Oyamel is a Mexican restaurant located at 401 7th St NW. It is run by celebrity chef José Andres, which immediately sets a high bar for quality (China Chilcano, another José Andres restaurant across the street, is one of my favorites in the city. The menu is certainly special, and I appreciate the fact that it is not Tex-Mex but instead seeks to bring the full complexity of authentic Mexican cuisine to the capital. I also appreciate the fact that the brunch menu (I went for brunch) includes real Mexican breakfast items that go far beyond huevos rancheros, though they, of course, have that too. The menu is, however, frustratingly tricky to read.
We started the meal with a pitcher of raspberry and apple flavored mimosas, which were delicious (I wanted to try the blood orange and
chile pequin ones, but I was out-voted). I began my meal with the Pozole Rojo, which is a hominy soup with pork and chiles, garnished with onion, lettuce and sliced radishes. The soup was good and had a nice kick, but it wasn’t my kind of dish; I’m not a big soup eater unless it’s matzoh ball soup or clam chowder and I should know that by now.
Next, I had chapulines, which are grasshopper tacos. Yes, they are tacos filled with actual
grasshoppers. And there’s no mistaking them for anything else; you can see the legs and antennae and they’re definitely crunchy. They come in a spicy sauce, so it’s hard to tell what the actual grasshoppers taste like, but this is not for the faint of heart; you remain acutely aware that you’re eating grasshoppers and this was made worse by the fact that my friend kept saying “Jiminy Cricket” to me while I was eating them.
I finished with the meal with the Carne Machaca con huevos revueltos, which is scrambled organic eggs served on a tortilla with dried shredded beef, potatoes, poblano chile, tomato and a smoky sauce of chile pasilla de Oaxaca. It ended up being way too much food, which is an example of Oyamel’s main drawback: the service. For starters, the server (who was very nice) described the menu as small plates and suggested we get two or three dishes. I could easily have had one dish and something small (like the chapulines) and we all felt a bit led astray by that.
In addition, and unlike China Chilcano, the service was so slow and the waitress forgot half of one of my friends’ food. The food was brought out rather haphazardly all at different times, and service quality was simply lost in the shuffle. Unlike China Chilcano, which has airy and spacious ambience, Oyamel feels tight and constricting. Overall, you can see some of the José Andres magic in this place, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges.