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Time", for many years and I've developed a kind of personal affinity for him.
This weeekend, I finally made it to Frontera Grill, Chef Bayless' first venture, which opened in 1987 - twenty-five years ago! In a previous post, I related to you how I tried to eat at Frontera Grill, but I was unsuccessful because I showed up on a day that the restaurant was closed. On that day, there was a special event at the restaurant for local farmers. Although the staff were busy handling the event, one of the hosts introduced herself, kindly supplied me with a business card, and asked me to make reservations for another time.
Frontera Grill is best described as a casual eatery offering superb, authentic Mexican food and service that approaches the level of fine dining. The decor is vividly colorful and the ambiance is lively.
With me at Frontera Gril were H and D, two buddies from school. Near our table, there was this funny-looking print of two luchadores standing over a plate of roast bird:
(Now that I look at it more closely, what the heck is going on with those winged creatures?)
In 2007, Frontera Grill won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant. In addition, Frontera Grill is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the United States.
Now, on to the meal!
What I ate:
1. Frothy Mexican Hot Chocolate (5 USD): Oaxacan dark-roast chocolate steamed with hot milk. H, D, and I started our meals with a cup of hot chocolate each. It was pretty much perfect, with just enough cinnamon (of the Mexican variety, I'd imagine) to accent the flavor of the Oaxacan chocolate. I wish I could start everyday with a cup of this stuff!
2. Entremés Surtido/Old School Frontera Trio (two pieces each, 18 USD): Smoked chicken taquitos (sour cream, guacamole), Mexico City-style corn masa quesadillas (artisan cheese, epazote), classic ceviche tostadas. On the surface, these three items seem quite pedestrian, however, you'd be hard put to find better versions of these three items anywhere. First, the quesadillas were an absolute pleasure to eat. The dough was crispy yet tender and the surfeit of cheese (Samuel's handcrafted Jack cheese, I believe) was oh-so-ooey-gooey. The epazote struck just the right note in terms of flavor - an herbal essence that perfumed the Jack cheese. Second, the taquitos were divine. They were fried a la minute and garnished with good sour cream, an exemplary guacamole, and little matchsticks of radish. Third, the ceviche was prepared just right. The fish (Hawaiian albacore, I believe) had been sitting in marinade for just the right amount of time: it wasn't overdone. Also, I think the cook used the right amount of citrus: the ceviche wasn't too sour.
3. Cazuela de Borrego en Mole Negro (12 USD): Grill-seared lamb shoulder in black mole, Nichols Farm potatoes, grilled calabacitas, añejo cheese. The Cazuela was a stunner. The lamb was tender from the long cooking process, yet it retained a good amount of muscular texture that was delightful to chew. The mole negro had deep, dark, earthy flavors and a hint of an almost molasses-like sweetness. The potatoes in the composition were fingerlings with the skins left on. They were cooked perfectly. A tortilla warmer full of housemade corn tortillas (!!!) was provided with the Cazuela for making tacos.
The service was what I expected it to be like: personable, professional, expert, and leaving a lasting impression. Our server made us feel welcome and relaxed. The bussers were on top of their game and my companions and I never had to ask for a refill of our beverages. I loved how they reset our table for our mains.
* There are a couple of photos at my Picasa not shown here.
Parking: H, D, and I took the train into downtown Chicago. I suggest you do the same! (There are pay ramps and valet parking available for you die hard drivers.)
The Bill: 36.55 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (very good). Open for lunch, Tuesday to Friday, 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM, and for brunch on Saturday, 10:30 AM to 2 PM. Open for dinner on Tuesday, 5:20 PM to 10 PM, on Wednesday and Thursday, 5 PM to 10 PM, and on Friday and Saturday, 5 PM to 11 PM. The restaurant is closed on Sunday. Credit cards accepted. www.rickbayless.com
Last Word: Thank you, Chef Bayless and Co. for a memorable experience. This meal was all I expected it to be and it's nice when that happens, especially in a world where expectations are rarely fulfilled. Perhaps the best praise I can give is, "I want to go back."
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