Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
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United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Amazing Mexican at Rick Bayless' Topolobampo

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of dining at Topolobampo. Topolobampo, or Topolo, as regulars call it, is one of Rick Bayless’ award-winning Mexican restaurants. Bayless has received ample praise for the fresh, authentic Mexican food served at Topolobampo so we were excited to try it. Each course showed us why Topolo has received its accolades, delighting us with every bite.

Topolobampo and its sister restaurant Frontera Grill share a front door and a bar. Click here to see some photos of the two restaurants. Each has a distinct feel and flavor, with Topolo being the more upscale and quiet of the two.

After being seated at our table by a charming and completely thorough maitre d', we were served fresh guacamole with slices of cucumber and jicama. This was our first clue that the presentation at Topolo would be fabulous. Served in a silver bowl atop a shock of colored paper, the guacamole was both visually pleasing and delicious. With every bite you could tell how fresh it was and how carefully prepared.

As we pondered the menu, we sipped perfect margaritas. A Gold Margarita for Win and a Margarita Primarosa for me which included fresh raspberries. As you might guess, the drinks were outstanding and got us off to a great start for the evening.

For a first course, Win ordered a special scallop ceviche that was part of the Chef’s Tasting Dinner Menu that evening. Each night at Topolo, you have the option of ordering a la carte from the menu or ordering the Chef’s Tasting Dinner Menu, which is a pre-set five-course meal. Win and I opted to order a la carte that night, but the scallop ceviche off the Tasting Menu sounded amazing. Win was really pleased when our server said it would be no problem to order that one item a la carte. Our server and Topolo won points with me right there. I absolutely hate it when restaurants are inflexible about breaking up their tasting menus and I was really pleased that Topolobampo had no problem accommodating Win’s request. The scallop ceviche was delicious, with a unique combination of fresh and spicy flavors. As you can see from the photo above, it was also beautiful.

For my first course, I ordered Crepa de Huitlacoche. This was a green-chile crepe folded around Three Sisters Garden inky corn mushrooms, roasted local winter vegetables, and melted Jack cheese. It was served with avocado-tomatillo salsa and pea tendril salad. This crepe was really delicious, with just the right balance between the cheese and the vegetables allowing you to taste everything. The pea tendril salad was outstanding as well and actually added a lot to the dish.

After our appetizers, we shared Sopa Azteca, which is Topolobampo’s version of tortilla soup. According to our server, Sopa Azteca is one of their signature dishes. It consists of a dark broth flavored with pasilla chile and then garnished with grilled chicken, avocado, Meadow Valley Farm homemade Jack cheese, thick cream and tortilla strips. This soup is definitely one of the best soups I have ever had. If you go to Topolobampo, you or someone at your table really should have this soup. It is rich, bold, flavorful and absolutely satisfying.

For my entrée, I selected the Pescado en Mole Verde Queretano. This is garlic-marinated fish with Queretaro-style green mole of sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, poblanos, plantains, and spices. The fish was served with ricotta-filled plaintain tortitas and braised Snug Haven organic spinach. The fish was amazing and flavored in a way I can barely describe. The spinach was also quite good and complemented the fish well. I had really high hopes for the ricotta tortitas (like little puffs) but they didn’t live up to my expectations. They were good, but not as decadent and amazing as I thought a little ricotta tortita might be. Still though, this dish was excellent.

Win selected the Pato al Pasilla Dulce for his main course. This was roasted, chile-glazed Gunthorp duck breast in dark, fruity pasilla chile sauce. It was served with a pyramid of grilled scallion white rice, crispy duck chicharron, watercress salad, and jicama-fig salsa. The duck was succulent and the sauce prefect for it. Win really enjoyed this dish.

Before the duck arrived, Win decided that he’d like a glass of wine with his entrée. Earlier in the evening, Topolobampo’s wonderful sommelier Jill Gubesch had stopped by our table to introduce herself and offer her services. Opting for margaritas to start, we declined her services earlier in the evening but now Win was curious about her recommendations for a wine to go with the duck. Win mentioned this to the waiter and he very competently offered his thoughts on what wines would be best with the duck (a Zinfandel or a Syrah). He then consulted with Jill and she had a clear preference in the Zinfandel. She told our waiter that people can really “wrap their minds around” the flavors of the duck and the Zinfandel together. This woman clearly has a passion for wine and knows her stuff. We heard her talk to a few tables about their wine choices and she was knowledgeable, warm and friendly. Her recommendation worked for Win too; he loved the Zinfandel with the duck.

Our dessert was another highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, I don’t have the formal name for this dessert written down and can only scratch the surface of what delicious ingredients it contained. The dessert was shaped like little chocolate cigarettes and had cigarettes in its official name. We can’t remember what the cigarettes were filled with, but it was outrageously good. A special chocolate sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds surrounded the cigarettes. In my mind, the absolutely best part of this dessert was the scoop of banana sour cream ice cream atop it. This ice cream was amazing and definitely in the top five of ice creams I have ever experienced. It was so full of sweet, pure banana flavor and so rich without being overly sweet or fatty. Absolutely decadent and such a great way to end our meal.

We loved Topolobampo. The staff there deserves high praise for striking exactly the right balance of formality, professionalism, and knowledge mingled with a passion for food, friendly service, and a down-to-Earth sensibility. Any question that we asked of our waiter was answered really competently and it was clear that he understood the menu inside and out and was able to make recommendations tailored to what we liked. The restaurant’s atmosphere is beautiful and the food presentation delightful. Each dish we sampled was a treat and I’d highly recommend Topolobampo for a fresh, unique Mexican experience.

445 North Clark
Chicago, Illinois

Telephone: 312-661-1434
Web Site: http://www.fronterakitchens.com