Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oyamel - 01/24/2010

401 7th Street NW.
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-1005

Finding a place open for a late lunch on Sunday proved to be exceedingly difficult. We finally settled on Oyamel since it was still serving lunch between 3:00 and 5:00, time most other restaurants spent setting up for dinner. Oyamel is part of Jose Andres' Think Food Group, which owns a number of other restaurants in the city as well as The Bazaar in Los Angeles. Oyamel delivers traditional Mexican tacos and antojitos in a comfortable open space with lots of bright lights, bold colors, and busy decor.

Mexican Gin and Tonic - Bombay Sapphire gin and Q-Tonic lightly flavored with cilantro, epazote, orange peel and a dash of elderflower liqueur
Oyamel's Ponche - A twist on a traditional Mexican ponche; white wine, Siembra Azul, Patron Citronge, Partida agave nectar and a blend of tropical fruits
The G&T at The Bazaar is easily the best preparation I have ever tasted and I was curious how Chef Andres' Mexican G&T would compare. The cilantro added an intriguing flavor but the drink lacked the depth and complexity of The Bazaar's. Kevin chose Oyamel's version of Ponche, basically a Mexican punch that reminded me of a white sangria.

Perhaps the best guacamole I have ever tasted. Large chunks of sweet avocado and bright citrus set the stage and for the tang of the tomatillo and a scintilla of spice from the serrano peppers. The dense creamy dip was superb on its own, with tortilla chips, or combined with the smoky poblano salsa. I was so impressed that I couldn't wait to get home and try my hand at making guacamole.

Ceviche verde "el Bajio"
This ceviche was inspired by a similar dish at El Bajio Restaurant in Mexico City, blending bolder deeper flavors in the tomatillo and olives. The fish was weighty and dense, the succulent meatiness pairing nicely with the strong herbaceousness of the olives and the creamy mouth feel of the avocados.

Ceviche de marlin azul con toronja y coriandro
One of the few restaurants that serves marlin, the texture was reminiscent of a cross between snapper and halibut sashimi with the characteristically light body of a whitefish. Clean and fresh, the fish was the perfect starting point for a bold application of citrus and spice.

Trucha alpina a la plancha en mole verde cacahuate estilio Pánuco
A delicious seared trout, the cut of fish reminded me of salmon belly, crisp skin and distinct flakes of tender fish separated by layers of semi-liquid fish oil. The acidity of the tomatillo was instrumental in countering the unctuousness of the fish.

Costillas de res con salsa verde
Next up was a braised short rib, but after the sublime version at Citronelle there was no way this would compare favorably. Noticeably fatter the meat had a slightly stringy texture with a darker earthier flavor which necessitated the use of herbs and seasoning, overall still quite enjoyable.

Codorniz con sikil pak
Perfectly cooked quail is such a treat and the preparation here used a sauce of pumpkin seed, tomato, and chile which added a subtle smokiness that blended seamlessly with the natural flavor of the bird.

Carnitas con salsa de tomatillo
The fried pork rinds were a nice touch providing a crunch and lingering savoriness to an otherwise traditional carnitas taco.

Cabrito a la barbacoa
The goat was a touch dry but still offered a complex flavor profile with game, quite nice with the sweet lushness from the onions and cilantro.

Finally the "legendary Oaxacan specialty," sauteed grasshoppers. For the faint of heart, it is difficult to pick out the exact anatomy of the grasshoppers without studying them in detail. The flavor was not bad, slightly reminiscent of an earthy raisin and the texture was crisp similar to eating fried shrimp shell. Not particularly horrifying but not something I am eager to have again either.

Pescado Mexicano
Probably the most boring of the tacos, the fish was dense and a bit overcooked though the salsa provided an uplifting lightness.

Lengua Guisada
Fairly typical lengua, combining an offaly essence with the rich braised meat, offset beautifully by the bitter radish and sweet corn tortilla.

Cochinita pibil con cebolla en escabeche
This was the most simply adorned of the tacos which proved to be a great choice as I wanted as little as possible between me and the flavor of the succulent baby pork. Hands down my favorite of the bunch.

Not exactly sure what the desserts are as they were generously gifted to us by the chef along with the tacos.

Passionfruit Soup
As expected the soup has an overwhelming fruitiness, very light and fresh as one would expect. The yogurt adds a creamy sweetness, but is delicate enough that the fruit remains the focus of the dish.

Café de Olla
A heavier second dessert with chocolate custard and an intriguing anise ice cream. The sparse shavings of lime zest were incredibly apparent providing some relief from the abundant sweetness of the rest of the dessert.

After three fairly refined meals, Oyamel is a wonderful change of pace, a place where its right and proper to tuck in with your hands. The courses are bold yet balanced, often combining citrus and spice to counter the heaviness of the meats, sure it can be a bit repetitive but the flavors are so good it's hard to care. Early into our meal Chef Georgi Yanev came out to greet us and we learned that it was his last day as he had taken a position at The Bazaar in Los Angeles. If the food at Oyamel is any indication, we are lucky to have him in LA.


Kung Food Panda said...

Nice looking meal, though as you said, I don't think I'd try the grasshopper tacos unless I have to....

Epicuryan said...

Lets be honest, if you went you'd have to...