445 N Clark Street
After two years of trying, we finally made it to Rick Bayless’ star restaurant. It was Matt’s birthday, and Lindsay planned ahead making reservations months in advance as to ensure a spot. We, like everyone else in the city, were caught off guard by the meteoric rise in Rick’s popularity following his win at the inaugural Top Chef Masters; but at the same time, we, like everyone else in the city, took a renewed interest in his food.
So many great things have been said about Topolobampo, there is no use in re-hashing them here. At the same time, the restaurant’s popularity has also brought in its share of criticism from less-than-satisified patrons. Part of this is due to location: Topolobampo shares a front door and a kitchen with Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless’ other, less formal restaurant. For this reason, many people (especially those on Yelp) claim that the food is a better value at Frontera, and that the inflated prices at Topolobampo can leave you with a big check and a less-than-full stomach of food that is the same at both restaurants. Other patrons claimed Topolobampo suffered from spotty service. We have not yet been to Frontera Grill, so we are uncomfortable making comparative claims. All we can say is that our meal was exquisite, served by a masterful waiter, and the bill was precisely what we expected (likely because, unlike so many others, we did not order any alcohol). The jamaica we got, however, was fantastic.
Dinner began with two appetizers. Matt ordered, per his biggest food crush, the trio of ceviches ($19.00), consisting of three of the restaurant’s most popular:
- Ceviche Yucateco: steamed Mexican blue shrimp & calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, cucumber & cilantro. Crispy tortilla chips (regular price $13.50);
- Coctel de Atún Tropical : sashimi-grade Hawaiian bigeye tuna, tomatillo guacamole, mango salsa ($14.50); and
- Ceviche Fronterizo: Lime-marinated Hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green chile; on crispy tostaditas ($14.00).
How good were these? So well-balanced, so flavorful, and so distinct that Matt had eaten them before we had time to take a photo. The meal started off wonderfully. On to our second course:
Chile Pasilla Relleno en Nogada: Cool sweet-sour pasilla chile, fruity hedgehog mushroom filling (apples, plantain, prunes, black garlic, black olive), nogada cream (walnuts, almonds, fresh goat cheese) ($12.00). This was Lindsay’s appetizer. The mushroom filling was particularly interesting contrasted with the pasilla, which is always one of our favorites. Next, the main courses…
Cochito Chiapaneco (above) : Gunthorp suckling pig, slow-cooked with red chile & sweet spices, homemade butifarra sausage, heirloom Mexican alubia blanco beans, grilled endive, fresh garnishes ($35.00). Matt went for a more subtle dish after the boldness of the ceviche. Here, the heartiness of classic Mexican cooking comes through here in a paradoxically light and subtle dish: the flavor and texture of the cochito, fall-apart-in-your-mouth just like it should be, shines through other starchy accompaniments with just the right amount of extra notes from the chile and spices. Seemingly pricey at $35, this was actually filling and worth it.
Enfrijoladas (above): “enchiladas” bathed with a sauce of heirloom Mexican ayocote morado beans, luscious white sweet potato filling, Mexican cincho cheese, wild matsutake mushrooms, roasted red poblanos, chile-seared baby tomatoes ($25.00). Almost like a mole, Lindsay’s favorite, this vegetarian dish was a big hit on both sides: you can’t go wrong in our eyes with cheese and sweet potato filling in any context, much less one that uses them so well against the fruitiness of poblanos and roasted tomatoes.
Chocolate, Oaxaca: Warm chocolate mesquite cakes, Mexican vanilla bean ice cream (infused with aromatic rosita de cacao), sweet masa pudding (nicuatole), toasted almond, cocoa nibs, masa crisps ($12.00). Dessert, Oaxacan chocolate cake, accented with nicuatole: a dish that we recently actually made in Oaxaca. Delectable.
At this point stuffed and very happy, we were surprised to see our server approach with some chocolate truffles and fruity gummy candy – an unexpected and appreciated touch.
Dinner at Topolobampo changes seasonally, so you are sure to experience something new and great on your trip. When we have the chance to go back again, we will, as this was one of the few splurge dinners we have truly enjoyed.