All words: Jeb Gavin
All photos: Steve Jeter
There’s never a point at which I’m not going to want to eat at Oyamel. Often when eating there I find myself daydreaming about reenacting those old Chi Chi’s commercials where the guy surreptitiously steals salsa, except I’m siphoning guacamole up my sleeve and into my jacket. I’d probably need a stronger vacuum. The practicalities of petty theft aside, Oyamel is hosting a Day of the Dead celebration complete with special dishes and cocktails inspired by pre-and-post Columbian cuisine in Mexico.
My favorite was likely the pato frito en chile seco, bits of crisp duck leg with mushrooms and kabocha, a mole and a pico de gallo made with pomegranate. The earthiness of squash and mushrooms and richness of the duck was autumn in a single bite. It paired nicely with the pato borracho, a cocktail made of Gran Centenario Añejo tequila flavored with duck, the same chiles as were in the mole, and both pineapple and pomegranate. The drink was then topped with an almond air which was a nice touch, though unnecessary. The whole time I was drinking it I was wondering what happened to the tequila-infused duck.
There was also a pumpkin soup, called sopa de calabaza, though pumpkin and calabaza are two different squashes. The soup was served with chile and annatto oils, spiced pumpkin seeds, and a small cloud of foie gras floating on top, melting right into the soup. The foie added richness but I couldn’t taste it. I did however like the marigold blossoms as garnish- they added an herbal, tea-like note which cut the creaminess of the soup.
I’m always impressed by the use of herbs and edible flowers at Oyamel, particularly in their beverages. The Cempasúchil was a mix of white tequila, crème Yvette (a violet and dark berry liqueur), lemon and mint, garnished with a small sprig of lavender and fresh mint. Similarly, the resucitó was a mix of tequila, wild rose aperitif, lime leaf and grapefruit bitters, garnished with a large piece of grapefruit peel.
Two of the new dishes focus on seafood, both involving caviar. Caviar de Chapala, normally made with cured carp roe on tortillas with salsa becomes black caviar atop a mix of green tomatoes, Serranos, onions, and cilantro, all on a small round of fried masa. The oysters, poached in a mix of garlic, black pepper, and bay leaf could’ve been from the Eastern shore if served with lemon juice and a pinch of Old Bay instead of lime. They were also topped with caviar which really didn’t need to be on either dish, though at least for the chocayotes there was some historic precedent.
The celebration runs from Oct. 21st complimentary signature cocktail for diners called the atole rico. It tastes like a more alcoholic tepache, full of Mexican cinnamon and brown sugar, vanilla, pineapple and lemon mixed with fresh atole, mezcal and tequila. I usually associate tepache with summer, so this more sturdy atole is a welcome harbinger of fall and corresponding Mexican cuisine.