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Mi Vida, Chef Roberto Santibañez at The Wharf in Southwest DC


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For many years I'd been chasing my memory of the Zarape de Pato I'd had during Santibañez's reign at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, sublime stacked enchiladas with spicy shredded duck between the layers, and a chile cream sauce.. I even purchased the restaurant's cookbook to try recreating it at home, only to discover that the cookbook was published after he left the restaurant and the recipe in the book was distinctly different. I searched the menus at Rosa Mexicano because he founded the original NYC restaurants, thinking its presence would justify a visit to the DC outpost, despite, um, you know...No dice. 

I'd given up on the fruitless quest when, a few months ago, I realized he had a new restaurant at The Wharf. It is on the dinner menu (only) at Mi Vida! Reservations are hard to come by, and I'm not typically down near there at the beginning of dinner service to score a walk-in table. So, rain or not, my husband and I took the Circulator down last night for the reservation I had finally snagged. We were rewarded with a window table at the top of the restaurant, with a beautiful view of the water and boats shimmering in the rain.

Memories being what they are, it was different than I remembered. For one thing, this has a habanero cream sauce, and I'm pretty sure the older version was poblano. The tortillas are smaller. It's overall smaller, though it's listed on the "sharing" portion of the menu. Perhaps that is because it is so rich (the price is pretty rich too: $15). The consolation prize is that it's closer to the original than any approximation I'd encountered. My husband enjoyed the bite I let him have. It's all but certain that I'd have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been searching for it for 15 years. Finding it was more satisfying than eating it, if that makes any sense. I imagine that next time I order it, my expectations will have realigned and I will enjoy it more.

There was other food! Because I almost always order nachos when I see them and their $14 Tatanachos looked good (Crispy Tortillas, Black Beans, Melted Chihuahua & Oaxaca Cheeses, Crispy Ancho Peppers, Pickled Jalapeños, Salsa Verde, Crema, Cilantro), they rounded out my order. They were arranged beautifully on the plate, something my husband commented on a few times. Those were also on the sharing menu and actually got shared;).  While I stuck with the sharable starters, my husband wolfed down the main course of salmon he ordered, which didn't get shared.  (SALMÓN EN SALSA DE PIÑA $26 Pumpkin Seed-Crusted Wild Salmon, Sweet Potato Mash, Pineapple-Tomatillo Sauce). He really liked the salmon and sweet potato pairing.

There is much more of the menu to explore: tacos, ceviche, guacamole (whoa, was the server pushing that)...plenty of things to try when the whole enchilada isn't chasing a memory. I hope we can get that table again :).

 

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