What an excellent Sunday afternoon in D.C. when it is spent at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's (STC) Lansburg Theatre. We enjoyed their uproarious production of 'The Heir Apparent' an adaptation of Jean-François Regnard’s 1706 masterpiece by award winning playwright David Ives so very much that we decided to tow the younglings along for a behind the scenes, dress rehearsal of the production, 'The Two Merchants of Verona'.
It was such an eye opener to see the endless repetition that goes into a flawless creation for every minute of stage time. As a mother of course I used this point to hone in on the 'see how practise makes perfect' idea without any further delay and much to the chagrin of my younglings.
Did I mention that we carried our young boys along for their first taste of Shakespearean theatre? This with implicit directions -"no whining, no talking, no kicking the seat in front and if you're bored, go to sleep"! We even carried their teddy bear, Mr. White along for added assurance.
Fortunately, all that preparation paid off. Even our youngest 5 year old was enthralled and the afternoon passed with ne'er a peep. What a success! As a mother, an afternoon of well behaved boys, in public, at the theatre, is nothing short of a slice of heaven on earth.
STC's contemporary spins on the classics which varies between the script to the stage/sets has added such a refreshing twist on the old classics and in doing so has brought back the joy of Shakespeare into our lives. Needless to say, as far as we're concerned, they're a shining star on DC's theatre scene.
An afternoon at the theatre and such good behavior from the boys had to be rewarded and Jose Andres' Oyamel was beconing. Let's get one thing straight, for us to eat Mexican on the East Coast, it would take a Jose Andres eatery to draw us out and nothing short of.
When it comes to certain cuisines, I suffer from a predilection of culinary snobbery. For those of us who lived in those states of the US that abut the Mexican border, we've had the opportunity to taste some seriously good Mexican grub.
Not the kind that is regularly dished out to the unsuspecting folk in other parts of the world but the kind available in little cantinas, barrios and little abuela-owned hole-in-the-wall places. You know the kind that is just an ordinary eatery in places like Nogales from where you can see Mexican sprawl in your line of sight.
Needless to say, even the 'gourmet Mexican' cafes are phenominal compared to what's dished out in their counterparts elsewhere.
And so both Mr. Hubby & I were optimistically guarded as we walked a few doors down from the theatre and passed through the front doors of Oyamel. And rest be assured, nothing short of the Jose Andres stamp (protege of the one and only Ferran Adria of the El Bulli fame) was going to convince us to give Mexican cuisine on the East coast a try.
So here's how it all went down :
Architecture & Ambiance ~ Refreshing, light, great natural light, airy with wonderful Mexican artifacts and art spotting the entire restaurant. My favorite? The butterfly mobiles that graced the entire ceiling of the dining room floor.
The choice of color & style with its clean lines reminded me a great deal of Mexican Architect Roberto Legorreta. A real nice buzz, this restaurant has a definite up-market without being pretentious feel to it. You could go smart-casual, dress-up or dress-down and still fit right in.
Service - Carlos our waiter was incredibly attentive and all of the wait staff seemed to have a thorough knowledge of the menu and were either local to Mexico or Latin America. I heard fluent Spanish and Portuguese spoken by many.
The food -
Circled are chef recommendations
We ordered ~
Just when you thought old-fashioned table side service had gone the way of the cummerbunded captain, here's table side freshly made guacamole done right with fresh ingredients & crispy fried tortilla chip.
Baby cactus salad with lime dressing and tomatoes
Make no mistake this tastes just the way cactus looks - fleshy, meaty with that cactussy texture, flavor and scent. Refreshing with fresh tomatoes and lime citrusy dressing. Good for a first try.
Shredded chicken, potato and chorizo and chipotle with white onion is a corn tortilla
There is no question here - chipotle rules! The smoky flavor with the chicken and occasional bite of spicy chorizo was quite good with the corn tortilla.
Meatballs in a chipotle sauce with a double cream sauce & cilantro
These meatballs are definitely cumin infused and one our favorite eats of the evening. The gravy was delicious, spicy and flavorful. The texture of the meatballs were melt-in-the mouth perfect.
Beef shortribs in a tangy green sauce of cilantro, parsley and garlic
My absolute favorite offering of the evening, perfectly cooked, tender beef short ribs that pairs shockingly well with a green chutney. I never would have though to pair the two and when done right like here, it shines. What a pleasant surprise!
Tamale with shredded chicken & salsa verde
My least favorite offering of the evening - no where near the flavors, texture or richness of the traditional tamales as done right in the Southwest. What a disappointment! Even the corn tasted wrong. I guess the smoky, rich and intense flavors of Southwestern corn has forever ruined me.
Pancita de puerco al pastor
Seared house cured pork belly in a guajillo pepper sauce served with pineapple, onions and cilantro
Definately a grown up taco. I've had much better prepared and softer pork belly. The flavors were fine just not memorable.
Traditional mexican coffee with Counter Culture coffee and star anise, cinnamon and piloncillo sugar.
Rich, dark, sweet delicous and unforgettable. That cane sugar is magic!
So here's what I took away from Oyamel. Oyamel has a great buzz, vibe and energy. The food is good and some of the offering like the cactus and grasshopper dishes are down right unique. Be mindful though that the place offers everything as 'small plates' so you just get one-piece-of, one taco per order.
The servers advise 3-4 plates per person.
For 4 people that would run close of USD 175 for a table NOT including alcohol. Our tab ran at USD 75 and we had simply grazed the menu, not full or satisfied by any means. So in my books, Oyamel is good for when you want to splurge a little and nice for theatre dining.
Have I eaten better? Yes and when it comes to 'small plates, tapas style' dining, the 2011 James Beard winner in D.C. (oh! just you wait!) beats this one hands down.
All in all a good experience but when you live in a place as varied, happening and vibrant as the D.C restaurant scene, I'm ready to move on.