777 I Street, NW
From a press release:
“Award-winning D.C. chef and restaurateur Victor Albisu announces a June 19 opening for Poca Madre, his high-end, contemporary Mexican restaurant adjacent to the Chinatown location of his wildly popular taqueria, Taco Bamba.
While Taco Bamba Chinatown delivers on the big menu, no-frills, rock & roll ambience that earned the Northern Virginia suburban locations cult status, Poca Madre is a juxtaposition in form and function. The elevated design, from the garden patio to the intimately lit dining room, complement a polished menu and mezcal-driven bar program unlike anything else diners will find in D.C.
“There’s so much more to Mexican cooking than what we typically see in the States,” Albisu said. “Some of the discoveries we made in Mexico while on research trips, first for Taco Bamba and later Poca Madre, just blew me away. I had to find a way to bring those flavors back to D.C. From centuries-old palenques in Oaxaca to chic, contemporary fine dining in Mexico City, there is so much going on that’s worth the spotlight, and I’m doing my part to shine on it.”
Menu and Inspiration
Albisu has conceived a menu that is all about the details, like tortillas made from scratch with nixtamalized masa hand-ground on a traditional metate. After numerous trips to Mexico exploring classic and modern-day cooking, Albisu and his team began procuring rare ingredients, like heirloom Mexican corn, Pasilla de Oaxaca chilies and directly sourced (not canned) huitlacoche. These ingredients translate to dishes like sweetbreads Veracruzana, Long Island duck al pastor and a risotto made with corn husk stock and laced with huitlacoche. Other examples of Poca Madre’s contemporary-traditional alchemy include a dish of crispy octopus served with a mole blanco and ink pepper jam, as well as a black cod aguachile with green tomato dressed with avocado-yuzu.
The smoke-and-fire spirit of Del Campo persists in a mole negro featuring charred onions, garlic burnt in its own paper and hard-to-find chilhuacle negro chilies. A fan of sliced hamachi, prepared in the style of ceviche with hibiscus and kaffir lime-perfumed agua de jamaica, is dressed in toasted garlic, corn, blood orange and Serrano chilies for a bite that’s at once bracing and bold.
The drinks list, created by beverage director Amin Seddiq and service director Michael Iglesias, includes a tightly focused selection of New and Old World wines alongside an ambitious, modern-leaning cocktail menu with a strong emphasis on agave spirits. Diners congregating at the agave bar will be witness to bartenders working with liquid nitrogen in the creation of the Ziggy Stardust Margarita, a classic cocktail disguised as a frozen dessert. Seddiq and Iglesias play with tropical favorites in beverages like the Wizard of Oax, a take on a Mai Tai that pairs Mezcal Vago Madre Cuixe and Oaxacan rum with an orgeat syrup made from cantaloupe seeds, as well as the Chapo on the Beach, which turns a traditional piña colada into something extraordinary with Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, Hamilton 12-year rum and pineapple canela gum. The Apaga la Luz sees La Union mezcal, Siembre Valles tequila and xtabentún, an ancient Mayan liqueur, served with a sphere of celery ice and lightly smoked with a mix of applewood and star anise.
Albisu worked closely with local firm Swatchroom to transform the space. Swatchroom’s design combines modern Mexican sophistication with nostalgic touches of Old World charm. A minimal color palette of crisp white walls and a white quartz bar top contrasted with black paneling is brightened with rich, leaf-green accents inspired by the agave plant. A vine-wrapped installation suspended over the dining room adds drama to the space, as intricate geometric window paneling gently filters light through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Hanging copper pots overflowing with greenery flank the six-seat agave bar.
A piece of original art by local photographer Dominique Fierro overlooks the rear of the dining room and presents a progressive take on Frida Kahlo’s signature look. The private dining room takes its cues from nature, offering a panoramic landscape of the Sonoran desert printed with green ink on whitewashed wood. Swatchroom’s Maggie O’Neill contributes a striking piece of artwork in the form of a three-dimensional wall hanging composed of construction drawings rolled into an organic, floral pattern. The restaurant’s most dramatic design element depicts a freestanding open door on the U.S.-Mexico border that is inspired by a real-life installation erected by Richard Lou in 1988. A depiction of Lou’s “Border Door” applied to a screen of vertical wood paneling just behind the host stand is one of the first sights for guests entering the restaurant.
Poca Madre will be open for dinner seven days a week with seating for 68 in the dining room, six at the restaurant’s agave bar and 28 in the seasonal outdoor cocktail lounge. The restaurant is located in the former Del Campo space, Albisu’s award-winning South American grill. Taco Bamba fronts I (Eye) Street NW, while the garden patio entrance to Poca Madre opens on Techworld Plaza, the pedestrian walkway located between I (Eye) and K Streets. The search is currently underway for Del Campo’s new location.”
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