-on-pork-on-pork, and the seared sea bass with butternut squash and a fried crisp of its skin is a preparation that would have been a standout even at Sona. It's odd to think of a 20-year-old restaurant as a promising newcomer, but Xiomara is again a restaurant to watch.