Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DC Restaurant Week 2014 - Oyamel

I haven't been a huge fan of Restaurant Week promotions in any city/neighborhood and usually approach them with a huge dose of skepticism or outright repeal. My thinking is that a good restaurant doesn't need to promote a gimmicky menu just to get people in the seats. On top of that you get volume surge that could be above normal operating conditions (good for restaurant, bad for you) that yields less interesting menu choices or worse, a kitchen just churning out the same dishes quickly without pause. To say that I'm down on "Restaurant Weeks" is accurate - but like everything in life, you give things another look when the time is right. This week I'm giving DC the benefit of the doubt and going full force into Restaurant Week to try some new places in town, and hopefully force me to throw up some more reviews. Last night started with Oyamel.

I've heard good things about Oyamel from many people and understood it to be a Chinatown staple by talented restaurateur Jose Andreas featuring Mexican fare, tacos and ceviche. The prix fixe menu ($35.14 for all participating restaurants) is five courses with multiple choices for each course to give you quite a lot of flexibility to choose your own Oyamel adventure. Even with a large amount of food on deck, Kelly and I decided no good Mexican meal can start without a solid heaping of guacamole, chips and salsa. Unfortunately for my appetite and desire to not over-eat, both the salsa (very similar to Rick Bayless salsa) and chips were delicious. They add a nice spice mixture to the crispy fried chips that make them quite addicting. The guacamole was relatively average in taste or special flavors, but you do get the table side treatment that makes the experience a little more fun. I also started the meal with one of their specialty margaritas that included a nice watermelon flavor. Yum.

Overall I was very impressed with the food and service of the meal. No single plate was a 'wow' but everything tasted good and well prepared and not oversized. Oyamel did a great job of rebuking all of my previous assumptions about restaurant week quality control and menu options. The best dish of the five was definitely the dessert, and the weakest was the fish taco. The bass ceviche was nice and a good intro but it was VERY spicy, and I'm a guy that likes my heat. I took a break from it when the brussels sprouts came out just to give my mouth a break. The sprouts were also very good but definitely reminded me a dishes I've had many other (and non Mexican) locations. So while tasty with peanuts and sauce and nicely prepared, it did not feel authentic (right or wrong) and was solid but not spectacular. The small quesodilla was fun, with an interesting green creamy sauce and grilled veggies/flowers on top. My least favorite - the fish taco - was just not that tasty, with way too much mayo sauce and a bland taco. I ate the fish but left everything else. Oh well. Finally, I'm sure it's on the regular menu so please try the tres leches with pineapple if ever dining. It was delicious. The cake soaked in rum was well made and tasty on its own, throw caramel ice cream on top with pineapple salsa and run whipped cream - and you have a very nice, tasty, refreshing and addicting dessert.

It was a tasty meal with a solid offering of various Mexican dishes. The food quality throughout was tasty and consistent. It's hard to judge value on a special priced meal but the final bill appeared reasonable given the drinks, chips and amount of food ordered. I could easily see myself wanting to return for a fun Mexican small plate dinner, one that focused on chips, guacamole and margaritas, with an occasional taco or two finished with dessert. I'm relieved that my first Restaurant Week dinner was tasty and I look forward to the rest of meals.

Oyamel on Urbanspoon


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