Casa Oaxaca 2

DSC_7537.jpgA few months ago, I paid a visit to a modern Mexican restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC to sample their vegan menu (see blog).  I was impressed by their modern approach to the presentation and rendition of some classic Mexican dishes like Quesadillas, Chile Relleno, and the Cactus salad, Nopalito.  While I was waiting for the meatless offerings to arrive at my table, I had a chance to peruse the other dishes that would delight the die-hard carnivore.  I had been anticipating my next visit during the four-month wait, thinking about some of the interesting sounding dishes that looked familiar and some new to my palate.

With an online offer coupon in hand (food blogging can make quite a dent to the pocketbook, thus I take “any means necessary” to make such hobby more economical), I showed up at Casa Oaxaca to meet a new online friend.  Unfortunately, unlike my previous visit, the upstairs was not available to customers, thus I had no choice but to find the brightest lit table in the rather cavernous basement floor.  Even under such lighting, it was a real challenge taking some decent photos with the low-level lighting which the staff were tempted to dim even further as the night progressed.  Notwithstanding such challenges, my friend and I were quite excited about tasting the offerings.

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While we were perusing the menu, we were regaled with a complimentary amuse-bouche.  Small discs of freshly made tortilla were covered with some cooked beans and topped with cheese.  The tortilla tasted home-made and slightly musky from the dried corn and lime powder.  The beans were smooth and quite mild in flavor with the cheese adding a slight richness without overpowering its partners.  A mild-tasting but nice start to the meal.

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Our first order was Kekas since my dining mate was not too keen on the Grasshopper Cheese Fondue (yes, crunchy Chapulines is a common staple South of the Border).  The plate came with a trio of quesadillas made with non-GMO (non-genetically modified organics) pink-hued tortillas.  The one stuffed with fresh corn and huitlacoche had the sweetness of the former starch and the mustiness of the latter dark corn fungus, which is also another exotic staple in Mexican cuisine.  The other stuffed with cheese, onions, and squash blossoms was a mild tasting and slightly sweet from the flower petals and onions, which made it quite distinct in its meek way.  The boldest quesadilla was the Pork Carnitas stuffing which was thinly shredded pork with a rich savory sauce that stood out the most with its savoriness and bolder flavors.  The side of Crema, light Mexican sour cream, added an additional unctuousness to these bites.  This was a good appetizer with the quality noticeable in the cooking and the ingredients themselves.

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The next course was a trio of Tacos de Cordero.  It is basically soft tacos that envelop a mound of barbecued lamb meat.  The meat was fork-tender and very tasty, although a bit too salty for my taste.  The sauce had a hint of dry “wood” spices like cumin and cinnamon.  The usual choice meat for a barbacoa is goat, but in this case lamb is used, which exuded a slight gamey note to the bite.  The pickled red onions was the acidic relief needed for this rich dish and to balance the lamb flavor.  The side of corn salad was delightful with its summer sweetness that was tempered by a hint of lime juice and cilantro.  The refried beans were smooth and slightly smokey, which made them quite irresistible.  The Mexican Rice was well-made but nothing extraordinary.  If weren’t for the heavy hand in the salt, this would have made the perfect taco dish.

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For our entrées, we chose a couple of dishes that represented authentic Mexican cuisine. The first was Tres Moles.  It was a visually stunning dish with pieces of cooked chicken that were dressed with the traditional sauce of Oaxaca, Mole.  I was curious to try this dish since I was only familiar with one type of mole sauce, Mole Poblano, which is made from a long list of dried chilies, nuts, and cacao.  This restaurant’s version was probably one of the best I have had with some smokiness from the dried roasted chilies, slightly nutty, and the cacao added a dark rich note to the sauce – I was literally lapping up every drop of it from the plate.  The green mole was made from tomatillos and garlic, and it was slightly acidic from the gooseberry relative.  The red mole was quite piquant from the use of more searing chilies and it was the least favorite of mine.  But this dish was a delicious study of contrast and it highlights the sophistication of this Pre-Columbian cuisine.  This dish is a definite must-order at this restaurant and a tasty introduction to authentic Mexican cuisine.

DSC_0742.jpgThe final entrée was Pato al Mole.  Pieces of organic duck thigh are paired with a mole sauce made with figs.  I was really anticipating the arrival of this dish judging by the name itself.  However, the dish was a slight let down since the duck was a bit over-cooked and a bit too salty, and the sauce did not have any pronounced discernible fruity fig flavor but a slightly sweeter version of the Mole Poblano in the above dish.  I appreciate the restaurant’s effort to take the traditional flavors to a more modern direction with the use of duck as the protein and figs as part of the mole sauce.  However, I feel that it needs a bit of fine-tuning and it would be a great success.
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DSC_0747.jpgFor dessert, we decided to try something that was typically Latin with a Mexican flair – Flan de Chocolate.  It was basically a flan custard made with chocolate/coco and drizzled with some tequila.  However, I found the flan a bit too dense and lacking the smooth creamy consistency which comes from as the result of condensed milk and the right proportions of ingredients to lighten it up.  Furthermore, the chocolate flavor in the flan was produced from the use of coco powder and chocolate syrup which did not add much depth or richness.  The pool of tequila did not do much to the dish and I felt it was not necessary.  What a shame.  Again, this dish needs fine tuning and it could be stellar. Unfortunately, it was ho-hum like the vegan version of Pastel de Tres Leches that I had on my last visit.

DSC_0754.jpgAs part of the coupon offer, the final piece de resistance was a trio flight of different Mezcals, akin to tequila.  Who would refuse such a treat, unless you are a serious teetotaler.  Not familiar with the different types of this Mexican liquor, I was curious to discover something new.  It is made from the Maguey which is a type of agave plant found in Oaxaca, closely related to the Blue Agave used to make tequila.  The first offering was the plain mezcal.  We were instructed to drink with a salt made with Chapulines (grasshopper – finally I got to taste it!) and a squeeze of sweet orange.  I must say that this was a better version of Tequila Shots with the smoother Mexcal, the slightly smoky salt, and the sweet orange slice that did not produce that puckered face effect like with tequila.  The second flight was a smoked version of the first clear mezcal – it was a bit too smokey for me although it is the most common version.  The final version tasted like the coffee liquor, Kahlua, and my dinner mate enjoyed it much like a dessert wine.  This was a great ending to the meal, which left us slightly buzzed but not inebriated due to the quantity of food we had consumed.

DSC_7586.jpgJust like my first trip to Casa Oaxaca to try its vegan menu, there were more highlights in this time’s tasting than the disappointments.  The Kekas Quesadillas were flavorful with the different meat and vegetable stuffing especially the Pork Carnitas and Huitlacoche fungus.  The Lamb Tacos were fork-tender and well-seasoned despite the slight over-salting.  The Tres Moles was perhaps the best dish we tried and this restaurant’s version did some justice to this national dish with the complex sauces.  The trio flight of mezcal shots was the perfect ending, a much smoother version than the back-throat-burning tequila.  Casa Oaxaca is worth visiting to savor well-made authentic Mexican dishes that will dispel one’s prejudices or preconceived notions of this cuisine, and it will impress any diner with the restaurant’s familiar and exotic offerings.

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6 thoughts on “Casa Oaxaca 2

  1. Captivating photos and it sounds like minus any heavy use of salt, the dining experience was noteworthy. Perhaps on a second visit you could request no salt in the food to see if the absence of it will allow the other flavours to take centre stage.

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