Being located 3 blocks away from Rick Bayless’s tri-conglomeration of XOCO, Frontera Grill, and Topolobampo has its perks. One thing is that good Mexican is never far away.
Rick Bayless, as a primer, was studying for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Michigan, when he moved to Meixco from 1980-1986. There, he learnt Mexican cooking, and then brought it back to Chicago. When Obama was inaugurated, Rick Bayless was apparently in the running to be White House executive chef.
I’ve been to Frontera twice now. (and XOCO 4 times). So far, I have not been disappointed.
Chilaquiles al Guajillo (5/5) – “Quick-simmered tortilla “casserole” with rustic red guajillo chile sauce, homemade crema, aged Mexican cheese (queso anejo), sunny-side up egg. Tangy baby greens.” Savory and fresh greens, great tasting sauce. Tortillas were semi-crisp – after sitting in sauce, they were a delicious mess.
Duo de Flanes (4.25/5) – “A duo of caramel custards: coconut milk-lemongrass flan with honey Manila mango salsa, plus silky Mexican vanilla. ” had a rich, sticky texture, in the region of peanut-butter stickiness. The custard cake contrasted well with the mango and wisps of coconut.
Lamb Shoulder in Black Mole (4.5/5) – “Grill-seared lamb shoulder braised in black mole, Nichols Farm potatoes, grilled calabacitas, anejo cheese.” Mole means sauce in Mexican. For this dish, I believe the “mole” here is a chocolate sauce. It was rich, and there were quite a few potatoes in the dish. It went excellently with tacos – the only minor complaint might be that the potato-lamb ratio was skewed in favour of potato.
Duck “Carnitas” Flautas (4.5/5) – “Crispy, crunchy taquitos of slow-cooked duck carnitas, (grilled white onions, garlic mojo). Tangy red chile escabeche, orange “shoots salad.”
Ceviche Trio – “Frontera Ceviche (albacore, tomato, olive), Yucatecan Ceviche (shrimp, squid, orange, cucumber), Tropical Tuna Cocktail (big eye, avocado-tomatillo, mango salsa)”
Yucatan Ceviche (4.75/5) – nice and limey, good contrast with shrimp and squid
Tropical Tuna Cocktail (5/5) – out of this world, perfectly salted avocado. Sweet mango complemented tuna perfectly
Frontera Ceviche (4/5) – another sour one.
Smoky-Creamy-Spicy Mushrooms (4.75/5) – “Brown beech, hedgehog, oyster, shiitake & black trumpet mushrooms, white sweet potato, Oaxacan pasilla crema, epazote.”
Verdict: Just go. Frontera only serves brunch on Saturdays, so it’s a once-a-week thing. Rick Bayless’s Mexican is magical.