Good things, really wonderful things don’t usually wash over you like a tsunami wave all at once and in abundance but, rather, come in small bits – a little taste here, a dribble or drop there, like a crack in the wall of the mundane. A golden glimmer of something exquisite peeks through and, if we’re smart, we are attentive enough to see it with great appreciation.
Sunday morning began simply enough. Animals were fed. Coffee and a blueberry muffin were consumed and one of the first unseasonably warm, sunny days of late beckoned just outside my window. Soon, I was on my way to DC in search of food for both body and soul and, of course, the elusive parking space.
Car parked and location noted, we walked in the direction of the National Gallery of Art. We decided to feed body first and came upon Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in the Penn quarter. It’s a very lively, upscale restaurant with a menu and cocktail list creative enough to please the most discerning foodie. The menu revealed that this was a José Andrés restaurant and we knew that we had, quite fortuitously, stumbled onto something special.
This is like no Mexican food you’ve ever experienced. The ingredients are incredibly fresh and traditional concepts are elevated to a more sophisticated level. First, came hand-made chips and salsa – impossibly thin chips, made only hours earlier, were satisfyingly crispy with the perfect wisp of salty heat. The somewhat smoky chorizo salsa ranchera is now my ideal against which all future salsas will be judged.
Next came ceviche de atun Pacifico: ahi tuna with Maggi-lime marinade, scallions, avocado, toasted pecans, Fresno chiles and crispy amaranth. The medley of textures and the layers of flavor were nothing short of extraordinary. It’s a small plate, but those few bites bring you to another place. We feasted on crispy Brussels sprouts with a chile de arbol sauce, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and lime and a crazy good grilled flank steak with salsa jitomate, cherry tomato pico de gallo and radishes. The meal was basically a party in our mouths and a pretty rocking one, at that.
Each plate was tiny and I couldn’t help but think of what a few of my family members would say if they were presented with these jewels, so skillfully created. They would calculate the serving size divided by price and be very disappointed . . . . . but they’d be missing out.
After a last sip of Margarita del Serrano with its rim of fiery salt, we walked to the gallery to see the Raphael exhibit. We entered the West Building, walking past the collection of American furniture, until we came upon Raphael’s sketches and other European paintings from centuries ago. There really isn’t time to see and enjoy the museum in its entirety in one visit so we limited ourselves to this one section and, as I wander, it’s clear there are only a few that really touch me and cause me to want to linger and soak them in – small bites.
There was a painting of a volcano in Stromboli and then, a rolling landscape where the artist conveyed Tuscany’s golden light so magically it was astounding. These are the small plates we wait for – those miraculous moments that only come in tiny morsels. To hear the joy in your daughter’s voice when she says, “Mom, I got the job!” or find yourself lucky enough to be included in drinks and dinner with your daughter and all her friends, getting to listen to them reminisce about their childhoods and talk about how their lives are unfolding now, each unique and remarkable – such precious small plates.
Like finding a pearl in an oyster or turning a dreary corner only to discover a rainbow, these small plates of our lives are scarce, uncommon gems to be relished. Now go to Oyamel and order the ceviche . . . . really!