Topolobampo for Lunch

July 26 2006 - 10:59 PM

The first restaurant reviewed on Chicago Foodies was Frontera Grill. I chose it subconsciously. It was a good place that I’d been to many times. Bayless is the periodic James Beard award winner for cooking, recipe books or television programs… so it was a very logical choice for my subconscious.

However the adjoining restaurant that shares the kitchen is Topolobampo, Bayless’s high-end restaurant. It was a place I’d just never thought to visit. Why should I? Frontera has great margaritas, wonderful appetizers, a diverse and hearty list of entrees and a great atmosphere. Why mess with a good thing? Well the occasion came when I had a special lunch to take and why not. Frontera plussed up sounds pretty good.

Topolobampo is not the same place. Though you can see slivers of one
restaurant from another and definitely hear Frontera in Topolo, the
decor, the waitstaff and the menu are pretty distinct. Like Green Zebra
Topolobampo is more hauté than Frontera, which isn’t saying much
considering you go to Frontera for pork tacos. It may be a drawback that it’s decisively unique in many ways. But it doesn’t have to be.

The decor is very lush. Like Frontera it’s very colorful but at the
same time more subdued. More fabrics and patterns and less paintings
and sculptural art. The waitstaff is soft spoken, very knowledgeable
and helpful, definitely leading without being forceful or too
suggestive. Like Frontera the tables are very close and in a location
where the volume level is comparatively low I found it to be
potentially uncomfortable where at Frontera it’s just part of the

The appetizer was hard to keep straight and unfortunately the weak
link of the meal. It’s really tough to overcome an appetizer that
doesn’t work because, unlike any other course, there’s not much to hang
onto while you wait… except for a fabulous ginger-lime margarita.
Very unique and nothing but tasty. On the other hand the appetizer was
a combination of three things that I’m sure to get wrong. We ordered it
partially because we’ve never had tripe before. Go figure. We assumed
that it would be a good pula pula inflavel opportunity for a first taste. It unfortunately
was pretty bland served as one of three items on the mixed appetizer
plate. (again, sorry for not writing down exactly what these were). It
reminded me of a ceviche but didn’t have any dominant flavor save for a
fairly peppery tripe that didn’t go much further than that immdiate
pepperiness. The middle portion had diced potatoes and peas among other
small chopped items in a very yellow mayo sauce. It reminded me of
someone’s picnic salad dish and I couldn’t pin down any particular
flavor here either. The third item looked the most promising. Three
little balls of plaintain masa fried and served in a black bean sauce with a
creamy crumbled cheese. The bean sauce was good but the cheese wasn’t
very interesting and the fried plantain sounded good but needed salt…
or something. It was very bland. This was served with a long thin
crusty cracker that was extremely salty (maybe it compensated for the salt
component that I found lacking) and more visually satisfying than
anything. It sat there barely touched. It’s rare that I find something
that I’m not into at a fine restaurant. I was not into this dish at

As I mentioned a bad appetizer can almost ruin your appetite but the
duck breast molé can restore that appetite The thin slices of duck were a bit
overcooked for me having come to grips with rare duck at the American
but the sauce was phenomonal. One property of a good mole is one where you notice
a distinct heat without it being the slightest bit debilitating. This
was great.

I usually don’t go too far into desserts either but the chocolate
mousse-stuffed sesame biscuit served with a berry salsa and dusted with
cardamon and chocolate was amazing. The meal started slow but finished with a bang.

I don’t know if it’s entirely fair to write up Topolo after having
only eaten a lunch and another lunchtime entree (wonderful scallops on special)
at the Frontera bar but considering I’ll definately go back I figured
I’d add it to the record. It’s taking more chances than Frontera and so
far nailing 3 out of 4.

Also it’s a steal for lunch. You can get a table easily or even order off the menu at the Frontera bar. Menu items are comparable in price to
Frontera. They run roughly $14-18 about half the cost of dinner. They
do a $75 tasting menu that’s something surely we’ll go back to have.

445 Clark
Dinner reservations reccomended