All words: Riley Croghan
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Oh, Oyamel. Sometimes I just can’t resist the temptation to compare this restaurant to one of the lesser Baldwins. It’s an earnest, hard-working member of a renowned family, but it seems to constantly be outshined by its older brothers. That’s not to say Oyamel isn’t a terrific restaurant—I’ve frequented it more often than any other of Jose Andres’s golden children, in fact— and moreso than any of its siblings, the restaurant is always ready to throw a party. Oyamel’s next food-based fiesta, their seventh annual Tequila and Mezcal Festival, is only a few days away, and if the press preview party we recently attended is of any indication, this is the year Oyamel is ready to bring it. They’ve hired the band, stocked themselves with good food and booze, and invited all the popular kids over.
We were treated to a preview of the March 10 kickoff party, nestled in Oyamel’s new expansion, which nearly doubled the size of bar space for the restaurant—brilliant move there. A live salsa band played over the party, and a roast baby pig was carved up throughout the night into delicious savory tacos, served in housemade corn tortillas. A huge granite mortar hosted a supersized version of Oyamel’s signature smashed-up-at-your-table guacamole. And Jose Andres himself showed up to kick off the festivities and spread around a little bit of his star power.
In addition to the kickoff party and nightly special tasting menus, if you drop by between March 10 and March 23, you’ll be able to sample small plates created by Head Chef Colin King expressly for the Tequila and Mezcal festival. The street food offerings are all designed to pair well with that classic tequila taste—plenty of citrus, salt, and spice. There are two takes on ceviche on the menu. One, the Culiacan style ceviche, is a marinated bass with a bit of fire to it, as it’s topped with a healthy dollop of a housemade salsa piquin. While the spice melds well with the natural acidity of the dish, I was far more taken with the Chamoy style offering. That ceviche, a sliced Hawaiian Ono, is peppered with chopped onions, cucumbers, and peanuts, which bring a crunch I haven’t previously experienced in a ceviche. Ceviche is one of my favorite fish preparations, but one thing it usually lacks is a good texture, and the decision to add a bit of something to nosh on here was absolutely inspired.
And, of course, throughout the festival Oyamel will be serving up tequila and mezcal coctails designed by Juan Coronado. I tried a full glass of each—I’m not one to let my sobriety get in the way of being able to make personal reccomendations on a drink menu. They all have their charms; the flashiest of the bunch, the agave en leña, hits you with a mouthful of cedar smoke, which packs a wallop that might be unexpected for those inexperienced with smokier drinks, but which I found to be pure heaven. The smoke is created by firing a cedar board, then enclosing an ice sphere over the charred wood. If that sounds too intenseThe Rosa de Oaxaca carries a less intense smoky taste, which is further cut and complemented by floral, fruity tastes lent to it by hibiscus, raspberry, and lemon. Our photographer’s favorite was the Miramar, topped with a salt water mist that lends it as a perfect pairing to one of the spicier dishes on the menu, like the pickled beef stuffed jalapenos.
But don’t take this lush’s word on it. Go ahead and feast your eyes (and soul) on the rest of the food porn: