I love all different types of food, the kind that’s interesting, witty, and playful as well as the type that is just straight forward and tastes delicious. But what I like the most about eating other peoples food is the guessing game of what’s inside. The best menus to me are not ones that tell all about every little tiny thing that’s in the dish though I know there are people with allergies and food preferences that need to know what’s going to be in side, I prefer to taste and find out.
So on my second day in Chicago I woke up and looked online at the maps and tried to figure out where I was going to go so I wouldn’t be as lost as I was the day before. A good plan I assumed, I don’t have an Iphone or a fancy phone where I can just follow my navigation which I think is cheating. So I just got out that big map and tried to find where I was going old school style.
I decided that I wanted to go to Frontera Grill by Rick Bayless for Lunch. I’ve been to Red O on Melrose before which is in Hollywood, Ca but Frontera is the flag ship restaurant of the Bayless Fine Dining Mexican Empire. Frontera was opened in 1987 by Bayless and his Wife and since has grown to incorporate the beautiful Topolobampo which is right next door and shares the same bar, host stand, and facilities but offers a more refined, upper class, and chic place to dine. As well as the corner store just outside XoCo this little place is where Bayless and his wife offer Mexican street food and snack to a sidewalk of eager eaters for a quick bite and bustling inside of hungry customers.
Walking up to Frontera the sidewalk is lined like so many places in Chicago with a little planted fenceing that gates off where diners can enjoy the somewhat tumultuous playfulness of the scattered sunshine with the clouds that this windy city is so well known for. As you walk into this bright beautiful restaurant with playful colors of sizzling and frosty notes, a little piece of bright Mexican culture peeks its head at you. Having no reservations here is a big mistake but what can you do, I’m not about to plan out every step of my vacation, I’m just not that type of girl so I asked if there would be any seating available for lunch and they assured me I could have a table. Most places aren’t very accustomed to single diners but I wasn’t pushed off to the bar which I liked.
My server Ray was fantastic. His demeanor was calm but busy the way a server should be. He paid just the right amount of attention necessary with the absolute chaotic feel of a wildly busy restaurant in the peak of lunch time, though I saw this from my trained eye; no diner would have been able to feel the chaos at all. As I perused the menu for ideas and inspirations some things caught my eye but others just seemed a bit heavy for my liking when I eat lunch. I started with Topolo Margarita: Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, Torres orange liqueur, housemade limonada, shaken table side. The blend of tequila with the limonada was heaven; perfectly tart with just the right amount of sweetness in this margarita gave the perfect mid afternoon buzz to my 2nd day of vacation. Ray kindly informed me to take a sip and he would pour the rest just so nothing was wasted.
After going though the recommended dishes I decided to go with a sampler platter of seafood Marisquera de Lujo: Grand Seafood Platter with one dozen oysters & their accompaniments, classic Ceviche Fronterizo and Coctel Atun Tropical. I was by myself so I got the ½ portion which still came with 6 oysters I chose to have two of each kind because they were offering 3 types that afternoon. The accompaniments that were given were a chipotle sauce that was perfectly sweet and hot with a very nice smoky finish, as well as a tomatillo and habanero mioneta oysters (mioneta is a Mexican version of Mignonette which is a condiment made from minced shallots, cracked pepper, and vinegar used for oyster eating) which had a very different type of heat that was not over powering but subtle as well as a very acidic finish lovely with cilantro and cut up pieces of onion. The three oysters were verities of Fanny Bay from British Colombia, Wianno from Massachusets, and Shibumi from Washington.
I ate the oysters 1st by themselves with no sauces just to have experience the favors of the oyster unaltered except for a small amount of lime. The Fanny bay I’m most familiar with these larger oysters have a very distinct flavor with nice brine but a more firm texture when chewing. I also chose to put the chipotle accompaniment on the other one which was really wonderful. I love the slight smokiness the chipotle offers. The Wianno are really very good as well. They offer a sweeter high brine and smoother finish. These are farmed sustainably in the waters on Cape Cod delicious, I chose to put the Mioneta on this oyster which was a really good balance with the acidic lime and sweet oyster with the crunch from the onions. Finally my favorite of the bunch because they were so unique the Shibumi, they have a very sweet, pump, full texture with a slight saltiness. So small and perfectly shippable, with the last oyster I decided to add a touch of both sauces which I thought was one of my most perfect bites of food I’ve ever had.
Moving from oysters to the other two dishes which were in small margarita glasses sitting atop crushed ice, the 1st glass had Ceviche Fronterizo which is a traditional ceviche with albacore tuna which had the correct balance of sweet, hot, acid, and salt that makes ceviche the most perfect thing to eat in my opinion. The addition of warm crispy tostaditas makes a wonderful crunchy addition to the smooth fish. The 2nd glass had the Coctel Atun Tropical a mixture of Big eye tuna from Hawaii, a smokey avocado tomatillo guacamole, and lovely mango grapefruit salsa on top. The whole thing gets mixed together and it’s just wonderful. How many times can you hear good in this a thousand I guess and I haven’t even got to dessert. To be honest though everything was amazing. I was thinking of getting one other savory item but I decided to just go to dessert because the seafood itself was just so wonderful on its own, a perfect taste of the sea.
Now the best for last dessert, This Duo de Flanes: A duo of caramel custards: “cafe con leche” & classic Mexican vanilla. Cacao nib-pecan shortbread, sweet milk froth. Now I don’t have to say much of anything for this because it was that good. Along with the bitterness of the espresso I had this flan was the best I’ve ever had easily. The cocao nib shortbread gave the crunch to the dessert and the smooth caramel with its bitter after notes from the Mexican vanilla was to die for. As I grew more and more full I couldn’t help but to finish the plate lingering over the café con leche with milk froth my absolute favorite and something I’ll have to work on to make on my own. Just wonderful!
My meal ended on such a high note that I would definitely recommend coming to Frontera a long standing amazing establishment of fine foods with Mexican flavor in Chicago.
Thank you very much to all that made this awesome meal happen, you are all truly masters at your craft.