A new plant-based Mexican restaurant, Xilonen (905 Lorimer St.), has opened in the formerly empty Sauvage space. Run by Justin Bazdarich, and the rest of the team behind the stellar wood-fired Mexican spot, Oxomoco (128 Greenpoint Ave.), Xilonen (pronounced Zee-lonen, the name of the Aztec goddess of young corn,) is a concept over a year in the making.
“The idea was in our mind, either as a fast casual concept or a full-on restaurant,” Bazdarich said. He’d planned to open Xilonen 1.0 in Manhattan, but the onset of the pandemic delayed his plans. “We took a break and reset our intentions.”
After closing the Lower East Side location of his pizza restaurant, Speedy Romeo, Brooklynite Bazdarich said decided that his home borough would be best for Xilonen. He spent much of the summer working out in McCarren Park, and when the space at Sauvage officially opened up, he couldn’t pass it up. Because the space already existed as a restaurant, all that had to be done was some decorating and adding a few specific pieces of kitchen equipment.
Xilonen’s menu is mostly vegan, and strictly plant-based, with items ranging from a purple potato taco with tomatillo salsa to churros with Oaxacan chocolate. Ingredients are sourced locally, from as close as the farmer’s market and a farm coop in Pennsylvania. Dishes will change seasonally, with upcoming items like vegan pozole and a braised mushroom taco highlighting late winter produce.
“I feel very strongly about this concept,” Bazdarich said said. “It means a lot to me to be vegan, plant forward and as sustainable as we can be.” His passion for sustainability dates back to the 1990s, when he dropped out of Arizona State University to focus on his day job as a cook, eventually traveling the world with Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open top restaurants. This became Bazdarich’s goal as well, but he wanted to be able to do it in “soft” that is, sustainable, way.
After years succeeding at his own restaurants, Bazdarich said found himself cooking a dinner with chef Rick Bayliss for 2019’s New York City Wine and Food Festival, creating vegan dishes which wowed a table of administrators from his alma mater, ASU. These fortuitous dinner guests encouraged him to re-enroll and complete his degee, citing their highly rated sustainability program as a major incentive.
Now, Bazdarich said is days away from starting the spring semester, after taking advantage of 2020’s virtual learning opportunities, and enrolling in sustainability classes.
“Opening Xilonen means a lot,” Bazdarich said said. “This concept of converting the carnivore can show people that vegan food can be delicious, accessible, craveable. We’re just putting all of our effort into that, and making sure everything we do is absolutely delicious.”