Monday, September 14, 2009

Oyamel: Nouveau-Mexican... What's That?

Oyamel,Washington DC,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Guacamole,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Washington DC
Tacos,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Washington DC
Grasshopper Taco,Washington DC,Taylor Young Photography,Passport Foodie
Pollo con mole poblano,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Washington DC
I'm going to be perfectly honest here, I have only had great, authentic Mexican food three times in my entire life. Like most Americans when I think of Mexican food I think of Tex-Mex. That is, the Americanized version of Mexican food, toned down for our fragile taste buds. Chips and Salsa mandatory. However, the authentic Mexican I have had delighted and inspired my palate more than almost any other food. It's simple food, done well and when done really well tastes like nothing else on Earth.

Sadly, it seems that my love for Mexican food is shared by many others and those greedy little restaurant owners are now catching on to the Mexican-done well craze and creating, what I like to call, Nouveau-Mexican Restaurants. That is, restaurants which are trendy, attract women who wear skirts that look more like large rubber bands and men who wear watches the size of small countries and are probably worth about as much. The portions are not big and generous, but instead shrunk to match those mini-skirts. I'm sorry, but that isn't Mexican food.

I am all for trying new things and when I saw a bustling Mexican restaurant called Oyamel in Washington D.C. I decided to give it a try. Perhaps I was wrong and this place defied the Nouveau-Mexican trend. We were greeted by two very nice hostesses who told us that without a reservation there would be about a 20 minute wait. Which was fine by us as we were in no hurry to get back home. While we waited at the bar we saw dozens of 20 and 30-somethings enjoying fresh Chips and Salsa in little metal spiral vases. They looked more like fancy pencil holders, but I wasn't in the mood to judge. As soon as we finished our Dos Equis we were called over to the hostess table to be seated.

A very strange thing was pointed out to me about Oyamel's menu. It says, "the Chips and Salsa, first one is on us, second is on you! Chips and salsa are $4.00 per order." There are several things I'd like to say about this statement, none of which are very nice, but I'll be restrained for once in my life because I think you know what my problems are. Our FREE Chips and Salsa were brought to us by our surly and very busy-looking waitress and she quickly asked if she could take our order. We told her what we'd like and she asked, "Is that it? Nothing to drink besides your beers? No wine?" And when we told her no, there was a desperate sigh and I'm sure she was mumbling something to herself like, "Broke, dirty, hairy tramps." Ok, maybe not the hairy thing, but certainly the broke thing.

She came back many minutes later and started to make our Guacamole for us, which looked amazing and tasted even better. There was a little problem though, we had used up all of our Chips for the Salsa she originally brought us and we didn't have any left for the Guacamole. I'm sure the menu said that it came with Chips and after a quick glance to confirm I asked her if we could have some more. She nodded conservatively and brought them a few minutes later. After the Guacamole was neatly devoured we were served 3 Tacos, all in individual metal holders. This was something completely new to me. Normally my Tacos come laying on their side, the Beans and Rice holding them up slightly. This looked, I don't know, odd.

The tastes however were not odd. My Taco with Sautéed Grasshoppers, served with Shallots, Garlic and Tequila was spicy and packed huge flavors into each and every insect. The crunch of Grasshopper is sheer pleasure. I don't think there is any other texture on Earth that could replicate it. Our Braised Beef Tongue with Radishes and a Sauce of Roasted Pasilla Chili, Tomatoes, Onion and Garlic was equally delicious and tasted nothing like the previous Tongue I've had. No rude comments, please. Last up, was the Tender Shenandoah Valley Goat marinated in Guajillo Chiles and Spices, served with Sweet Onions and Cilantro. And finally, our half Grilled Young Chicken with Epazote Herb Rice and a Mole Poblano Sauce of Almonds, Chile and a touch of Chocolate was simply gorgeous. The spiciness of the Chile, mixed with the creamy Chocolate is a taste I will not soon forget.

Oyamel will succeed if for no other reason than it serves good Mexican food. In my opinion it is slightly tacky and looks more like a chain restaurant than an authentic Mexican joint. The waitstaff are slightly moody, at least mine was, it's way too expensive, the portions are small and they are clearly trying to mold Mexican food into the form of fancy French or Tapas. If they increased the size of their portions a bit, hired some people who actually like the human race and tore down all the chain restaurant crap, I'd recommend this to everyone I know. For now, I can't.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Oyamel on Urbanspoon


  1. Oyamel is part of Jose Andres' line of tapas style restraurants in DC: Jaleo is traditional Spanish tapas, Zatinya is Greek/Mediterranean tapas, and Oyamel is Mexican tapas. You are definitely paying quite a bit for not very much, which is frustrating. I do enjoy Jaleo though and think it is his best and obviously truest tapas place.

    Hopefully next time you guys are in DC we can all meet up.

  2. Hey you,

    Thanks for the clarification. I did see the Tapas joint up the road and thought these two were owned by the same people.

    Next time we're in D.C. we'll definitely hook up. This trip was ill-planned and done on short notice. I need an insider like yourself to show me the ropes. I'm sure there's much better food in D.C.


  3. I like the concept of the metal holders but it's...quite odd. I'm not sure if I could get used to it or this type of restaurant. Mexican food is about keeping it simple, well-portioned, homey and delicious.

    For me, I've had great Mexican food twice in my life. Once at a taco truck located in a ghetto neighborhood of Georgia where fresh food was being served by hard-working laborers. The last, by a family friend who cooked us a traditional, authentic meal. Nothing fancy, just simple, good food.

    I'm glad to hear your food was delicious despite the to be desired service!

  4. Sean,

    Totally agreed. Two of my best friends are Mexican, from Mexico City, so I have been shown exactly what real Mexican food is. Oyamel is not anywhere close. Enjoyable for what it is, but not worth doing again.

    Taco trucks can sometimes be the best way to go. California has some incredible ones.


  5. That Guac looks amazing! I was so close to having dinner at Jaleo Labor Day weekend and only heard great things about it.

  6. I wish someone would open up a Mexican place in London; we are seriously lacking.