Every time we head to Chicago it is so hard to choose where to dine
from the many fine establishments.
For close to three decades Chef Rick Bayless and his tip top tem have
held court at his twin dining spots Frontera and TOPOLOBAMPO,
both located at 445 North Clark. As you enter you are confronted by a
huge wall of noise which is the less casual, less expensive and loaded
Frontera Grill. The five of us headed to the quiet back room of
intimacy and finer dining known as TOPOLOBAMPO; it is well worth the
We started with Margaritas, the TOPOLO CLASSIC is made with Sauza
Commemmorativo, Orange Torres Liqueur and housemade Limonada, all
are hand shaken and poured tableside; it may seem silly, but they are
better this way. The BLUE AGAVE has to be the driest margarita on
earth; think sucking on dry lime.
It is made with Cazadores Blanco, Cointreau and yes, lime. Our amuses
arrived in the form of TOSATADOS with Cilantro Smoked STRIPED BASS,
Onion, Tomato and Serrano Chiles.
This was only a mere taste of the two tasting menus we had decided to
order with each of us then having the opportunity to try a part of
each plate from each menu. The two menus are called
TOPOLO CLASSICS for $105 and WINTER BEACH VACATION for $95. Well worth
the experience these monstrous 5 course menus offer a great variety
and show off the chefs as well.
Samuel ordered the Guacamole which was very spicy and not that much
his cup of tea, although he liked the fact that it came with cucumber
slices to dip. There were no chips, but instead a flimsy flatbread
cracker was useless against the thick mixture.
We received amuses of Tostados with Cilantro SMOKED STRIPED BASS,
Onion, Tomato & Serrano Chiles sprinkled with Queso from Oaxaca.
We has lots of time between courses during our 4-1/2 hour sojourn here
so we decided to order the wine pairings ($65 and $60 extra
respectively) as well as extra bottles of wine from Mexico that
were not in the tasting:
PEDRA DEL SOL BLANCO from Baja California's Valle de Guadalupe 2011
was a superb unoaked Chardonnay which we enjoyed as we dallied
between courses as the first several were in need of major thirst
quenching due to intense spice.
The Classic Menu offered an OCTOPUS & SQUID AGUACHILE (lime, cilantro,
serrano) with cucmber, Squid ink squiggles, Galapagos tomato pearls
and was strong, but not intense on the spice but worked brilliantly
with the 2011 Terradorra Di Paolo FIANO di AVELLINO from Campani in
On the Beach Menu the Fresh ABALONE & VIKING VILLAGE SCALLOP "express'
CEVICHE came with lime, soy and aromatic chiles with a Mezcal-gelled
Sea of Cortez Shrimp embedded in the cube of jelly with a "pico de
gallo" tostada. This was a blow your mind tasty dish and brilliantly
paired again with the 2011 A Coroa GODELLO from Valdeorras Spain.
The second courses were as varied as could be with the Classics menu
loosing this contest by a mile. Indeed the Aged BEEF TENDERLOIN TASAJO
(with black beans), Classic CHORIZO (Oaxacan pasilla salsa, quail egg)
and Red Chile PORK LOIN CECNINA (avocado-tomatillo salsa, pickled
tomatillos) served on homemade corn tortillas was almost a flop. Only
the chorizo mix was worthwhile and the others quite bland and boring.
A 2009 Leopardi BRUT ROSE (Cava) from Penedes in Spain was sparkly for
sure, but did nothing for the mini-tacos.
On the Beach Menu side was Rich CHILPACHOLE a shellfish broth with
Foie Gras, Morita Chile, Epazote,Tomato, Alaskan King Crab, Meyer
Lemon Red poblano "crema" and calabcitas and this was as spicy as it
gets, but a true winner of a dish. Paired with a Garganega, "2009
Monte del Fra "Ca del Magro" Custoza Superiore from Veneto the
refreshing, yet light wine had a flavor that cut through the spice
At this time Samuel was enjoying his Homemade CHICKEN tacos which
came with more of the guacamole that he was not to fond of! He even
tried some of our dishes but not more than a couple.
Pan-roasted LONG ISLAND STRIPED BASS with MAINE LOBSTER "torchon" was
on the Classics side next with green pipian of toasted sesame and 3
herbs (hoja santa, cilantro,epazote), Snug Haven Spinach, roasted
local sweet potato and braised black sesame. I adored this dish and
the 2010 J. Palacios MENCIA "Petalos" red from Bierzo Spain that was
brilliant with it. On the Beach came Ember-roasted, wild caught
COLUMBIA RIVER WHITE STURGEON with 3-chile adobo & garlic mayo, arroz
creamos (bolack & white rice, banana leaf, crema, fish essence), green
salsa "jus" and pickled guero chile. Okay-this fish was even better
and its pairing was 2008 AU BON CLIMAT PINOT NOIR "La Bauge Au-dessus"
from Sta. Maria Valley in California (you know I prefer bigger Pinots,
but this suited the fish to a tee).
We ordered another bottle of Mexican wine--Estacion Porvenir CARIGNANE
2008 from Union de Productores in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja which was a
thick heavy red called TXTURA 3 on the rear label. Confusing perhaps,
but divine as we waited for our main meat courses...we requested a 30-
minute break as things were getting intense,
The next courses were as varied as one can imagine with Classics
sporting a Wood-Grilled 28-day-aged PRIME RIBEYE and Seared FOIE GRAS
in classic Oaxacan black MOLE (chilhuacle chiles and 28 other
ingredients), corn husk-steamed chipil tamal, unctuous black beans and
smoky green beans, probably one of the best courses all night paired
with 2006 BENEGAS LYNCH MERITAGE "Libertad Vineyards" from Mendoza and
on the Beach menu was GUNTHORP SUCKLING PIG, slow-roasted overnight
(achiote marinade, banana leaf wrapping), fava-kohlrabi mash, City
Farm mache and pickled red onion jewels. The melt in your mouth meat
was divine and I adored the 2004 LA RIOJA ALTA "Vina Ardanza" Reserva
from Rioja Alta in Spain, which was as divine as the rest of the
TXTURA which we finished off as well.
Desserts are included on both menus and are a real treat here as we
began to feel the effects of all the food and drink, but we were still
loving the company. Samuel had fallen sleep almost 90 minutes prior
(the time change and busy day for sure!) and did not wish to even
taste our treats:
MEYER LEMON CAKE on the classic side with Meyer Lemon curd, gooey
meringue, "Mantequilla" Ice Cream, and lemon-infused gelatinas versus
the Winter menu Five Favorite FACES of COCONUT: coconut-rum moose,
creamy sorbet, coconut water crystals, tender young pieces, rich
sticky pudding with cracked Chocolate Shell, Beck Grove Lime and
Kaffir Lime Pearls. Both desserts were worthy and the former came with
a 2008 Dartling Rieslaner Beerenauslese "Durkheimer Nonnengarten" from
Pfalz, Germany that would win my heart any day, while the latter
paired with a less exciting 2012 Vietti Moscato d'Asti from Piemonte.
Many kudos go to amazing team that served us headed by Patricia from
Veracruz who was a true gem and especially Jill for her excellent wine
We made the 3 block walk home okay and totally crashed....but wow, I
can't wait to be back in Chicago again for these amazing meals!