At the beginning of the week, our team was forced to say goodbye to our lovely summer intern who was returning to medical school in Massachusetts. We had tasked her with choosing the location of her farewell luncheon, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with her selection: one of José Andrés’ best restaurants, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana. Located in Chinatown, Oyamel is known for its fantastically inventive and playful dishes. As it was only 1:30 on a Monday afternoon, our group couldn’t quite justify imbibing, but if we had, the margaritas with Oyamel’s signature foam would have been just the ticket.
But let’s back up. I’ve eaten at Oyamel twice before, so I knew roughly what to expect from the menu. The only difference was that my recently discovered food intolerances meant that I was no longer eating any legumes (read: beans), or corn. As corn and beans are ubiquitous to Mexican cuisine, I took a bit more action than usual – I called ahead to speak with a manager. Just as I had hoped, the manager was extremely gracious, and went over different items on the menu that would be appropriate, or could be slightly modified to accommodate my needs. I felt pretty confident that I could eat well and safely at Oyamel.
What I did NOT expect was the extraordinary service the staff imparted as soon as my party walked in the door. As we sat down, the hostess asked who had the allergy; I raised my hand, and she gave me a menu. But this menu was just a bit different from the other ones she was passing around. This looked as if a small child had been given a red crayon and black sharpie and told to “go crazy, kid!” Every single dish on the very extensive menu was either circled, crossed out, or starred with a message indicating that a substitution or change could be made easily to the dish. No guessing game here. Someone at Oyamel had taken the time to sit down with the menu, and mark up every single dish, in order to make my dining experience easier.
Things were looking good, but I still felt a small twinge of jealousy when my colleagues started chowing down on the chips and salsa. Oh, for a salty, hot-off-the-fryer tortilla chip. It’s the little things in life, really. I digress.
We ordered guacamole—made table-side in a massive molcajete—and I was presented with a delightful plate of sliced radishes, cucumbers, and carrots as a substitute for the chips. Nicely done. The red fish that I ordered needed no modification, and was delicious with a crispy skin, surrounded by a luscious stew of tomatoes, capers, jalapeños, onions and olives. I rounded out the meal with a dessert I had tasted on a previous occasion—the sweet potato flan with green apple sorbet and tamarind sauce. It was heavenly.
It was an extraordinary meal, yes, but José Andrés is pretty darn good at that. What was really special was the added care that the staff took to attend to my needs. Many of my colleagues actually ordered things with peanuts, but I felt no apprehension about cross-contamination or carelessness. Oyamel means business—plating exciting and delicious food, and doing so in a safe, accommodating, and pleasant environment.
Until my next meal…
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana | 401 7th Street NW, Washington DC 20004)