Poca Madre Opens in Chinatown
Poca Madre, chef Victor Albisu’s high-end, contemporary Mexican restaurant, opened Tuesday, June 19, in part of the space formerly occupied by Del Campo, his Argentine grill that closed in March. Taco Bamba, his fast-casual taqueria, opened in the front part previously and shares the kitchen although the menus don’t overlap.
Poca Madre takes over the back part of the space at 777 I St. NW with its entrance off Techworld Plaza, the pedestrian walkway located between I and K Streets.
Swatchroom designed the space combining modern Mexican sophistication with nostalgic touches of Old World charm. A minimal color palette with white walls and a white quartz bar top contrast with black paneling and dark wood tables and chairs. The 68-seat dining room is brightened with rich, leaf-green accents inspired by the agave plant. A vine-wrapped installation woven with tiny white lights suspended over the dining room adds drama, as intricate geometric panels filters light through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Hanging copper pots filled with plants flank the six-seat agave bar and each table has a potted succulent.
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 offers a panoramic landscape of the Sonoran desert printed with green ink on whitewashed wood. Designer Maggie O’Neill created 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.
Outside, a 28-seat lounge filled with white rattan furniture with gray cushions and black lacquer tables will be open year-round thanks to heat lamps. It is surrounded by screens and planters to block the outside plaza.
The menu is mostly small plates with three selections “for the table.” Tortillas are made from scratch with nixtamalized masa hand-ground on a traditional metate. Ingredients also include heirloom Mexican corn, pasilla de Oaxaca chilies and directly sourced (not canned) huitlacoche.
Small plates range from $8-$49 and include dishes like sweetbreads Veracruzana with scallops, tomato, cauliflower, olives and capers ($22); crispy octopus served with a mole blanco, artichokes and ink pepper jam ($32); hamachi ceviche with hibiscus agua Jamaica, garlic, serrano chile and roasted corn ($14); and not “guacamole” with tepura avocado, shishito peppers, epazote and citrus ($14). Others include a risotto made with corn husk stock, parmesan, truffles, tajin and popcorn laced with huitlacoche ($22); black cod aguachile with octopus and green tomato dressed with avocado-yuzu ($14); and shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche where ribbons of seafood mimic noodles with chorizo in a coconut citrus broth ($14). Larger entrées include fried chicken with mole ($24); the “el rey” burrito with wagyu beef, lobster, caviar, robiola and black truffle black beans ($32); and grilled whole lobster a la talla ($49).
The shareable plates run from $44-$99 and include autumn olive chuleta, a pork chop “Arabe” with mint, pickled turnips and flour tortillas; pato al pastor, slow-roasted Long Island duck with pineapple, onions and cilantro; and a tomahawk ribeye with bistec adobado, salsa Poca Madre, bone marrow and pasilla de Oaxaca.
The bar has more than 90 rare mezcals and tequilas. There is also a tightly focused selection of New and Old World wines. Cocktails are priced from $13-$16 and arranged by category: highballs and tropical, daisies and sours (citrusy and sour drinks), stirred and modern. The Ziggy Stardust is a classic margarita disguised as a frozen dessert made with mezcal, lime, agave and summer berry Pop Rocks then frozen with liquid nitrogen. The Wizard of Oax is a take on a Mai Tai that pairs Oaxacan rum and Mezcal Vago Madre Cuixe with an orgeat syrup made from cantaloupe seeds, while Chapo on the Beach is a riff on a traditional piña colada made with Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, Hamilton 12-year rum and pineapple canela gum. And braver drinker might try the Charlie and the Chapuline Factory, which mixes Oaxacan chapulines (grasshoppers) with mezcal, pineapple, lemongrass, Japanese peanuts and sambal shaken with egg.
Poca Madre is open for dinner seven days a week from 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.