Archive for November, 2008

Corduroy

November 14, 2008

It was a favorite of mine in its old space, but this is my first time back since Corduroy moved to their new digs.

Corduroy

The setting:
I think we drove by it– running late, of course – at least 3 times before we spotted the row house with lighted porch lamps and a non-descript sign.  The area of town isn’t exactly what you’d expect for fine dining, but Corduroy is getting into a neighborhood early in its revival.  The new space is calming – almost a little too white and non-descript.  We were hoping for a table in the front by the window, but found ourselves in the back dining room.  It’s also very, very quiet in the restaurant, but not so quiet that we were able to tell what the canoodling couple 2 tables away was canoodling about so passionately.  (More on these two later…)

The service:
Virtually perfect service.  Really.  The host who greeted us was also our server, and displayed the perfect balance between familiarity and courtesy.  We were the last table to finish our meal, and in that time we joked that we wished we knew what was so engaging to the couple who was hugging (like, a passionate embrace hugging) across the table.  So our server found out: he went to the kitchen and found their server, who relayed that the man was divorced and her father was having a fit that his princess was involved with a divorced man.  However, said their server, the man paid with a black AMEX, so maybe the father could forgive his past relationship.

This was all done in a very conspiratorial tone, and wasn’t said maliciously.  And it made for great fun.

The food:
Chef Tom Power is my kinda cooker: keep it simple and let the food taste the way it’s supposed to taste without making a fuss. 

Brian and I originally planned to order exactly the same thing: lobster carpaccio to start followed by buffalo.  Our server suggested perhaps we order another appetizer and split them, so I wound up with a simple tomato salad and Brian stuck with the lobster.

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The sauce you can see in the picture of the lobster is actually BUTTER.  Ah, delicious, creamy butter…one of foods more perfect creations.  (Also, see Bacon.)  It was decadent and rich: I could only eat one or two bites, but Brian declared he could eat plate after plate without ever becoming full.  The tomato salad was a perfect starter for me with the basil aioli ringing the plate.  The tomatoes were skinless – perhaps through a quick blanching process?

The buffalo entree was rich and flavorful, but my favorite part of this dish was the excellent potato side, with mandolined spud layers set off by sweet onion and a light cheese.  It was gratin in such a delicate and elegant presentation.

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For dessert we were finally caught snapping pictures.  “I’d better not see that on the internet” joked our server.  At least…I hope he was joking!  Whoops!  Brian went with the famous “kit kat” bar – a hazelnut and chocolate bar surrounded by a vanilla bean cream anglaise, while I sampled a local apple tarte tatin, which Brian found not sweet enough.

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The dinner – our 2nd year anniversary – was wonderful.

Best for: Canoodling couples with a story that isn’t too scandalous and people who like clean, unfussy food.

Worst for: Couples having an affair and people who savor sauces.

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Oyamel – Day of the Dead

November 1, 2008

If you aren’t familiar with traditional Mexican food – and the holiday Day of the Dead, you might be surprised by what you find at the Penn Quarter hot-spot.

Oyamel

The setting:
I was at Oyamel the week of Halloween, and at first glance it appears as though this restaurant has gone overboard with decorations: skeletons wearing traditional Mexican prints, candles that have been burned to allow all the wax to drip and create something akin to an altar, a bathroom decorated with tarot card-looking figures.  But it pays homage to the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead.  The space still has that terra cotta color palate associated with Mexican restaurants, but there are also cool wire mobile and festive carnival flags hanging from the ceiling in the multi-tiered eatery.

The service:
Our waitress was very deliberate in pronouncing every dish in authentic-sounding Spanish, but she wasn’t so great at telling us what was in something or being able to put the name of a dish to what we were describing (even though she has worked there forever).  She also told me the drink I ordered – mango puree with tequila and infused with chili oil – wasn’t very spicy.  Um, it was basically like drinking Tabasco.  She had to make two orders of guacamole for our table, so I’ll forgive her for letting the chips run low: the ultimate Mexican restaurant faux-pas.

The food:
There are no fajitas on the menu here, and you’d be disappointed if Taco Bell is the picture that forms in your mind when you hear the word “taco.”  Instead, Oyamel prides itself on serving traditional Mexican food – and evidently that includes grasshoppers.

Oh, yes.  I did.

But first!  Guacamole!  Your server will make it fresh table-side, ranging from a little too mild (no more than avocados and tomatillos) to red-oniony spicy.  At our end of the table, we enjoyed the mild version, made even better by mixing a little of the salsa with it.

   

Oyamel serves food tapas-style, so I ordered 4 dishes to sample:

The Queso fundido con tequila is basically cheese with tequila on top that they light on fire. Yeah, buddy! I’d recommend sharing this because even the cheese-lovers who walk among us may find it to be a bit too much cheese for them. Also, if your server has brought you enough chips, the cheese is really better on them than the tortillas served with the cheese.

The Sopes de frijol con hoja de aguacate was really fantastic – four discs made from corn, topped with cheese and beans, and evidently avocado leaves (somehow I missed that part when I was eating them). But don’t eat these if you’ve recently had dental work – they’re a bit…hard.

The carnitas taco was just a teaser.

And then, the coup de grâce: grasshopper tacos. Yes, they were really grasshoppers. Yes, I really ate them. No, I probably won’t again. I’ll let the pictures speak for me:

     

Catch your breath, people…this is considered a delicacy in Oaxaca. To report, they were crunchy (“that’s the exoskeleton” observed our astute server) and a bit tasteless, and I later picked a grasshopper leg from between my teeth. Call before you go if you want to try them because – according to our server – they “have peculiar mating habits” and aren’t always available.

Eww…

Best for: Adventurous eaters who can’t afford a a trip south of the border with these airfare prices.

Worst for: The squeamish. You know who you are.