22 July 2013

Rick Bayless and the Chicago Heatwave

After 10+ years together, it can be challenging to come up with good ideas for birthday presents, so this year, I surprised G with a trip to Chicago so that we could eat at Rick Bayless' restaurant Topolobampo.

This past weekend was the date.  After a very early morning flight to Chicago, we hoofed it on the subway to our hotel where we dropped our bags and headed out into the city.

We stopped at Panera Bread for a quick bite (nothing special but fast and close by) and then wandered to see about getting tix for one of the Architecture Cruises.

(In a blaze of America is weird, we also got to have new Twinkies on the street.  They were being given as a promotion along with a button that said "I saved the Twinkie"  -- the guy laughed when I said we were Canadian and had never not had the Twinkie.... but I digress.

Chicago was H-O-T.  And we were out in it, soaking up the sun and dehydrating ourselves into seeming oblivion.  We went to Millenium Park and spent some time marvelling at the amazing public art.  It's really magnificent.

I had such a great time!  Then we went on the boat tour.  The tour was interesting, but really hot and we didn't have the most dynamic guide.  But the sun did G in and she got pretty sick and spent a few hours in our cool dark hotel room trying to rest up for Topolobampo.

And we did make it!

Rick Bayless did not seem to be in the restaurant, but after our leisurely walk, we were ready to sit down and tuck in.

We knew that we would likely order from the Tasting Menu because why not get the maximum amount to try since we don't live in Chicago and may never get there again... and they were willing to do substitutes for me since I did not want the ceviche course.  (Note: The menu we had was the last day this particular tasting menu was offered.  It was amazing.... see below for photographic proof!)

We were given an amuse bouche of some sort of pea soupy thing... Delicious, indeed!

It was really green tasting, and the pea flavour was certainly there.  It had a kick at the end from the chill that made it very tasty indeed!  (I had this with a Limonata type drink that was ridiculously refreshing.  I would say here, too, that the restaurant was beyond nice about the fact that we didn't order alcohol.  No guilt trips, no repeat questions, no attitude.  G explained that she had had a rough day and wasn't feeling her best, and they went out of their way to accommodate us!)

We both chose the Topolo Classics menu.  I did not want the ceviche, which I was able to substitute with the Farmers Market Mole Verde.  Described as a 'Chilled, herby green mole (thickened with hazelnuts, infused with hoja santa), local baby beets, green soy beans, green garlic', I was intrigued.

Bad picture, I know.  It looks like something the baby left behind, but the mole had such a nice fresh flavour to it that went beautifully with the beets.  The soy beans were fine, but the mole was just exceptional and unlike anything I've ever had.  

G had the ceviche or Ipswich Razor Clam and Baja Bay Scallop with an amazing Tamazula hot sauce jelly.  

 She really enjoyed it.  The fish was delicate and the flavour was incredibly bright.  The green sauce was fresh and tasty.  It was a good start!

We moved from this course to the Three Bites of Oaxaca course, mini tacos with aged beef tenderloin tasajo, classic chorizo was quails egg, and red chile pork loin cecina.  Oh my.

My egg had taken a tumble off the taco and looks like a globby bunch of scallop, but when reassembled, this dish was delightful.  The meat on all three of these was just ridiculously tasty and something I may try to recreate at home!

Our next course was Halibut and Lobster with Squash Blossoms.  One of my greatest realizations of the last few years is the love I have developed for halibut.  Never having been a huge fish eater, Jamie Oliver turned me on to the pleasures of Halibut and I have never looked back (nor forgiven him for making me love a fish that is so dang expensive in Canada!).  I was excited to see this on the menu, and I was not disappointed.

The meal came with delightful homemade tortillas, and the squash blossom was like a soup made with pumpkin seeds, poblano chile, white wine, and saffron.  It was delicious.  The halibut had a perfect crust, the lobster was cool, fresh, and bright tasting.  The squash sauce was just an absolute revelation of deliciousness.  Ridiculously good, and probably my favourite course of the night.

The meat course was up next and featured Rick's famous mole sauce.  (I believe this is the sauce that won him the Tp Chef Master's title.)  I have to say straight up, I have never been a fan of mole.  As a supertaster, I just find that many flavours in one place to be too much for me to handle, and it's often incredibly bitter.  But this, gosh, this was a substance I have never tasted anything like.  Smooth, rich, deep, complex, silky, and delicious.  (As an aside, I learned in my Coursera class that supertasters often do not like fatty foods (which I don't) and many green vegetables!  Playing to type again!)

This was wood-grilled 28 day aged prime roc with seared foie gras.  I asked for no foie.  It was served with classic Oaxacan black mole, corn husk steamed chipil tamal, black beans, and green beans.  It was really wonderful.  Served again with housemade tortillas, I ate up as much of the sauce as I could fit.  The steak looks really rare in this photo, but it was G's and much rarer than mine, but wonderfully meaty and delicious.

Feeling full, but never ones to turn down the final dessert course, we happily tucked into Warm chocolate mesquite cakes served with Mexican vanilla bean ice cream and sweet masa pudding.

Yep.  Those turnipy looking things were the masa pudding slivers, which were amazing.  The chocolate cake was deep and rich, hitting a super lovely spicy/sweet/bitter Mexican chocolate undertone.  The ice cream was so vanilla-y that this vanilla ice cream fan was in heaven.

The meal was wonderful.  The restaurant is nice but still casual, and there are literally platoons of servers there to help with every single things you could ever want.  To get to the bathroom, you have to walk through the kitchen, which is awesome because you get a birds eye view of what's going on!

At $105, the tasting menu was worth every single penny we paid.  The food was unique, flavourful, colourful, and highly evocative.  I loved being in Mexico City and tasting the clean lines of the more authentic Mexican food and Rick Bayless has captured that brilliantly.  I can't recommend this restaurant highly enough.  It was definitely worth a 1.5 hour plane ride.

Next up on our Chicago adventure.... Fabio Vivani's resturant Siena Tavern.

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