Sunday, September 25, 2011

Topolobampo, or, my foodie-crush on Rick Bayless

By Flickr User embem30
I'm not a "foodie." I do watch cooking shows, but only the ones on WTTW Channel 11 (Chicago's PBS station). Sure, I can follow a recipe, and I love eating good food, but I'm just not one of those foodie people. Nor do I have much desire to be. The Sailor would like to become a little bit more of a foodie, especially when it comes to desserts and baked goods (a desire of his that I fully support for obvious reasons). But I still enjoy watching cooking shows, just to see how stuff is made and maybe pick up a trick here or there. My favorite cooking shows are America's Test Kitchen and Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way.

But Mexico One Plate At a Time with Rick Bayless is my absolute favorite. I looove Mexican food and Rick Bayless seems like a pretty cool, laid-back guy. I love the episodes where he starts off in Mexico, eating street vendor food, and then recreates it in his kitchen. He also has a really boss outdoor kitchen. And I hear he takes his restaurant staff on trips to Mexico. (Funny, the Olive Garden never took me to Italy! What's up with that?)

So, for my birthday, The Sailor made reservations at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless's fancy-pants restaurant in Chicago. (Excuse me, "one of America's only fine-dining Mexican restaurants" according to the web site.)

My birthday was in August and dinner was last night, if that gives you any idea how far in advance you have to book reservations.

Anyway, I'm not going to go into some wanna-be foodie review of the place, because like I said, I'm not a foodie.

I'm just going to tell you that the food was excellent, and the service was top-notch. What I loved the most about the service is you could tell the front-of-house staff worked as a team. We had our main server, but I couldn't count how many staff came to our table to bring us food or take our order - and they all explained the food when it arrived, even the guacamole. Our food order was actually taken by the Sommelier, I think because our main server was held up at another table. And then as I was walking out, the Sommelier showed me to the ladies room. And I'm pretty sure Rick Bayless's Dad is one of the maitre d's, or it was a coincidence that one of them was an older gentleman who looked a lot like Rick Bayless.

By Flickr User fatfoodtaxi
If you are interested, this is what we ate:
  • Guacamole: Complimentary. Served with cucumber and ... something else for dipping. The something else was white. I have no idea what it was. Some kind of vegetable. 
The following descriptions are copied from the Rick Bayless / Topolobampo website:  
  • Trio, Trio, Trio: Sampling of Ceviche Fronterizo, Ceviche Yucateco & Coctail de Atun Tropical
  • Tlalpollo: Wild and cultivated mushrooms (slow-cooked in a sealed pot with epazote, hoja santa), homemade suckling pig ham, heirloom alubia blanca with Gunthorp bacon, roasted baby beets, pickled garlic scapes. 
  • Ravioli Autóctona de Huitlacoche: Free-form ravioli of melt-in-your-mouth corn masa noodles, huitlacoche (inky corn mushroom), velvety sweet corn-chipotle sauce, camote two ways, purslane salad (plantain vinegar, pumpkinseed oil, pitiona).
  • Pollito al Tamarindo: Pan-roasted Gunthorp heritage breed rock hen, tangy tamarindo-ancho chile sauce, grill-charred eggplant, tomatillo relish with red knob onion, garlic scapes.
  • Mole Verde de Mariscos con Puerco: Roasted Baja bay scallops, Hog Island (SC) little neck clams and Gunthorp pork belly in Oaxacan green mole (tomatillo, roasted garlic, epazote, hoja santa, parsley), little corn masa dumplings, shaved fennel bulb plus its fronds and flowers. 
We were also served corn tortillas, which were good for scooping up the remaining mole and chile sauces. 
By Flickr User ALifeWorthEating
My favorite of the meal was the trio of Ceviches, and also the grill-charred eggplant that came with the Pollito al Tamarindo. YUM. That's my best review of it. I also had a Mexican Mojito and The Sailor had a Dos Equis.

The total cost of the meal was $150 plus tip, not too bad considering if we both got one of the tasting menus it would have been $180 for the food alone (add an extra $60 per person for the expertly paired wines).

If you want to make reservations, they recommend 8-10 weeks in advance. Otherwise, from what I overhead while waiting for The Sailor (he was on duty this weekend so we had to meet there), the wait for a table was 2 1/2 to 3 hours, although I assume that was for Frontera Grill (the restaurant is two in one - Frontera is the more casual room up front, Topolo is the more upscale room in back). My guess is you can only get a table at Topolo with reservations. My Dad said when he and my Mom were staying downtown near Frontera/Topolo, they saw people lining up outside of the door around 4pm when the restaurant opened, I assume to get their name on the list so they could eat dinner around a reasonable time.

I'm not really into fancy restaurants - I really only go to them for very special occasions, so I don't know if I would want to go back to Topolo - I think if we were going to spend that kind of money, I'd rather check out another fancy restaurant in Chicago first. However, I would like to check out Rick Bayless's other restaurants sometime - Frontera Grill and XOCO (or Frontera Fresco, or if I ever fly out of O'Hare, Tortas Frontera), just because they have different, more casual (and affordable) menus, and like I said, I loooove Mexican food.

Finally, on the way home, The Sailor and I wondered - does Rick Bayless ever eat at Taco Bell? You know, like after a night of drinking or something. Or for the unexpected kitsch factor. Or perhaps Chipotle is a more reasonable option when he wants to go foodie slumming?  Or maybe Pepe's (which was my "Mexican fine dining" growing up)? What do you think? Do five-star chefs always eat high quality food?

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