Frontera Grill/Toplobampo in Chicago
I just returned from a week in Chicago and am exhausted! What a great
city. I can't wait to return again.
I spent one marvelous night on my own and ended up having the best meal
at the bar at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo. While others waited hours (!)
for a table, because I was a solo diner I managed to squeeze in quickly
at the wall facing bar even though the place was packed. I brought along
the Delta airline magazine as I had started on the crossword puzzle
which actually turned into a conversation starter with many near me,
LOL. I enjoyed meeting a cardiologist and his wife from WI celebrating
their tenth anniversary, a couple from the UK and another couple from
Chicago whom we compared notes on everything we ordered. Once the waiter
learned I was on my own, he made a point of treating me like gold! He
took the time to discuss each dish, and we discussed the flavors and he
made suggestions. I never felt rushed and he was very knowledgeable
about the dishes. I tried to be discrete with the pictures, so apologize
in advance for the quality.
I started with a good mojito, although as I discussed with the waiter,
they're not traditionally Mexican but they're so popular they serve them
anyway. The glass ($9.50) was generous with fresh mint and very
refreshing. I think I had two.
Next came a starter of jicama, cucumber and pineapple salad ($5) cut
into sticks and served with crushed guajillo chile dusted on top, and a
couple of lime wedges on the side to squeeze over. I'd never had jicama
before although I knew about it. I found it to be similar in flavor to a
water logged raw potato yet with a slight tang. Combining it with fresh
pineapple and cucumber helped temper the slight heat from the ground
chile. It came wrapped in a banana leaf cone inside a parfait type
glass, kinda cute. The waiter even gave me tips on how to pick out and
buy jicama which I'll probably do this weekend to recreate the salad.
I ordered the most incredible steak for dinner ($29.50)-
which Rick Bayless describes as: Carne Asada a la Oaxaquena: Creekstone
Natural Black Angus rib steak, marinated in spicy red chile and wood-
grilled, served with black beans, sweet plantains with sour cream, and
guacamole. I will be craving a repeat of that steak for years to come.
How something could be so tender, and flavored with the chile, yet I
could taste the wood fire that grilled it. Maybe because we have a gas
grill at home I miss that sort of flavor in my steaks (even as good as
they often are!) but perhaps it is also the difference between charcoal
grills and wood grilled meat? Incredible! Served alongside were some
fried plantains (always a favorite of mine) and they had the creamiest
sour cream on top of them that I've ever eaten. A bit drier than
commercial sour cream-if that makes sense? I'll try to recreate it by
draining sour cream in a cheesecloth lined drainer. Black beans were
also served but I'm not a big bean eater so I barely touched them (not
to mention I was sooooooooo full!) yet...even so full I wanted to try
something off the dessert menu too! I selected a trio of some sort of
alcoholic infusions mixed with cream and served in three glasses (Trio
de Toritos, $10). http://i25.tinypic.com/15zi245.jpg
One was guava, one coconut and the last peanut. The guava was quite
fragrant yet not particularly sweet. The coconut sweeter, yet not
sweetened? The final peanut one tasted slightly sweet, and the waiter
confirmed it was made with peanut butter so that is sweetened. They were
just too rich on my full stomach so I just wanted to try a sip of each.
It was painful to walk to my hotel afterwards, I was so full! But it was
a delicious meal in a friendly place and worth every penny. I hope if
anyone has plans to visit Chicago they'll make a point of trying it.
It could only have been better had I met Rick Bayless himself! LOL