Frontera Grill Review
Frontera Grill (http://rickbayless.com/) in Chicago…the celebrity chef Rick Bayless eatery has been called one of the best restaurants in the world at one point by some, other food lovers and chefs have thought that the idea of gourmet Mexican food is not only impossible but insulting. Having eaten many times at the Frontera Grill-inspired Nada here in Cincinnati, my wife and I have been trying to eat there for 3 years of trips to Chicago now, without any luck. In 2011 we were able to get seated at Topolobampo, the “high end” of the three Bayless eateries. It was an amazing experience, one I’ll never forget. For either place, you have to have a reservation months ahead of time, and they only do limited reservations at Frontera because, well, they simply don’t need to. What we did this time was show up at 4pm to wait in line until they opened. Sadly, it was about 7 degrees outside with the wind chill, but luckily we were able to wait the last 15 minutes or so in the hallway while they prepped inside for opening at 5:00.
While in line, the hostess gave us a couple of options for which section we wanted to eat in and then gave us a pager and an estimated time. Once in, we checked our coats and headed to the bar where we were impressed by the two-story wall of liquor and the extensive drink menu. We settled on a Trago Bravo (Blue Agave Silver tequila with a spicy sangrita chaser and a Serrano chile – kind of like a deconstructed Bloody Maria) for my wife and an Oaxacan Gold (Wahaka Joven Espadin mescal, wood-grilled pineapple, Mexican vanilla, fresh lime) for me. Both were well-made and tasted of excellent quality…they were amazing, really. The mescal really added a smoky flavor to the drink…it has to be experienced, I can’t do it justice in this review.
We started with the guacamole. It was fresh, albeit standard, guacamole. Nada adds cumin to theirs, and that really puts it over the edge as the best guacamole I’ve ever eaten. The chips were standard tortilla chips. We also asked, and received, jicama to use as well. However, as we delved into the dishes further, it went from standard to one wonderful dish after another.
We next had the “Trio, Trio, Trio” ceviche trio of Fronterizo (lime-marinated Hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, and green chile on crispy tostaditas), Yucateco (steamed Mexican blue shrimp and calamari with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, cucumber, and cilantro), and Coctail de Atun Tropical (sashimi-grade Hawaiian bigeye tuna with tomatillo guacamole and mango salsa). These were amazing…great flavor, very fresh tasting, they could have been served on a Mexican beach they were so good.
We followed up the ceviche with the Sopes Rancheros (crispy corn masa boats filled with savory shredded beef, roasted tomato, avocado, homemade fresh cheese). This was a great, and while the cheese almost overwhelmed the beef, it did so in a good way.
Mole Poblano Enchiladas (free-range chicken, grill roasted red onions) finished up our dinner, and to be honest, we could have done without the final dish. Not because it wasn’t awesome, because it was, but we were stuffed!
Overall, the place is excellent. Bayless does to Mexican food what other great chefs do to theirs…bring out complex flavors and makes eating an experience. While not as good as Topolobampo (which was perfection), it was also half the price, so we are talking two different things. This is a must during a trip to Chicago, even if you do have to wait in line during a 7 degree day.