It was going to be a Rick Bayless-filled day.
Earlier that day, we had found a last minute lunch reservation at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless's 1-Michelin starred higher-end Mexican restaurant. Little did we realize that Chef Bayless's most famous flagship restaurant, Frontera Grill Chicago, was right next door! In fact, the two restaurants actually shared an entrance.
Hee hee, we felt a bit silly eating at one place for lunch and then heading back through the same door for dinner.
During the afternoon, we explored Chicago. We learned about city’s fascinating architecture via an excellent river cruise (pictured above) from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It was fascinating to learn about the various architecture styles, hear stories about the history of the city, and admire so Chicago's incredible buildings and structures.
Very, very cool.
We visited Millennium Park and visited the famous "Bean."
You can have so much fun playing with reflections!
And then we headed back to Frontera Grill, this time joining four other friends to enjoy dinner at one of the most well-known Mexican restaurants in Chicago, if not the U.S.
The menu at Frontera Grill includes a Raw Bar/Ceviche section, Starters section, a separate "Moles, Pipianis, and Chile Sauces" section, Wood Grilled Meats, and Sides.
I am a sucker for raw fish and am almost always drawn to sashimi, poke, ceviche, or anything that resembles uncooked fish. The most fun way to sample several of the ceviches is to get the Ceviche Trio ($24), which includes the Shrimp & Scallop Ceviche Verde (creamy, herb-green ceviche of Mazatlan blue shrimp and Baja bay scallops, avocado, cucumber, jicama, serrano, and knob onions), Tropical Tuna Cocktail (Hawaiian yellowfin tuna, tomatillo-avocado salsa, and tropical fruit salsa), and the Classic Frontera Ceviche (Hawaiian albacore, lime, tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green chile, and Tostaditas).
One of my favorite starters was the Veracruz-style Fresh Corn Tamales ($8.50). These buttery, banana leaf-steamed sweet corn tamales came with roasted poblanos, homemade crema and fresh cheese. Sorry I have no photo - it was dark and I didn't hold my hands still enough, so my one photo turned out super blurry.
Trust me, though, it's worth ordering!
I loved the seasonal Guacamole ($9.75), made with mashed Michoacan avocados, compressed watermelon, and red onions.
My health-conscious friend who wasn't hungry chose to order the simple Little Gem Salad ($9), little gem lettuce tossed in a pasilla-lime dressing topped with red-chile dry Jack cheese, grilled knob onions, and buttery black pepper croutons.
We also shared the Spiced Jicama Strips, which were light, crunchy, and had a kick.
Moles, Pipianis, and Chile Sauces
Chicken Pipian ($23.50)
"Pipian" is a type of mole (pronounced mo-lay) typically made with pumpkin seeds, or pepitas. This green pipian was made with chayote, pumpkin seed, poblano chile, and cream. The pipian came with grilled chicken breast and a side of chayote-potato mash, spicy chiles toreados, and a "fried chicken" tostada.
The Duck in Mole Coloradito ($25) included a red chile rubbed grilled duck breast, Oaxacan Coloradito mole made with ancho chile, guiajillo, sesame, and chocolate, and roasted vegetables. My friend absolutely loved the mole.
THIS - Carne Asada with Oaxacan Mole - had the mole that our friends had been telling us about. The mole is made from twenty-seven different ingredients. Some claim they can taste all twenty-seven flavors. The dish also included red chile-marinated prime ribeye steak, zucchini, and mashed root vegetables.
Although it was quite tasty, we were bit underwhelmed with the whole experience. We could taste maybe five different elements (raisin, coffee, chocolate?) but definitely had trouble tasting all twenty-seven! I guess we are not experts.
For dessert, we enjoyed a simple sweet empanada-like pastry with ice cream, fruit, and nuts. It was kind of like a mini-pie.
They actually let us order off of the Topolobampo menu for dessert. I was intrigued by this trio of corn sweet and salty dessert (corn ice cream, corn cake, corn). I loved it, and thought it had much more refined flavors than the pie-like dessert from the Frontera Grill menu.
General Thoughts - Frontera Grill Chicago
Frontera Grill is fun. The moles are really interesting. Although we were most interested in trying the Oaxacan mole, I think we actually came away preferring some of the other interesting ones. My personal favorites would probably be the Veracruz-style fresh corn tamales, the seasonal watermelon guacamole, the lighter moles, and the corn dessert (which is technically from Topolobampo).
All in all, I think we preferred the food at Topolobampo (which is noticeably more refined in flavor). However, we still enjoyed Frontera Grill, which is more casual, more affordable, and still quite good.
Frontera Grill Chicago
449 North Clark Street | Chicago
Phone: (312) 334-1434