For our final night in Chicago (which happened to be Sarah’s birthday) we went to Topolobampo, Rick Bayless’s most upscale restaurant. We were a bit nervous about bringing Jonathan, but they had a kid’s menu and he generally did really well.
Shortly after we were seated we were given a sort of guacamole amuse bouche with cucumber and jicama. The guacamole was fresh and flavorful with some sharp fresh chili flavor, and the vegetables were crisp and refreshing. And unlike the typical Mexican chips and salsa, this dish was not very filling, making it a perfect first course.
I ordered the Topolo Margarita (with Sauza Commerativo and Gran Torres) to start, which was a very good interpretation. Sarah had a carbonated limeade, which was quite good although a bit on the sweet side.
We started with a fish ceviche, which was outstanding. The fish was perfectly “cooked” by the citrus, and, as with almost all Bayless dishes, a sharp fresh (but not overpowering) spiciness permeated the dish.
I’d finished my margarita by this point and decided to go with a more innovate drink (the name of which is escaping me), a combination of beer, tequila, citrus and sweet spices (e.g. cinnamon). I had it with Two Brother’s Cane and Abel (it was also available with Bell’s Java Stout). It was very good and complex with overtones of cinnamon and rye (from the beer). The combination of alcohols also seemed to pack quite a wallop (or maybe it was because this was my second drink).
Our next course was the Pollo con Enchiladas à la Plaza. Our waiter explained that it was Rick’s “interpretation” of enchiladas found on the streets of Mexico. We enjoyed the variety of textures and flavors in this dish, but there was perhaps so much diversity that it was hard to get a clear sense of what was intended.
Around this time they brought out Jonathan’s quesadilla with refried black beans. He really enjoyed the quesadilla, and we were happy to help him (i.e. eat most of) his beans. They were very good, and were quite likely the recipe from Mexican Everyday. The secret ingredient is bacon drippings (alongside beans and garlic, the only other ingredients). We’ll definitely have to try this at home.
Our entrée, Carnitas de Puerco, was excellent. While the pulled pork shoulder was very good, combining it with tender pork belly really elevated the dish. The green salsa had a very good flavor as well, and, while the lime “air” was a bit odd, it added a nice citrus touch.
For dessert we ordered the Crepas con Cajeta, crepes with goats milk caramel, pecans, raspberries and plantains. I called ahead to ask them to do something for Sarah’s birthday, and she was completely surprised:
The dessert was excellent, a perfect marrying of textures and flavors.
While our service was generally quite good, our waiter seemed clearly disappointed (and changed his attitude towards us) once he realized we were splitting our dishes rather than ordering our own. And even Jonathan, who’s been perfectly fine at Fire and Moxie in Cleveland, seemed a little uncomfortable with the level of formality at Topolobampo.
While we enjoyed our dinner, we’ll probably try Frontera Grill instead the next time we’re in Chicago. And we’ll definitely return to XOCO.