March 12 2005 - 11:04 PM

*** NOTE The restaurant closed and moved to 2165 N. Western Ave. very soon after this post. It may account for some of the kitchen’s inconsistencies. It’s time to go back I guess…

Ixcapuzalco was opened by Frontera chef, to great acclaim. It’s in Logan Square on Milwaukee. I had very high hopes. I’m a big fan giochi gonfiabili of Frontera and have debates about the viability of Mexican food as cuisine. It definitely is and Frontera/Topolo are ample proof for me. Needless to say I was eagerly anticipating Ixcapuzalco.

Going in I knew that it’s a pricey joint. An entree is basically $20.
Apps are $6 to $10. Margaritas are $10… etc. It wasn’t a shock. I
also knew the neighborhood. So the homeless guy sleeping in the alcove
of the building nextdoor wasn’t a shock either.

I expected the restaurant to be a small storefront. They have expanded
based on a couple of reviews that mentioned how tight the arrangement
apparantly used to be. The back main room is colorful and the exposed
brick and joist thing worked fine. The waitstaff were very friendly and
their serving was flawless.

We ordered the 4 sopes as an appetizer. Frontera offers the same dish.
After initially having it I tried to make it at home and couldn’t come
close. This guy, I assume having made it there does a bang up job with
basically the same toppings and nearly identical corn masa. It was a
fabulous dish at Frontera and I thoroughly enjoyed it again here but it
was the same thing.

The margaritas were okay. They were $10 each and came in a wine glass.
The waitress recommended a tequilla and I chose a second in addition
for variety. Her recommendation was very good.

One entree had to be the duck mole. It was a red molé with duck breast
and mashed potatoes. I had a black molé with duck at Frontera 2 weeks
ago. In this case the duck was bare atop a squat cyllinder of mashed
potatoes and I’ll say initially the same thing. Garlic and molé don’t
go well together. Aside from that the duck breast had nothing going for
it. As it was served separate from the molé I wasn’t able to taste any
smokiness or specific flavor. Apparantly this dish was all about the
molé. It was a smooth red mole with seeds garnishing it. It tasted very
good. As Ixcapuzalco’s specialty is
their daily molé I expected something memorable. This wasn’t it. It was
very good though. Bayless’ molé had a variety of fruit and jicama with
it. Most places add onions which help to bring out the flavor. I had a
plate of sauce, a duck breast that while well cooked was unremarkable
and potatoes that did not serve the purpose of helping me through this
course.At least I got what I ordered.

The other entree we ordered was the Chile Rellenos, a dish I almost
always enjoy and would almost always order. This was a woodland
mushroom and hominy vegetarian version. It sounded interesting. What we
got was a chile relleno with no breading, hominy or any starch at all.
A side of it was sliced scivolo gonfiabile off and diced carrots, zucchini and mushrooms
were inside and then covered with cheese and served with a verde sauce.
While the sauce was good it was a complete disappointment. When I asked
where the hominy was the waitress came back from the kitchen with the
answer that they were out of it. In my mind this was a really big
difference to the dish and not what I ordered. She offered to bring me
plantains but I declined.

Stopping in the bathroom I noted that the fixtures and even the toilet
seat were chipped and sub-par. While I frequent places with facilities
far worse I never drop the kind of cash, nor come in with the same
level of expectation that I did here.

One point to specifically make. A large part of what I look for in a
restaurant is beyond food. I feel a direct comparison to Frontera is
appropriate here. Frontera is in a better location. The restaurant is
nicer. The silverware is nicer. The glasses are nicer. The ingredients
spare no expense. And the food is better. Even disappointing dishes were trying to do something special (see the Frontera review). The evening is cheaper at Frontera. We
opted out of dessert and left. At the price point this restaurant is at
I would return to Frontera, Playtio or try Salpicon, or Topolobampo.
I look forward to returning at the insistance of friends and finding some tweaks in the kitchen and being very happy. Ixcapuzalco has so much potential I worry I was too easily disappointed.