Monday, February 24, 2014

Topolobampo

Location: 445 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654
Topolobampo on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
After a long drought of trying Michelin Star-rated restaurants, my family decided to try Topolobampo for my mom's birthday.  It took over 2-months of planning to get a reservation, so just be aware.  Topolobampo is one of Rick Bayless's most famous restaurants.  The cuisine is the most gourmet Mexican food I have ever tried with unique uses of classic chiles and twists on typical mole sauces.  As soon as you walk in, you get that upscale feel.  Several different waiters and waitresses greet each table, with each person having a unique tasks.  Some are there just to pair the correct salsa or mole with a dish, while others explain the different uses of each ingredient.  The ordering style is a little weird, in the sense that you create-your-own 3-, 5-, or 7-course meal from a huge list of items.  And, honestly, you can order 3 desserts if you want.  Unfortunately, I found the dishes to be hit or miss.  There were some amazing, memorable plates and some terrible, "wish I never ordered" ones.  For having a Michelin star, I was very disappointed in the meal.  High expectations were not fulfilled despite having a few dishes that I still crave.  For that reason, 3-mile rating was all I could give it.

What We Ate:
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Tier 1:  This would be my ideal 7-course meal!

1. 2. 

3. 4. 

5. 

6. 7. 

1. Scallops in Aguachile

2. Panucho Chicago-style

3. Smoked Shrimp and Octopus, Baja Flavors

4. Arctic Char, Ancho Chile, & Porcini

5. Duck in Chestnut Green Mole

6. Warm Chocolate, Frozen Coconut

7. Cajeta Crepes, Chocolate & Plantain

Rather than explaining every dish to you, I decided to create my ideal 7-course meal and then categorize the rest of the dishes in different tiers.  I figure you can head to their website and read the confusing ingredients and complex chilies Rick Bayless decided to use in each dish.  Anyway, in the my ideal 7-course meal, I think it is important to spread out your choices from each of his categories.  Some dishes are more bold, while others are meant to be delicate.  I think the overall best dish of the night was the Arctic Char, Ancho Chili, and Porcini.  First of all, the dish was much larger than the rest, with a good-sized fish filet being the star.  But, the dish was made memorable by that crispy arctic char skin that contrasted the soft texture of the fish and the liquid porcini soup.  It comes with homemade tortillas so definitely roll those up and dip into the soup.  It was a toss up for me for what I consider more appetizer-like dishes.  Both the scallops and the smoked shrimp and octopus dishes are part of that delicate category, where the seafood is simply prepared to allow the fish to shine.  An interesting, more-earthy dish was the panucho which had a unique puffy tostada topped with a great combination of beans and veggies.  When it comes to the hearty portion of the meal, the only meat dish I craved more of was the duck.  It had a delicious green mole made up of poblanos and plantains.  Finally, two desserts is a must!  All the desserts were to die for and should not be missed.  Honestly, paying for an extra 3-course dessert preparation for sharing should be greatly considered... they are that incredible.  Each dessert has a warm and cold component to it making you crave more and more.
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Tier 2:  Above Average Dishes.

1. 

2. 3. 

1. Striped Bass in Yellow Mole

2. Lamb in Ancho-Tamarind Sauce

3. Venison, Ancho & Cacao

It was difficult to choose my ideal 7-course meal from all the dishes we tried.  So this category is made up of the honorable mentions.  And, as you will see, the dishes are all of the proteins, meaning these only compete with one or two of the dishes in the ideal meal.  First is the striped bass.  I loved the lightness of the fish, which was enhanced by using a light mole sauce.  The crispy oysters gave the needed texture and more of a deep sea flavor as well.  It was a beautiful dish and a larger size portion.  The other two dishes that made this category were two bold meats.  Both the lamb and venison had stronger game flavors to them, yet were paired with sauces that both accented the earthy flavors but brought each dish to the next level.  A sweeter profile was introduced to the lamb with tamarind and honey, and an extreme richness with bone marrow.  This was the exact opposite for the venison which continued the earthy, deep flavors with the use of a fossilized preparation for squash.  All the meats came with their housemade tortillas, so making little tacos was a huge plus.  It was difficult to choose between the meats; I wish they had a sampler.

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Tier 3:  These were just... OK

1. 

2. 3. 

1. Shrimp and Cod Cakes, Three Chili Braise

2. Crab "Chileatole"

3. Carne Asada en Mole Negro

The above three dishes were in a category of "just OK".  It is disappointing to even having a tier of dishes this low at a restaurant with such high accolades.  But, we encountered even worse.  Anyway, I think these dishes were such a disappointment because they sounded unreal, and didn't live up to that expectation.  The first was a shrimp and cod cake.  I think everyone, including myself, expected more of a crab cake, but tasted a "space textured," crumbly bread.  Once again, the sauce was needed to give it some moisture and flavor.  I did get a fishy undertone to the bread, but it was more of a disappointment than memorable.  The crab soup was described as creamy and I think we all expected something similar to a crab bisque or the asian crab and corn soup.  Instead, we encountered a heavily asparagus-flavored soup that completely overwhelmed any seafood component whatsoever.  And, finally, the carne asada... I don't know where to start.  The meat was cooked to perfection and tender.  The dish's presentation was beautiful.  The mole was flavorful, but it just felt like a dish you could get at plenty of other great restaurants.  I may be getting a little picky on my review, but, I just considered the last dish to be too SAFE.  Maybe I expected since the term Michelin-rated is constantly being thrown around about this restaurant.
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Tier 4:  Stay Away, Don't Say I Didn't Warn You.

1. 2. 

1. Frog Leg Tamal, Casabel Chile

2. Rabbit Loin, Chilled Achiote Sauce

For my final tier of dishes, I decided to group a couple dishes into a category of STAY AWAY.  They may sound interesting and something you can only try at a Michelin star-rated restaurant, but they are not worth it.  The first dish was a frog leg tamale.  This may be the most bland dish I have had in a while.  Yes, they serve it with one of their specialty sauces, but even with that chili, all I could taste was char.  The frog meat is non-existent and when you find a piece, you realize the texture is exactly the same as masa, making it impossible to distinguish the two.  Even the beans served on the side were dry and crusty.  The other awful dish was one of their proteins.  I love rabbit, but their rabbit loin had both a strong gamey flavor with a weird texture.  I believe they slow cook it, but it comes out more gelatinous than meaty.  Honestly, making a taco with the meat doesn't even help.  I wasn't a huge fan of many of the protein dishes, but this one I wish I never ordered.
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The DOs/DON'Ts:
DO:
- How to order:  When you see the menu, you will see the option of 3-, 5-, or 7-courses.  The prices are $55, $90, and $120, respectively.  Once you decide how many courses you want, you can honestly choose any dish on the menu.  Some are smaller, some are larger, and some are meant for dessert.  Any combination is allowed--all desserts, all seafood, and even all of the different meats can be chosen for the same price point.

DON'T:
- Be sure NOT to order the dishes in my 4th tier... unless you want to be disappointed and feel like you wasted money.
- The Limeade sodas are also NOT worth having.  They are too acidic and not thirst-quenching at all.

How far would I walk for this food?



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