In order to go to Maiz 64 in the buzzy food corridor of Logan Circle and 14th Street in Washington, D.C., you've got to take your melancholy handkerchief in your pocket and a well-anticipated reservation. Chef Alam Méndez‘s new project quickly fills up the room with migrants as well as locals wishing to soon return thanks to his dishes with modern technique but of the family-based cuisine of his home State, Oaxaca.
Chef Méndez's success, guaranteed by his trajectory and recent history in his mexico city restaurant Pasillo de Humo, is duly certified by his tacos, especially the suckling pig that takes one by the hand to any given Saturday afternoon as a child after having been to the movie theater. An aromatic and juicy meat wrapped in a tortilla as soft as Grandma's cheek.
But not everything is street food in Maiz 64, there's also fine-dining. For example, the pastor octopus served with grilled bok choi and pineapple highlights the annatto used as seasoning from Oaxaca just as the House's nixtamal. A selection of Mexican tequilas, mezcals, and wines complete the experience to take you to the country we all miss and which grows together with its' cooks who have crossed the border to conquer palates discovering the new Mexican cuisine.
It is known that in the land of the Aztecs, much of the food is spicy. However, here, the chef welcomes you with an appetizer of blue corn tortillas and a non-spicy salsa based on roasted eggplant and tomatillo. It is delicate and does not burn the taste buds at the beginning of the experience.
Then, for the second service, I ordered some Esquites. These corn kernels, also known around here as Mexican Street corn, have their origins from the stands at towns squares and outside churches. These, in Mexico are prepared with white corn. In the United States sweet corn is the most common choice. Here, Méndez presented me with something different. It was an elevated version with a medley of white, yellow and blue corn. A bit spicy, but not overwhelming, I should say. The merchant shall always offer a little spiciness.
On the other side of the table, there was beet salad. At a first glance, it doesn't appear to be Mexican. ingredients are local and available in many parts of the world, but as a whole, every bite tasted like Mexico. One gustatory surprise after another.
And while I had the octopus al pastor on one side, my partner did not hesitate to share a bit of his selection either. Duck Breast with green apple compote and Mantamanteles mole. The duck, which by the way was perfectly cooked and could have been the dish in itself, was accompanied by an impeccable, fine, roasted mole, and although not traditional, it reminded me of my chef from whom I learned the recipe for this fruity sauce. I dare to describe it with the extremely overused phrase of ‘flavorful party' but that was truly crazy.
The night is coming to an end and it is therefore time for dessert. I ordered churros as it was a pending dish from the last time I was a diner at Alam. My husband had strawberries and cream. The chef comes to our table and has a brief chat with us. We talk about his expectations in this new place and the perception with which we see compatriots as well as experts in the culinary field have perceived his arrival. He additionally pampers us with what I understand is his favorite dessert, Chocolate and Café de Olla.
Each one was completely different. The churros made me smile. I loved that they were not perfectly uniform. It was obvious that they were handmade. The dark chocolate sauce with passion fruit I dare say reminded me of the spiced chocolate that is characteristic of my homeland. The strawberries were original, modern and in the form of a sorbet. They had just the right amount of sugar on both, the panna cotta and the sponge cake. The Chocolate and Café de Olla… it tasted like Oaxaca.
For sure, this restaurant will seem expensive to some. I believe the quality is well worth it. I don't hesitate for a moment in stating that this is currently the best modern Mexican cuisine restaurant in the US capital.
Note: To Go orders can be done directly on their website.