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Mexican Marvel Poca Madre Has Some of the Wildest Mezcals Around

The new Penn Quarter restaurant carries imported booze spiked with everything from mole chicken to cannabis

Poca Madre’s Chapo on the Beach is a mezcal-spiked riff on a piña colada, while the Apaga la Luz combines La Union mezcal, Siembre Valles tequila and xtabentún, an ancient Mayan liqueur, with smoky-sweet ingredients.
Greg Powers/Greg Powers Photography

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In addition to focusing on unique Mexican fare, restaurateur Victor Albisu’s breathtaking new restaurant Poca Madre is mixing drinks fueled by more than 90 rare mezcals — including spirits infused with cannabis and mole.

It seems to be piggybacking on two trends in D.C.: amassing a voluminous library of mezcals, a la Espita, and experimenting with hemp-laced beverages (right, Team Eleanor?).

The Penn Quarter newcomer, opening tonight, will get the party started right away by greeting customers with a tension-reliever. “Everyone gets a welcome drink,” says Michael Iglesias, Poca Madre’s restaurant director. “No matter what your day was like you have something on your palate. It eases you into the experience.” One prospective mood enhancer: the Wizard of Oax, a take on a mai tai, combining mezcal and Oaxacan rum with orgeat syrup made from cantaloupe seeds.

Iglesias, an Oyamel alum who later ran Oakland’s famed Mexican eatery Calavera — and collected key mezcal contacts along the way — tells Eater he was on his way back to San Francisco this year when Albisu swooped in and asked him to helm the new Penn Quarter bar with Amin Seddiq.

“We are carrying mezcals that speak to us,” says Iglesias, adding that travels to Mexico with Albisu added inspiration.

“Bartenders are as talented as chefs and have a great work station,” says Poca Madre service director Michael Iglesias of the six-seat agave bar reserved for his personnel.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Poca Madre’s shelves are stocked with bottles from Erick Rodriguez’s Almamezcaleria line. There’s a mezcal that tastes like “beautiful, delicate cannabis chartreuse,” says Iglesias, who still co-owns Calavera. Some hail from tiny production labels, like the Sentidos Pechuga de Mole Poblano (bottle 131 of 193), which is flavored by the cooked chicken and mole poblano added at the distillery. Patrons can take things to another level by sipping the collected mezcals out of hollowed-out gourds or ceramic cups made by Oaxaca-based artist Omar Hernandez.

“You get this wild, spicy, chocolate-y and nutty wild fruit flavor,” says Poca Madre service director Michael Iglesias, of the Sentidos Pechuga de Mole Poblano.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC

Meanwhile, the dining experience is also designed with fun in mind. Black T-shirt-wearing waiters, for instance, will urge diners to finish off the rest of their shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche dish with a mezcal shot drizzled over it at the end.

Featured offerings on the opening menu include: a gourmet burrito marrying wagyu beef, lobster, and caviar; fried chicken accompanied by chile-agave syrup; an al pastor-style roasted duck freshened with pineapple; and a tomahawk rib-eye flanked by bone marrow.

Albisu, who entered the Mexican arena with street food-centric Taco Bamba, says he looks up to smaller D.C. restaurants that have put their stamps on different cuisines — listing Middle Eastern grill Maydan and critically acclaimed Asian restaurant Himitsu as bright spots in the local dining landscape.

“I’m touched by the way food has been evolving in the city. We feel like Poca will have its place, hopefully,” he says.

Status: Projected to open at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 19. 777 Eye Street NW; website.

Scroll down to see the opening menus and photos of some of the featured dishes and drinks:

The Charlie and the Chapuline Factory cocktail at Poca Madre features mezcal, Oaxacan chapulines, pineapple, lemongrass, Japanese peanuts, sambal, and a farm egg.
Greg Powers/Greg Powers Photography

The Ziggy Stardust margarita at Poca Madre doubles as a frozen dessert thanks to a dose of liquid nitrogen.
Greg Powers/Greg Powers Photography

The not ‘guacamole’ appetizer at Poca Madre features fried avocado, shishito peppers, epazote, and citrus.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

The shareable pato al pastor at Poca Madre summons slow roasted Long Island duck served with pineapple, onions, cilantro, and corn tortillas ($58).
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

“I am grateful to be able to cook this food,” says Poca Madre chef and founder Victor Albisu.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Poca Madre

Techworld Plaza, , DC 20001 (202) 838-5300 Visit Website
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