Chae’s Culinary Adventure at Frontera Grill
First of all, I need to make a correction…the gentleman that I spoke with recommending Frontera Grill was not just a manager but he is the managing partner at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill, Carlos Alferez. I would like to thank him for a fantastic culinary experience!
Carlos got me when he told me I didn’t know Mexican food even coming from Southern California. I’ve lived in SoCal for over 20 years and I’ve had a lot of Mexican food…my waistline can testify to that! Carlos had given me his email address the previous night and told me to let him know if I decide to try out real Mexican food. I did and asked for a 7:30pm reservation.
I took a cab to Frontera Grill at 7:00pm; it was surprisingly close to the hotel. There’s a huge line in the check in area and I saw a huge waiting list. I checked in and I was told that our table was not ready. I told them I am early and will get a beverage at the bar. The bar was full, the booths were full, the place was full. The bartender saw me and immediately asked what I would like. I told them I guess I should have a margarita. He handed me the margarita list and I looked at it. It looked like a foreign piece of document because I had never heard of some the of different kinds of margaritas, tequilas, spirits and other ingredients. I was a little confused and couldn’t decide so I just asked for their house special. They serve their margaritas either on the rocks or shakened tableside then served like a martini. I opted for the rocks with a little salt. Wow…was that good! It was refreshing, not too sweet, not too sour, it was just right (sound like Goldilocks). I have to say it was probably the best margarita I’ve ever had. What I had was the Topolo Margarita. Topolo is the sister restaurant of Frontera and I understood it to share the front door and bar but the restaurant has a more elegant style…on their website it states that Frontera rocks and claps while Topolo slinks…it’s a quiet, sleek classy sister. I guess I will have to try Topolo next time I’m back in Chicago.
My friend arrived who I have not seen in about 4-5 years and he ordered the same Topolo margarita. As soon as his margarita arrived, our table was ready at 7:20pm. They were able to seat us early. I’m impressed…got a reservation, got a table early, got great margaritas, so far so good! We sat down and were given menus and…boy, did I have a hard time deciding. It took us about 20 minutes to figure out what we wanted. Everything sounded so foreign yet delicious and again…there are a lot of things I’ve not heard of. I didn’t see any fajitas, enchiladas, rellenos…the menu to me sounded very coastal Mexican, meaning fresh seafood and ingredients, light sauces, nothing drenched in heavy sauces, no refried beans, no Spanish style rice and no gooey melted cheese. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with gooey melted cheese (again I have the waistline to testify to that!) but this menu was definitely something that made me go “Wow”! It’s really unfortunate that there is very little that makes me go Wow in a culinary sense. I’ve worked from coast to coast and worked at great dining establishments and with great chefs, I think I’ve pretty much seen it all.
The whole left side of the menu was filled with appetizers and shared plates almost tapa style and there were so many, I wanted to try them all! My dinner companion is highly allergic to seafood so we ordered something safe for him which was Frontera’s popular guacamole, homemade chips served with two homemade sauces. One sauce was made with green chiles and the other with smoked red chiles; the appetizer was delicious. I did order (because I was told it was one of the favorite items on the menu) the ceviche of Ipswich razor clam & Baja bay scallop, spicy Tamazula hot sauce, garlic chives & flowers, sorrel, charales. Wow! Yummy! That plate got my mouth salivating for what was more to come. Entrees that were ordered were garlic-marinated fresh Gulf shrimp, Nichols green garlic mojo (poblanos, lobster stock, Baja Precious olive oil), chile-studded white rice, limey peashoots, cilantro crunch and the second entree was a spicy habanero-marinated, wood-grilled Creekstone Natural ribeye, spicy salsa huevona (hand-crushed, grill-roasted tomatoes, jalapeños). Grilled knob onions, sweet corn tamal (topped with homemade sour cream & fresh cheese). I didn’t get a chance to taste the beef entree because it was gone quickly but my entree was delicious. The shrimp was so fresh and it was complemented by a delicious tasty yet light sauce and everything on the plate complemented each other. No heavy sauce on either entrees and no gooey cheese…all light and with fresh ingredients.
Even though we were full, I was told the night before that I had to get the pecan chocolate pie. So, we ordered one dessert and it was the pie. The desserts are all made in house. The pecan chocolate pie was plated and garnished with chocolate sauce and Kahlua whipped cream. Delicious! The portions were pretty hearty but not over the top like a lot of Mexican restaurants. I was a happy little Buddha…full belly with a smile on my face!
So folks, I had a great time in Chicago. I met some great friendly people who had wonderful recommendations and wouldn’t have had the culinary experience without their help. Thank you Chicago, thank you Carlos and I hope to be visiting soon!
For more information on Frontera Grill and other Rick Bayless restaurants, CLICK HERE for the website.
This concludes my trip to the Windy City but more to come…Seattle in August!