Thursday, February 25, 2010


445 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL

Mexican Fine-Dining. The Obama's favorite Chi-town restaurant. TopChef Master. The number of words and phrases that spring to mind when I think of Topolobampo are endless.

My mouth is still watering just thinking about the experience.

Wednesday. 9pm. Julia, Ben, Maddy. Heaven.

What is interesting about Topolobampo is it is connected to Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless' other Chicago restaurant that gets just as much hype at Topolo (that's what locals call it). Although the menu at Frontera look equally as appetizing, the cozy room of Topolo made the experience one of grandeur and comfort.

The decor and service were great (Whitney was a fantastic waitress and so accommodating to my gluten-free lifestyle), but let's cut to the most important part: the food.

We decided to go with the Celebration Tasting Menu along with some a la carte options to make sure we had a well rounded experience. And don't you just love a restaurant that lets you combine the two?

The meal started out with their freshly made guacamole (complete with pine nuts!). Rather than being served along side tortilla chips, Topolo goes for cucumber and jicama slices. This makes for a really fresh, vibrant, and crisp combo. Plus, I absolutely LOVE jicama, so I was a happy camper.

We had the Trio, Trio, Trio of ceviche to start us off. The combo of three of their ceviches had a nice balance. The ceviche yucateco was my favorite of the three -- the shrimp and calamari combo with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama and cilantro salsa was so easy to eat. We drank the sauce remnants they were so good! The ceviche with sun dried tomatoes had more of an Italian rather than Mexican taste. But it was still delicious! My least favorite was the Ceviche de atun "chamoy". The sauce was a spicy red chile-apricot salsa. Yes, it was a bit spicy, but also overwhelmingly smoky. It reminded me of Lapsang Souchong teas. Tuna tartar was my first foray into seafood years ago and so I was a bit disappointed with this tuna dish.

Next came the oysters. I have had oysters once before Topolo and went for the "don't taste it just swallow method". This time I tried to be more adventurous and actually chew the oysters. The cucumber and ginger toppings were quite good and masked the fishiness of the oyster. It felt a little like I was eating the ocean....with come cucumber and ginger mixed in. I'm going to stick with my original method for oyster eating.

One of my favorite dishes of the night were the Mochomos. The description from the menu ("crunchy threads of beef brisket (made from braised Tallgrass grass-fed brisket) with crispy onion strings, garlicky guacamole, spicy salsa roja and warm tortillas for making soft tacos") made me curious. Crunchy threads of brisket? My experiences with brisket is "wet meat", more of a chunky stew-like meat than crunchy threads. This brisket was INCREDIBLE. The combination of crunch of meat, warm soft tortillas, smooth guacamole and the kick of the salsa made this a complete mini-meal in one! It falls right into the "taco" category and I wanted more and more.

We continued on to the tamal, described as a polenta-like corn masa tamal. I was expecting my traditional corn masa in a corn husk, but this was three little tamal forms each with different toppings. The bright green color from the Oaxacan green mole was beautiful. My favorite was the tamal with peas -- I enjoyed the contrast of textures between the peas and the creamy tamal. Certainly not my favorite, but something I would consider trying again.

One of the more memorable dishes, the Frijol con Borrego, was a roasted lamb in a black bean sauce with a fingerling potato confit. Also, lamb belly. Wow, was this good! We had more freshly made corn tortillas on the table so I made a supreme lamb taco with all the ingredients. The lamb was perfectly cooked and complimented by the black bean sauce. And the belly was succulent, and fatty and utterly delicious. Plus, the potatoes added a starchiness that kept the fatty belly and spicy sauce from becoming too overbearing. I may have to say this is the dish that had the greatest impression on me.

Perhaps the most disappointing dish was the scallops in a cinnamon and almond "horchata sauce". There was a sweetness to the sauce which, in my opinion, seemed out of place with the scallops (and the other main dishes). I really enjoyed the freshness of the scallops, but was not crazy about their surroundings. My sister, on the other hand, did enjoy them (and the sweetness of the sauce!)

Just slightly below the lamb in my ranking of the dishes is the rock hen with tomato arbol chile broth. The accompanying black bean gelatin worked so well to tie the different flavors from the the hen and broth together. Not to mention that the hen was perfectly cooked! This was another dish that we fully consumed -- cleaning the plate with tortillas to get every little morsel of sauce!

The dessert. 'Nuff said. Dark chocolate cake bites with "black mole" chocolate sauce, cocoa nib ice cream, pomegranate jellies, ancho chile chocolate cookie. As if a meal could not get any better. The cake was great, but putting the cocoa ice cream and pom jellies together was fantastic. It an adult version of an ice cream sundae. And the kids really don't know what they are missing.

All in all, Topolo was one of the better meals I've experienced. I must go back. (And therefore make my reservation now!)

Rick Bayless, you are a genius!

By the way, we saw him!! He came to say hi to a friend at the table next to us and my sister was about 1 foot away from the one and only. We were slightly star-struck.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dreams Come True


I have heard great things about Rick Bayless' Fine Dining Mexican Restaurant and have been pining to go since I started calling Chicago my 2nd home. When my sister visited in October, we attempted to walk in and dine, but there was a 3 hour wait. Yes, 3 hours!

It must be good.

Now, it's February, and the Mexican dining Gods are working in my favor and I am going to Topolobampo on Wednesday. Stay tuned for a review!

Here's what Zagat says:
Surveyors swear you get the “best high-end Mexican food in Chicago” (or perhaps “anywhere”), “crafted from the freshest ingredients”, at “creative” “celebrity chef” Rick Bayless’ “must-go” River North “treasure”, the “upscale sister to Frontera Grill” (“with prices to match”); its “cheerful” servers are “extremely knowledgeable”, and the “fantastic wine pairings” and “awesome” margaritas are “standouts” as well; just know that the “intimate”, art-filled “white-tablecloth” setting is “always crowded”, so “make your reservations early.”

NYT Travel Review

Oh, I just cannot wait!