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2022 Micro-Foodblog: Mexican in Chicago


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You’re going the wrong direction!

 

I just got off my OKC to Chicago flight for a weekend of Mexican food. I’m not too keen on heading to Mexico City at just this moment, so Chicago it is. We have a 9pm dinner reservation, so engaged in a little pre-gaming at Tortas in O’Hare, one of the best airport restaurants there is. And O’Hare is sort of a food desert, so I’m glad this Bayless outpost is here. Just some chips and guacamole to hold us over for a few hours…

 

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Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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39 minutes ago, heidih said:

Thje fguac looks pretty busy - any comment?


Tortas has two guacamoles, “naked” and “loaded”. Needless to say, that one was loaded. It would be better if there was a plate or big bowl to spread it out on, so the toppings could be distributed more evenly. That said, the toppings (mostly bacon and pepitas) are nice adornments when you’re in the mood for something more that plain guacamole.

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Chris Hennes
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The main event tonight was Topolobampo's Mexican Vinters and Distillers menu. If you've never eaten a Topolobampo, it's probably the US's premiere Haute Cuisine Mexican restaurant: akin to something like Pujol in Mexico City. There are not a lot of burritos and chimichangas on the menu here :) . Actually, there's no menu at all. Tonight's dinner was a Tock ticketed pre fixe menu, and it was superb. It was also a 3 hour meal so I'm going to forget some things, and it's midnight so I'm also fading fast. Ask questions, I'm happy to answer tomorrow... you can see the "official" menu here:

Quote

Casa Magoni Winery Salpicón, Flavors of Baja – Washington mussels, Florida pink shrimp, tender Spanish octopus, wine-infused kennebeck potatoes, 3-herb dressing (Baja olive oil, champagne vinegar, rosemary, parsley, cilantro), serrano chile, olives.

 

Cruz del Fuego Mezcal Yellow Fava Bean Soup – slow-cooked yellow favas, roasted poblano, mezcal-braised radish, Perigord black truffle, aged Bola Roja goat cheese, mint.

 

Adobe Guadalupe Winery Mextlapique – corn husk-roasted black cod, garlicky kale, luxurious cashew pipian (guajillo & ancho chiles, peanuts, red wine, cinnamon, black pepper).

 

Del Maguey Mezcal Mole de Olla – crispy smoked shortrib, rich red chile-laced pan juices, roasted chayote, grilled green beans, bone marrow masa dumplings, mezcal-infused xoconostle (sour prickly pear).

 

Casa de Piedra Winery, D’Aristi Liqueurs Edam, Cherries, Sour Cream – Edam cheesecake, red wine cherries,  salted sour cream ice cream, toasted almonds, crispy Edam.

 

Paoloni Winery, Xila Liqueur, Wahaka Mezcal Guava Mousse Cake – hazelnut cake topped with guava mousse (cinnamon,  orange), chocolate sauce, toasted meringue, sal de gusano,

 

On arriving, a pre-seating hors d'œuvres menu (and some extra cocktails, because... why not?):

 

A Mezcal-based Negroni on the right, and a Mezcal sour on the left, with a float of a Mexican red wine.

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Accompanying the zeroth course (served at the door, basically: a hightop we were escorted to prior to being seated): the course was a rice "chicharron", a squash empanada, and the best tortilla soup I've ever had.

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Also, a beautiful oyster with a tuna ceviche and American sturgeon caviar:

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After perhaps 15-20 minutes we were escorted to our table: generously spaced from the rest of the room, and the main meal began...

 

Course 1: Shrimp, octopus, and mussels, in a bright vinaigrette: maybe the best mussels I've ever had...

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Then the soup, with its black truffles:

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After the soup was an unadvertised secret taco course... beef shreds on guacamole, served with mini tortillas and a Chile sauce (maybe pasilla?) Anyway, delicious:

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The next course was served with tortillas (not pictured), but certainly the most interesting fish tacos I've ever had, boldly served with red wine, which worked beautifully:

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Next up, the meat course, with a small piece of short rib, impeccably cooked: melting inside, crispy outside, with a delicious Chile sauce, and again served with tortillas:

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Finally, drifting into sweeter side, an Edam cheesecake with sour cream ice cream and cherries, excellent and not too sweet:

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Then a salty/sweet mouse with a chocolate sauce, served with a more aggressive mezcal that captured all of my attention:

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And a homemade marshmallow and truffle finish:

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I'm now now going to curl into a small ball and sleep for a dozen hours to recover.

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Chris Hennes
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I ate at Topo in like 1994, prior to migrating back east from California. It was pretty great then.

 

5 hours ago, Chris Hennes said:

If you've never eaten a Topolobampo, it's probably the US's premiere Haute Cuisine Mexican restaurant: akin to something like Pujol in Mexico City.

 

Of course there is Cosme, Olvera's fancy Haute Cuisine Mexican in NYC.

 

Our last trip to Chicago included a good dinner at (what was then) another Bayless restaurant, the wood-fired kitchen Leña Brava. Since sold to his (ex)-partner.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Very nice - thanks.

Can you say what made the tortilla soup so appealing to you?

Is that blips of a mole sauce on the "chicharron"?

The "fish taco" looks like whatver all that is rests in a corn husk boat. Did that then get scooped up into the tortillas?

 

 

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1 hour ago, heidih said:

Can you say what made the tortilla soup so appealing to you?

Its richness and balance: the stock base was amazing, and the soup overall had a perfect balance of acid and salt. Sometimes it's the little things.

 

1 hour ago, heidih said:

Is that blips of a mole sauce on the "chicharron"?

I don't remember: the chicharron was an exercise in textures more than flavors, and simply got eclipsed by the rest of the dish.

 

1 hour ago, heidih said:

The "fish taco" looks like whatver all that is rests in a corn husk boat. Did that then get scooped up into the tortillas?

Yes, that was the "corn husk-roasted black cod, garlicky kale, luxurious cashew pipian (guajillo & ancho chiles, peanuts, red wine, cinnamon, black pepper)." I'm still thinking about it this morning.

 

The downside to a meal like this is it doesn't photograph well: many components were plated at the table, and of course a lot is then torn into bits and placed in tortillas. I wanted to eat, not take pictures, so I didn't give you an action shots. Oh well! Time to get ready for lunch...

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Chris Hennes
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1 hour ago, Chris Hennes said:

Its richness and balance: the stock base was amazing, and the soup overall had a perfect balance of acid and salt. Sometimes it's the little things.

 

I don't remember: the chicharron was an exercise in textures more than flavors, and simply got eclipsed by the rest of the dish.

 

Yes, that was the "corn husk-roasted black cod, garlicky kale, luxurious cashew pipian (guajillo & ancho chiles, peanuts, red wine, cinnamon, black pepper)." I'm still thinking about it this morning.

 

The downside to a meal like this is it doesn't photograph well: many components were plated at the table, and of course a lot is then torn into bits and placed in tortillas. I wanted to eat, not take pictures, so I didn't give you an action shots. Oh well! Time to get ready for lunch...

that meal looked amazing.  If I had time, I could picture myself booking a trip to Chicago just for that.

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I've been to Topolobampo several times, and to get to the Topo dining room you pass through Frontera Grill. We've said to ourselves every time: "someday we need to eat at Frontera!" but there's always a crowd, and a wait. Well, not in the Coronatimes... Frontera takes reservations now, so we finally had the chance to eat lunch there. It's much closer to what someone in the US thinks of as "Mexican" food, though still not exactly "Taco Casa". 

 

It's a vacation, right? Lunch begins with a mezcal margarita...

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I've made the queso fundido from Fiesta at Ricks, and didn't care for it. So I felt sort of morally obliged to try it someplace where I knew the chef knew how to do it properly. I still didn't care for it!

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It thankfully came with the usual duo of Frontera salsas, a roasted tomato and a Chile verde, both of which are excellent:

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And here is your "action shot", the cheese as applied to a tortilla:

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I thought about taking video here to show my real objection to the texture: the cheese is just a bit too firm and gooey, and not quite melty enough. It also doesn't bring a lot of flavor to the party, I'd have rather had just the chorizo, poblanos, and salsa. So that was a lot of posting just to point out that I don't actually like "queso fundido" as it turns out. Probably not Frontera's fault. Now I've done my due diligence and don't feel so bad about not liking it when I made it homemade.

 

Moving on to the stuff I did like... For my first course I had "GRILLED CAULIFLOWER, OAXACAN ESTOFADO Garlicky cauliflower steaks cooked over the coals, estofado (ancho, guajillo, tomato, pineapple, plantain, spices), pickled jalapeños". This was superb: really, really smoky, with a lingering heat that built up over time, and just the right sweetness from the pineapple. 

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My wife had the "TAMALES DE ELOTE Sweet corn tamales, roasted poblano rajas, homemade crema & fresco cheese". I was allotted one bite, and one bite only! They were good, she wouldn't share anymore.

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For my main I had "MAHI-MAHI, YUCA AL MOJO, RED CHILE- PEANUT SALSA Grilled mahi-mahi, tender yuca with toasted garlic, velvety red chile-peanut salsa". This is served with great house-made tortillas and turned into fish tacos. It was delicious: again, very very smoky, but perfectly cooked fish and great flavor sequencing.

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My wife had "PUEBLA STYLE ENCHILADAS Homemade corn tortillas, heritage breed chicken, mole poblano, black beans" I wasn't even allotted a bite of this, I had to sneak a piece of chicken off the back of her plate. Mole is a winner at our house, and this was no exception, it was excellent.

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Somehow I squeezed in another drink, as well: the "Oaxacan Gold Margarita: La Gritona reposado tequila, Petunia espadín mezcal, manzano agave, pineapple, fresh lime, Angostura bitters, pineapple salt rim". Delicious.

IMG_0237 Large.jpeg

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Chris Hennes
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2 minutes ago, Chris Hennes said:

Somehow I squeezed in another drink, as well: the "Oaxacan Gold Margarita

 

Nap time?

 

7 hours ago, weinoo said:

Of course there is Cosme, Olvera's fancy Haute Cuisine Mexican in NYC.

 

39 minutes ago, Honkman said:

And let’s not forget Californios in SF

 

I was kind of focused on Enrique Olvera, chef/owner of Pujol, Cosmé (NYC), Atla (NYC) and now Damian, in LA.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Great report so far. Topo sometimes is Ms Alex's end-of-finals-week reward.

 

I'm looking forward to the rest. Living as close to Chicago as we do, we've been to our share of Mexican restaurants there, but I'm curious about which ones you've chosen.

 

Any chance you're going to Mi Tokaya Antojeria? Chilam Balam? Tzuko? Birrieria Zarogoza? Near Midway, I know, but still.  (Patience, Alex, patience...)

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Looks great.  I generally don't like the traditional US/mexican restaurant, but I found one near Dallas..Hugo's Invitados that was just great...along the lines of these two places.

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11 minutes ago, gfweb said:

 I generally don't like the traditional US/mexican restaurant, 

What does that mean anymore? The menu items @Chris Hennes has shown us so far bring to mind the wonderful fresh Mexican places in the wine country of Baja.  I know it is also in varius parts of US and Mexico City. I apprciate seeing what our guy has been able to experience. It reminds me of the transition in the US from "red sauce Italian" to what we have and know now Still a place for the OG but the broadening of horizons has benefited us. I remember when Piero Selvaggio tried to take Itailian in a different direction at Valentinos here in L.A.. He changed our knowledge base of "Italian" and created great ingredient sourcing. Here at eG we have the lauded, personable, passionale @rancho_gordo leading a surge. I mean who would have thought people all over the country in a "Bean Club"? And with heirloom sourced Mexican beans and national reviews incuding The New Yorker.

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32 minutes ago, heidih said:

What does that mean anymore? The menu items @Chris Hennes has shown us so far bring to mind the wonderful fresh Mexican places in the wine country of Baja.  I know it is also in varius parts of US and Mexico City. I apprciate seeing what our guy has been able to experience. It reminds me of the transition in the US from "red sauce Italian" to what we have and know now Still a place for the OG but the broadening of horizons has benefited us. I remember when Piero Selvaggio tried to take Itailian in a different direction at Valentinos here in L.A.. He changed our knowledge base of "Italian" and created great ingredient sourcing. Here at eG we have the lauded, personable, passionale @rancho_gordo leading a surge. I mean who would have thought people all over the country in a "Bean Club"? And with heirloom sourced Mexican beans and national reviews incuding The New Yorker.

I meant the US Mexican places in most of the country. A plate full of refried beans and rice and a slop of sauce on a chimifunga or something. 

I have a similar reaction to the Hawaiian plate lunch. 

 

 

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@Alex has predicted this next one: maybe not Topolobampo-level, but interesting nevertheless, we dined at Tzuco tonight. Aesthetically and sonically it could hardly be more different, but we enjoyed ourselves despite the frigid temperatures getting here.

 

The decor is really interesting, I'd love to spend a sunny afternoon here with a camera:

20220212-IMG_0249.jpg

 

You'll be shocked to learn we began with a round of cocktails: I had "AZAFRÁN: Don Julio Reposado, saffron, Rosemary, lemon.":

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And my wife had "MIS RAÍCES: Tequila Reposado, licor de Elote, chile Ancho, mole.:

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The a couple of starters: I had "PULPO ENAMORADO: Guajillo roasted octopus, salsa macha, pickled carrot, pea, potato, tonnato aioli.:

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And my wife had "FRENCH ONION SOUP: A traditional French onion soup with a Mexican twist. Poblano peppers, Gruyère cheese, crostini."

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Four our mains I had "CHICHARRÓN DE PESCADO: Fried red snapper fillet, pickled slaw, peanut/chipotle aioli, salsa cruda, squid ink fideos tortillas."

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And my wife had "TIKINXIC: Achiote/ orange marinated Mahi-mahi, wrapped in a banana leaves, parsnip purée, habanero beurre blanc, tomato and avocado salad":

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And perhaps a Mezcal for dessert: I was sort of tickled by the name... "Peloton de la Muerte" .. "Peloton" meaning something entirely different in English these days!

20220212-IMG_0248.jpg

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Chris Hennes
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Well, Topolobampo was the centerpiece of course, and it being February in Chicago, we stayed at a hotel next door to them. With dinner not wrapping up until nearly midnight, the 12 deg F walk was mercifully short! After that I just did some reading and narrowed by walking distance to that hotel. Tzuco was maybe 6 or 7 blocks away. We walked very briskly last night!

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Chris Hennes
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Both that octopus and the fish treatment are so appealing to me. The tortilla de fideo was just a squid inked flattened noodle cake? Did you enjoy it? Thanks for braving the cold!

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