Need a lift? Let Oyamel pick you up. Eating amid a swarm of faux butterflies and more color than Oz is like dining inside a beautiful piñata. Named for the fir trees in Mexico that sustain monarchs in winter, the Penn Quarter retreat is one of multiple small-plates restaurants from the globe-trotting José Andrés and a rare source of memorable Mexican cooking in Washington. Sliced chayote strewn with crumbled white cheese and crushed peanuts gets a brilliant charge from its hibiscus dressing. Raw striped bass with citrus and jicama in a marinade of pineapple juice and habanero makes you glad to have dipped into seviche. And I almost squeal when I take a bite of the taco filled with soft baby pig, crisp pork rinds and green tomatillo sauce. (Fried grasshopper tacos, on the other hand, are proof that if you fry something in enough garlic, it’s going to be at least decent.) Hominy and shredded pork in a brick-red broth is a strapping good time that becomes a major party with the addition of lime, radishes and cabbage. Proceed with abandon.
2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013
Given the dozens of tacos, seviches and antojitos on the menu, it's easy to over-order at this Mexican playground from creator Jose Andres. (Does the guy ever take a siesta?) But one thing to keep in mind as you're contemplating the small plates is to save room for dessert, specifically the tres leches cake. Oyamel gussies up the traditional comfort of "three milks" with tufts of rummy foam, a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream and clear cubes of pineapple gelatin: nursery food gone to finishing school.
I'm getting ahead of myself. When dessert is just a gleam in your eye, graze on plump shrimp in a tangle of soft onions and black garlic, juicy chicken in a mysterious blanket of mole, maybe a sweet corn tamale that tastes as if it were fresh from Mexico or a seviche of diced tuna, avocado and ... pecans? They work. Details stack up: The oiled rice alongside that chicken is some of the best I've ever had, and the bartender is conversant enough with his spirits to suggest the perfect tequila -- for dessert.
In a city not known for its Mexican restaurants, Oyamel is a trailblazer. Thanks to recent expansion next door, it's also more comfortable than ever. Ask to take your tacos to the left of the foyer, aflutter with (faux) butterflies above your head and on the walls and outfitted with chairs by Philippe Starck.