Thursday, February 10, 2011

topolobampo, chicago il
445 north clark street
chicago, il 60654

topolobampo, or topolo for short, is one of top chef winner rick bayless's three chicago restaurants (the quick service xoco, and the casual frontera grill are the others).  rick bayless is known for his mexican style cooking, and topolo is his outlet for high end mexican cuisine. like most of the restaurants we enjoy, topolo's menu changes often with the seasons, and features only the freshest of ingredients.

toplolo is located right next to xoco and shares the same entrance and hostess stand as the frontera grill. we arrived right on time for our reservation, and were shown to our seats in a dining room that was about one third full. during the course of our meal the small space, which can accomodate maybe 75 diners, reached about three quarters full at one point. the vibe inside topolo is classy without feeling stuffy, and we both commented on how relaxed everything was. i was surprised by the choice of music however, a mix of mexican fiesta songs that i would expect to hear at a chevy's.

our server was a middle aged women of mexican descent, who was very helpful throughout our meal. she explained the menu in great detail, and told us which dishes were the most popular. she also brought us a wonderful plate of house made chips with guacamole. the chips had a little extra bite to them than your average chip, while the guacamole was very light and refreshing.

like always, cocktails were the first order of business. my drink was a seasonal offering called the fresh ginger mojito. pictured first, this was fresh muddled mint and ginger, fresh squeezed lime juice, d'aristi rum, gran torres 10 year, and a brandy and ginger infusion. carrie's drink was some sort of seasonal margarita that was prepared tableside.

after a few minutes with our cocktails, our first courses arrived. shown above is the ceviche yucateco, featuring steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habenero, avacado, jicama, and cilantro served with the same chips presented with the guacamole. this was an excellent first taste of what topolo can do. they shrimp and calamari were both exceptionally tender, and the fruit flavors mixed with the habenero gave the dish a great balance of sweet and spicy.

our other opener was the ensalade de betabel y jicama. this was a  contemporary take on mexico's famous beet salad: tangy, made with crunchy jicama, local beets three ways (poached, powdered, crisped), smoky blood orange, sweet-savory peanut "marzipan," tangy baby beet greens. carrie really enjoyed this dish, while i found it a touch too sweet for my palate.

after a nice break between course, our mains arrived. as a whole, the pacing of the meal at topolo was fairly slow, but this is no problem for us, as we enjoy taking our time and really savoring each bite. my main entree was the pato en pipian de castanathis was a  roasted gunthorp duck breast in ancho-chesnut pipian, herby polenta-style tamal, shaved chestnut, seared green beans, crispy onions. this was an amazing dish overall, with the ancho-chesnut pipian adding a wonderful spice to the savory duck breast.

carrie opted for the camarones y callos de hacha en salsa invernal. this was fresh gulf shrimp and viking village sea scallops in a creamy sauce of nichols farm sunchokes and roasted poblano chiles with salt cod croquettes, young coconut, black barley, puffed wild rice, and watercress leaves. a solid dish for sure, but i found it to be just a bit bland overall.

still thirsty after finishing our cocktails, but not wanting any more alcohol at this time of day, we ordered the pineapple coconut water. this was fruity and very refreshing.

for dessert i selected the crepas con cajeta y platano. these were warm, buttery crepes filled with plantain custard, nieve de crema (sour cream sorbet), peanut crunch, homemade cajeta and bittersweet chocolate drizzle. a great dessert all and all with a hot and cold interplay that i love in a dessert. however, i found the sour cream sorbet to be just a tad tarter than i would have liked.

the torta de plantano was carrie's dessert choice, and was a roasted banana cake layered with piloncillo-white chocolate frosting. banana leaf ice cream, "maria" cookie crumble, caramelized banana jam. i did not get to try much of this, but carrie really enjoyed it.

of the three lunches we had on this trip, our meal at topolobampo was by far the best. everything we tasted was fantastic, and the service provided us everything we could ask for. our prior experience with rick bayless's cooking was a single visit to his quick service establishment xoco, and while that meal was very good for what it was, topolo really showed us was rick bayless can do. there are several reasonably priced tasting menus offered for dinner, and we would love to return someday to experience chef bayless's cuisine in more detail.

Topolobampo on Urbanspoon

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