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Mexican Newcomer Poca Madre Is Showcasing Rare Chiles

Victor Albisu’s new Penn Quarter restaurant arrives June 19

Poca Madre’s fully stocked agave bar.
Greg Powers/Greg Powers Photography
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Restaurateur Victor Albisu just set an opening date for his debut modern Mexican restaurant, Poca Madre. The upscale companion to his wildly popular street food chain, Taco Bamba, will serve liquid nitrogen cocktails and hard-to-find chilhuacle negro chilies.

Starting Tuesday, June 19, Poca Madre will roll out nightly dinner service, with room for 68 in the dining room, six at the restaurant’s agave bar, and 28 in the seasonal garden patio. Penn Quarter’s new formal dining option slides into part of Albisu’s now-defunct Del Campo space, which welcomed his dressed-down taqueria Taco Bamba — his first in D.C. — soon after closing this year. Albisu is currently searching for a new home for Del Campo.

Swatchroom’s minimalist redesign includes white walls, a white quartz bar, black paneling, and pops of green inspired by the agave plant. Accents include a vine-wrapped installation suspended over the dining room, and plant-filled copper pots adorning the bar. Images of the Southwestern Sonoran desert, printed with green ink on whitewashed wood, stretch across the dining room. There’s also a depiction of a freestanding open door on the U.S.-Mexico border, inspired by a real-life installation erected by Richard Lou in 1988.

Poca Madre’s opening menu pairs historic Oaxacan recipes with more contemporary fare found in Mexico City. The restaurant is making its own corn tortillas, as well as bringing in pasilla de Oaxaca chiles, and “huitlacoche” — essentially fungus that grows on corn. Wharf newcomer Mi Vida and José Andrés’ Oyamel are among the only other area restaurants that sources the delicacy fresh, not canned.

Featured dishes include Long Island duck al pastor; a risotto dressed with huitlacoche; crispy octopus with white mole and ink pepper jam; and black cod with green tomato and avocado-yuzu. A mole negro will feature charred onions, as well as garlic burnt in its own paper with chilhuacle negro chilies.

Sliced hamachi with toasted garlic, corn, blood orange and Serrano chilies at Poca Madre.
Greg Powers/Greg Powers Photography

The Ziggy Stardust margarita doubles as a frozen dessert thanks to a dose of liquid nitrogen. The Wizard of Oax, a take on a mai tai, combines mezcal and Oaxacan rum with orgeat syrup made from cantaloupe seeds. Chapo on the Beach is a mezcal-infused 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.

The 1821 Gin and Tonic at Poca Madre. Its mezcal-heavy drink program is created by beverage director Amin Seddiq and service director Michael Iglesias.
Greg Powers/Greg Powers Photography

Taco Bamba - Penn Quarter

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