I’m not normally one to do a restaurant review (and I wouldn’t actually call this a review to be honest), but I just had to make a post about my recent experience at Topolobampo. Topolobampo is one of Rick Bayless‘s restaurants. It shares a storefront with Frontera Grill but is slightly more higher-end and with a different menu, including chef tastings.
I’ve been wanting to go to Topolobampo for pretty much as long as I’ve known it existed. The problem with Chicago (which is actually not a problem at all) is that there are so many great restaurants that even if you try a new one every week, you will never get through all the ones you want to visit. With Bayless becoming increasingly popular, I decided we needed to go while he still had some involvement there. As he continues his foray into celebrity chefdom, he will probably be more likely to promote books, appear on television and come out with grocery products than continue working a saute station or something. We did luck out and Bayless was there on the night we went. We saw him in the kitchen and then later talking to some diners.
Our dinner was, well, pretty much perfect. It’s pretty rare for me to have nothing to say about food in a restaurant, or offer a suggestion of how it could be better, but this was one of those times. The mojitos, I thought, were nothing special, but, hey, they were the last thing I was thinking of in my avocado-pipian-chipotle-lamb-lobster coma.
You can order individual entrees or you can order from the tasting menu. Both change monthly. There are two great things about the tastings: 1.) there are three different menus to choose from and 2.) you can order the tasting even if you are the only one at your table to do so (a lot of restaurants require that a minimum of two people order a chef’s tasting menu). You can also add a wine tasting to every course for an additional amount. We didn’t do that this time.
Tom and I both opted for the Celebration Tasting, which included :::drumroll:::
Mochomos Topolobampo: crispy, curnchy “threads” of Tallgrass grass-fed brisket with golden onion strings, avocado, spicy salsa roja and warm tortillas for making soft tacos.
Ensalada de Pato y Mango: peacanwood-smoked Gunthorp duck salad with first-of-season Honey Manila mangos, Three Sisters Garden “shoots,” chipotle-black olive dressing and homemade fresh cheese.
Langosta en Pipian de Nuez de la India: red chile-marinated, pan-roasted Maine lobster in cashew pipian (ancho chile, pumpkinseeds). Toasted black barley and bacon-braised green beans.
Borrego dos Estilos: lamb two ways: roasted, ancho-crusted rack of Elysian Fields lamb and red chile-braised leg of Crawford Farm lamb. Savory black bean sauce, sweet plantain fritter, jellied “crema,” queso fresco and watercress salad.
Trio de Suenos: Warm dark chocolate cake with Mexican chocolate crema, margarita shaved ice with Honey Manila mango salsa, flaky pastry rhubarb empanada.
Admit it, you’re jealous aren’t you? Before the tasting, they also give you some complimentary guacamole. It was a very basic guac with crispy bacon on top and a little heat that you can feel at the back of your throat after swallowing. It was served with just a few slices of cucumber and jicama and was simple but tasty.
The brisket threads were great and the salsa roja, perfectly spiced. I would have loved a bigger serving of this but that’s my only complaint. The duck salad was so good. The duck was perfectly cooked and the the smokiness was subtle, but definitely gave it a great flavor. Admittedly, I don’t recall the fresh cheese so it must not have been terribly memorable. The lobster, delicious. (You are starting to understand why I don’t do reviews, right? I can’t exactly describe things as well and as convincingly as Ruth Reichl). I think the pipian might have been my favorite thing I ate. I could have eaten it from a bowl, like a soup. The lamb was good, but probably my least favorite. This is in no way to say that it was bad. The braised lamb was incredibly tender and the black bean sauce was really delicious (I was scooping it up with a tortilla). The rack of lamb was good, but maybe had a tad too much fat on it. But like I said, it was not a disappointing course, at all. As for the dessert, the crema was my favorite. It was similar in consistency to a flan, which is funny because I am not the world’s biggest fan of flans, custards, etc. It had a great almost toffee-like taste to it. Mmm. And in the end, two more complimentary candies: a strawberry candy and a truffle.
The service was great, too. There were a lot of people around so you always had what you needed but it wasn’t so overwhelming that you wanted to shoo the server away after the 100th time they refilled that one sip you took from your water glass.
If you live here, I definitely recommend going. And if you visit, you should go, too, and take me with you :)