We've been to Oyamel on other occasions, so it was one of the first places that sprang to mind when taking an out-of-town friend out for lunch. What better way than to showcase DC than with a trip to one of the offerings of the DC's most celebrated chefs (and GQ's 2009 Chef of the Year ) Jose Andres. For lunch, the restaurant offers a 'tasting menu' for twenty dollars per person in which you get two antojitos (think small, tapas-style, street foods) and a taco of your choice. The menu was somewhat limited, but a nice way to enjoy some ambitious Margaritas and top-notch Mexican food on a spring afternoon where the thermometer pushed into the 60s.
Check out what we ate. Click READ MORE below
We started with the table-side guacamole (not included in the tasting menu price) because I have a guacamole problem. Oyamel's guac is certainly some of the best in the city. The Serrano chile adds a little kick, and some queso fresco sprinkled over the top is a nice, light touch. That having been said, it's a little pricey at $13. Not to mention that a second helping of the chips and salsa costs you an additional $4.
Table-side prepared guacamole and the signature Oyamel margarita
Joining the guacamole on our table were the signature Oyamel margaritas (totally worth the $11). While the body of the drink is fantastic, its the chef's 'Salt Air' topping that gets your attention. Rather than lining the drink's rim with an annoying mouthful of actual salt, the drink is topped with a lightly salted foam. The result is the perfect hint of saltiness to compliment the tequila and lime flavors without making you feel like you're munching on a handful of the stuff.
Curious as to how to accomplish this foamy topper, I did some quick google research and thanks to the Washingtonian's Cyntia Hacinli I found that it's quite simple given you have the correct ingredients. The magic additive that you probably don't have in your fridge is soy lecithin, which can be found at GNC stores and when taken in moderation is 'good for brain development and heart disease prevention'.
See! I knew drinking was making me smarter.
Oyamel's Margarita Salt Air:
2 cups water
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon soy lecithin
After combining the ingredients in a bowl, blend them together with a hand-held mixer. Once you've accumulated over an inch of foam on top of the mixture, just go ahead and scrape that onto your cocktail.
But back to the food. The first of our antojitos to hit the table was the Tamal Verde- a nice, if kind of forgettable, tamale served with a tomatillo green sauce, shredded chicken, chile, garlic and cilantro. At this point, I'm realizing that while the lunch tasting menu may be a nice way to experience Jose Andres' cuisine, the menu excludes some of the spendier (aka, the better) dishes. Here, the Tamal Verde was a case in point.
Next up was the Nopalitos, which is a salad of baby cactus, red and yellow tomatoes a lime dressing. It wasn't mind-blowing, but the cactus and tomato provided a much needed balance to our other meat-skewing selections. Combined with the lime dressing, the salad proved really light and refreshing.
Up next in the queue were the Albondigas Enchipotladas Con Queso Doble Crema- some really flavorful meatballs served in a chipotle sauce with crumbled 'double cream' cheese and cilantro.
Albondigas Enchipotladas Con Queso Doble Crema
Then came the last of the antojitos as the Arrachera Con Salsa Molcajete y Nopales Escabeche arrived. This dish served up a perfectly marinated skirt steak in a sauce of grilled tomatoes, tomatillos, green onions, cilantro and green chile. As a nice little garnish, it came with pickled cactus paddle. The juiciness and overall flavor of the skirt steak made this the hands down champion of the afternoon.
Arrachera Con Salsa Molcajete y Nopales Escabeche
By the time the tacos arrived, I'd eaten so much that I practically forgot we'd ever ordered them. Based on Angela's raves from the last time we went to Oyamel, I decided I had to try the Lengua Guisada, which is a corn tortilla stuffed with braised beef tongue with radishes and a roasted pasilla chili sauce. I may not have been as blown away by the taco as Angela, but I still find the beef tongue a nice, tender treat.
Tinga Poblana (left) and Lengua Guisada (right) tacos
Were I to try Oyamel for lunch again, I'd probably skip the guacamole and order what I wanted from the a la carte menu. Unless you have the will power to pass up the inspiring margaritas, the notion of an inexpensive tasting menu lunch here can be a little bit of a trap. But when have I ever complained about paying for good food?