Monday, March 14, 2011

One's Country

While sipping cocktails at the preview for the Tequila & Mezcal festival, I realized that I have never done a full post on Oyamel, the Mexican bastion of Chef Jose Andres' restaurant collection. This struck me as odd - I go there often, and recommend it plenty. Their offerings for the 2011 festival are a delight - while tequila is Mexico's most emblematic spirit, mezcal is catching on (case in point: my father is aging it in his basement, one of many empty nest projects). The Tangelo (tequila with tangelo, fresno chiles, pineapple and lime) will take you through every sensation that will prime you for enjoying good tequila, and the Crusta Noble should be called a dessert: pineapple juice, vanilla syrup and cherries. If it wasn't for the alcohol it could pass as the fruitsicles of my childhood. The Chimayo brings all my favorites into a glass: tequila, piloncillo apple cider, cassis and lemon. I'll go back to try the Maximilian affair for the name alone. The festival also brings round some special bites, including a modern spin on ceviche a la Veracruzana: the traditional capers and olives are there, but they come with olive air. My favorite was the Huarache de Pato, a small masa cake topped with shredded duck confit.

The editorial line for this blog is simple: we enjoy sharing experiences we enjoyed, and don't bother with those we didn't. Mexican gastronomy in DC is not widely represented in DC (Lauriol Plaza and Rosa Mexicano are better bars than restaurants, Alero is at best mediocre, if you have pupusas on the Menu you are Salvadorean, and District Taco should come around to the District Proper). I've had many good meals at Oyamel, the service has always been courteous, and the atmosphere energetic. It is the sort of place we love to write about.

Perhaps the reason is because Oyamel affects me in a way most restaurants do not - a sensation that Mexican columnist Denisse Dresser once described, "Those who have lived abroad for years know how it feels to walk around with a tight chest. What it is to walk along the steps of small nostalgias and big memories. What it is to miss the smell and the taste and the noise and the light."The dining space, decked out in commissioned folk art, features an imposing Monarch butterfly mobile (Oyamel firs give the Monarchs their home on the long trek between Canada, the US and Mexico) and the bar is festooned with a canopy of cempazutchil flowers. But what always gets me is what the kitchen does - they interpret a long and storied culinary tradition and make it their own with the outmost care and respect for the food and the way it is meant to be eaten. And while no menu can ever be perfect, the kitchen always finds a way to shine a light and have me come back often, hungry for more.

Oyamel on Urbanspoon
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
401 7th Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20004
(202) 628-1005

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