A Rick Bayless Classic: Topolobampo
445 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Michelin Star: 🌟
Every time I go to Chicago, I try to make it to a few new restaurants. Over the past eighteen months, it's been harder and harder to abbreviate my list as the Chicago dining scene is always evolving. When one place closes, three more open making it exhausting for this Nashville girl to keep up.
During my most recent trip, I had a chance to experience Topolobampo, a Chicago staple and one of the essential restaurants in Rick Bayless' restaurant portfolio. Known for being one of the premier fine-dining Mexican restaurants in the country, I was kicking myself for not making it sooner. Bayless uses this venue to push the envelope and shows us that Mexican food is not just rice and beans. His approach to Mexican cuisine is not only elegant but innovative. Join me as I take you through this adventure in Mexican cuisine.
As we walked in, I immediately fell in love with the bright color palate that filled the restaurant. From the floral arrangements to the brilliant pieces of art on the walls, the space was quite elegant.
Admiring the art and perusing the menu, I wasn't quite sure where to begin. I wanted it all! Thank goodness our server was not only kind enough to walk us through various menu items, but he let us in on a few secrets along the way. Locking in our choices, we embarked on this adventure of Mexico with Hiramasa, Coconut, and Lime. Bayless uses Sashimi-grade Baja Seas Hiramasa Yellowtail and pairs it with tangy coconut crema, young coconut slivers and garnishes the dish serrano peppers and micro cilantro. Always on the quest for the perfect bite, I scooped up bits of the cilantro and grabbed a sliver of Serrano pepper to pair with the Hiramasa. It was sensational. Highly recommend ordering this dish to start as it's a wonderful way to prime your palate for what's to come.
In an effort to warm up from the Chicago chill I was experiencing, I selected the Sopa Azteca for my next course. This might possibly be the best chicken soup in town. When the dish is first presented, the bowl is filled with all of the goodness: chicken, avocado, local cheeses and crema. A crispy tortilla is placed on top of the assortment of flavors. The server then approached with a saucepan filled with the pasilla broth. The aromatics alone were delightful but then the broth was poured slowly soaking everything in the bowl. Heaven. What little crunchiness that remained in the tortilla paired beautifully with the crema and avocado at the bottom of the bowl. It was an outstanding dish and I can assure you not one drop was wasted.
I was ambivalent on which entree to order. Everything sounded so amazing and I knew I couldn't go wrong. Torn between the Chilaquiles Yucatecos or the Carne Asada, I decided to transition fully into lunch mode and opted for the Carne Asada, and I am SO glad I did. The flank steak was cooked medium-rare, which is the only way in my opinion, and served with Oaxacan black mole. If you haven't had an Oaxacan mole sauce, you really are missing out. While it may sound like a simple dish, it's more like a labor of love. The nuttiness and spicy flavors of the mole sauce provided the perfect compliment to the flank steak. This Oaxacan Mole sauce has over 27 ingredients and takes hours of preparation. Take time and soak up each individual flavor. Magically, fresh tortillas made their way to our table which served as the perfect mechanism for soaking up the extra mole sauce. You can take the girl out of the South but you can't take the South out of the girl :)
As if we hadn't indulged enough, we decided to order dessert. While I was fine sipping tequila, my friend has a certain sweet tooth and want to try the Cajeta Brownie Sundae. Honestly, anything with a brownie sounds amazing, so I was in. Each bite was more decadent than the last. As I dug into the sundae dish, I had bits of Mexican chocolate brownie, Mexican vanilla milk chocolate ice cream with cajeta and whipped cream. Even though I knew I would need to run many many miles to work this off, it was worth every calorie.
If you are an avid lover of Mexican cuisine, I highly recommend making reservations for Topolobampo the next time you are in Chicago. You can click here and get started. Curious as to the can't miss menu item? Check out the Sopa Azteca. Instantaneous love.
Until next time!