Terrible photo of awesome mole at Casa Oaxaca
We don’t get to Adams Morgan much, but it turns out to be worth it, sometimes. This time. Hooray for small sample sizes? By 9:00pm we were already done; all the jumbo slice places were still empty, and we didn’t see a single brawl in the streets. Not even a ruckus to describe. I think we were about 4 hours too soon for the true Adams Morgan action, and that’s okay, because we were only there for the Charley libations and the Oaxacan mole, and those turn out to be great ideas in the 6:30-9pm range.
Bar Charley (1825 18th Street) is the new Jackie Greenbaum (Jackie’s)/Gordon Banks (El Chucho) venue, recently reviewed by Tom Sietsema with raves for the drinks more than the food. We were there for the drinks! Mai tais are as good as Sietsema suggested, and according to two of us “more limey” than average, in a good way (obviously?), and served in ceramic hula lady tiki mugs, always a winner. The bartender also makes a mean sazerac, I would say more orangey than usual — no complaints here about heavy citrusy hands.
Great decor too, cool lighting, exposed brick, a cozy feel, and the back patio is nice. The entire space was designed by the same folks who recently did our friends’ basement — very different results, both stylin’. Our only complaint is that the bar area is too small to accommodate all the people who want to hang out there, not a bad problem for Charley to have.
Down the street to Casa Oaxaca (2106 18th Street) for dinner. Their logo emphasizes the correct pronunciation, “wa-HA-ca,”* almost as fun to say as Kaprow! We sat in the basement, more exposed brick, deep orange paint, plus a giant painting of an orange, to continue the citrus theme. Also the muy delicioso theme, because it all was.
* It may or may not be true that the Mexican edition of the Muppet Show used to feature Fozzie Oso saying “Oaxaca Oaxaca Oaxaca!!!”
The four main food groups: chips, salsa, guac, ‘ritas
There is a drink called Holy Moley on the menu, one less joke for me to have to think up. I skipped the drink in favor of the sauce; I am all about mole in places like this, and in this case it was good enough to drink. I would pay to drink a pint of the Mole Coloradito, darkly rich, in this case served not in a glass but pooled around a perfectly medium-rare, tender filet of beef. It was hard to tell where the mole met the beans (also because the lighting was really dark at our table), a huge black pool of chili-raisin-chocolate-umami flavor. What is Spanish for umami? Fish tacos were a big hit (and a big plate). Salads and fajitas were also winners. Plate-licking remains frowned upon by Mrs. Me, but it was dark, and there were margaritas (pitcher, top shelf, excellent), and I will say no more.
We sprung for some only-okay guacamole with our chips and salsa; it is so easy to make good guac at home, I tend not to bother at restaurants, and that was the only misstep here. Casa Oaxaca’s salsa is reasonably spicy, dark red with roasted tomatoes and peppers, almost too runny but not quite, and served warm, which I’m not sure I like but it worked okay. Chips were fresh and crisp, above-average for sure. I’d love to go back and try more moles and more appetizers.
And so we reemerged, full of mole and citrus and good cheer, into the dark Adams Morgan evening, no need for jumbo slices, not looking for a ruckus, just ready to be old and go home and go to bed. I already want to go back, though.