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Monday, December 27, 2010

Oy, Oyamel!

Alex's parents are in town, so when in Rome... you go out to eat somewhere you normally wouldn't think to go. Roger suggested Oyamel, a Mexican restaurant owned by the famed chef Jose Andres.

I was skeptical, to say the least. Jose Andres owns a lot of the hot spots in town -- places I generally avoid like the plague because of their trendiness. Not that I don't like good food, which most "hot spots" claim to have. I just really dislike crowds and overpriced bad food, both of which are often found in hot spots.

But it turns out that Oyamel was fabulous, and Jose has a vision that goes beyond food.

As I always do before eating at a new restaur
ant, I did some research. What I discovered first was more about Jose than about the food:
  • Jose thinks that meat is overrated, but fruit and vegetables are sexy. (Talk about a vegetarian's wet dream.)

  • Jose uses his skills for good by volunteering, fund-raising, employing graduates of DC Central Kitchen and serving on the board there-

    Through job training, meal distribution, and supporting local food systems, DC Central Kitchen is building long-term solutions to the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

  • Jose works with the Solar for Hope project, a nonprofit that, "brings solar kitchens to Haiti... In a country that has been through a devastating earthquake and suffered severe deforestation, harnessing the power of sun for cooking is a simple way to help ensure that people have hot meals."
After combing through his achievements (and these are extraordinary achievements), I failed to find where he sources the food.
I couldn't find anything. There was no mention of local or sustainable.

As a note, I
always try to find out where the dairy is from before I get to the restaurant for two reasons. First, servers are very busy, and I don't want to ask them to go ask the chef (who is also busy) where the food comes from. Second, I don't want my food to get spit in.

So, I called the restaurant and asked where the dairy comes from. Unable to answer, the hostess said she would check and get back to me when we came in for dinner that evening.

Yeah right, I thought. So, I tweeted at Jose:

@ excited 2 eat at 2nite! I try 2 eat or . What can I eat? Do u get ur fr ?

Jose (or whoever tweets for him) never got back to me. I was sure I would be greeted with the same fate by the hostess.

As soon as we entered the restaurant and gave our name, the hostess explained that none of the dairy is local. But, they do get local pigs and goats from the farmers markets.


But as soon as we sat down, the manager came over to show me which dishes on the menu were vegan. She didn't just show us, but she actually circled all of the vegan dishes. There was not just one, there were seven (ish) vegan options.

And I'm not talking about the kind of vegan crap you get at a steakhouse... No, I am talking about vegan delicacies that would make your head spin: Plantain fritters stuffed with black beans and a chipotle chile and piloncillo sugar sauce; Crispy brussels sprouts in arbol chile sauce with pumpkin seeds, peanuts and lime; and Sautéed seasonal wild mushrooms with garlic and shallots, served with guacamole; just to name a few. A far cry from dry mashed potatoes and overdone asparagus at some overpriced meat factory.

The food was amazing. The chef was a walking mitzvah mobile. But the dairy and most of the meat was not local.

So the big question for this small blog is: Does Oyamel get a Thanks or a Spanks?

Thanks. No, they are not entirely sustainable, local or humane. But they have some options (pig and goat and some vegetables), which means that hopefully one day they will have more.

It seems as though Jose would be just the type of restaurant owner and chef who would take that next step to an entirely sustainable, local and humane menu. In the meantime, we can marvel at the other good work he is doing and eat his delicious vegan options.

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