At Oyamel, José Andrés masters yet another cuisine: modern Mexican. The restaurant, which opened its doors in March 2007, is in the heart of Penn Quarter and just a few blocks away from several of Andrés’ other tasty restaurants. Oyamel serves up mouthwatering modern interpretations of urban Mexican food. And, like any José Andrés menu, the food is innovative without sacrificing the traditional flavors.
The atmosphere is bright and colorful with lots of Mexican figurines and decorations adorning the walls and the bar. On one side of the restaurant, a gold mobile of butterflies hangs, while on the other, white paper-like butterflies dangle from the ceiling. These intricate aesthetic details add to the fun atmosphere of Andrés’ restaurant.
The flavors of Oyamel are also as bright and bold as its decor. The menu begins with antotjitos, small snack-like dishes such as tacos and ceviche. Upon arrival, fresh chips with a hint of tequila and a side of smoky salsa are served at each table.
I first ordered the Napolitas, a baby cactus salad with lime dressing, which was tangy and crunchy. I followed that with the Gaspacho Estilo Morelia, which is not your traditional chilled tomato soup but rather a refreshing salad of fresh fruit and cucumber. A little dash of queso fresco and a touch of chile pequin give a light creaminess and a mild spice to the dish.
One of the standouts of the menu was the ceviche de peje-sol: The Hawaiian sunfish with avocado and marinated in salsa was succulent and flavorful. The added touch of avocado made it quite a luscious dish, but it was perfectly balanced by the acidic lime juice and fresh cilantro.
The camarones al mojo de ajo negro was also a stellar dish: sauteed shrimp with shallots. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and served in a flavorful chile and poblano pepper broth. It was perfectly spicy and hearty without being too heavy.
One of the dishes that was more reflective of Andrés’ innovative take on classic cuisine was the sopa de quesedilla. It is a big bowl of a light and spicy tomato broth with little balls of quesadillas stuffed with Chihuahua cheese and queso fresco. The quesadilla balls are out of this world. The corn tortilla outside and the gooey cheesy inside are the ultimate remix of the traditional quesadilla.
As for the tacos I tried, the tinga poblano con puerco, which was a robust and meaty concoction. A topping of avocado was the perfect balance to the tangy shredded pork and chorizo. The pescado Mexicano taco is a lighter option compared to the other and is made with a white fish and salsa, topped with a delicious pesto sauce.
For dessert, I tried the tres leches cake, and it was absolutely delectable. The cake, which is soaked in rum and three types of milk, is moist and rich. The accompanying acidic pineapple gelatin counterbalances the richness of the cake, while the scoop of caramel ice cream adds another layer of lusciousness. The flan de comote, a sweet potato flan, is also a great finish to the meal. The rich flan is paired nicely with a tangy apple sorbet and tamarind sauce.
At Oyamel, Andrés proves that he is the master of Mexican food. Each dish is teeming with flavors that are perfectly fresh, spicy, tangy and rich. What’s great is that although all of the dishes are innovations on the urban Mexican cuisine, they do not lose the more classic flavors.