One of the main places I wanted to check out in Chicago was definitely Chef Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill. I'm a HUGE fan of Top Chef and Rick Bayless won season 1 of Top Chef Masters.
445 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Frontera Grill uses fresh ingredients, sometimes organic and custom-grown! Their goal is sustainability and works with the community and local farms. It's pretty awesome!
I wasn't able to make a reservation since it was fully booked but the host told me that they take walk-ins. And they don't open on Sunday or Monday so Saturday night was the only opportunity for me to go.
We arrive around 6:30PM. It was sooo packed! We were told there was a 2-2.5 hour wait. OMG! I read online that this would happen... But sometimes people luck out and get a table earlier. So we put our name down and a contact number. They said they would call if something opens up.
Since we've been snacking all day, none of us were really that hungry yet so it was ok that we eat later. Normally I would never wait around for 2+ hours... We decided to walk around some more until it was time for dinner. We got back around 8:45PM or so and the amount of people inside the restaurant and bar increased! Geez. It was super loud in there from all the chatter too... They said it was another hour.. Sigh~ Good thing I got a snack during our 2 hour walk! Luckily we were seated about 40 minutes later... I typically don't like to eat this late and all the waiting has kinda dampened my excitement... But we were finally seated!! I already knew what I wanted. haha.
We were given some Spiced Mix Nuts to munch on while we looked over the menu.
Although I already knew what I wanted since Chef Rick talked about it a lot on the show.
We started off with Queso Fundido Clasico (Samuels artisanal Jack cheese with garlicky roasted peppers, homemade chorizo, Mexican oregano) $8~ for the table.
You take the cheese and chorizo and wrap it in the corn tortilla. Now, if you've read some of my past reviews on Mexican places, you know I hate corn tortillas (which is why I don't like enchiladas). But this isn't Tex-Mex cuisine, it's real Mexican food. The corn tortilla didn't have that weird corn flavor I hated. It was very mild and soft so I liked it! The cheese and chorizo had bold flavors and the duo of salsas complimented everything well. I just wanted the cheese to be hotter and more melty? It cooled down pretty quickly and started to harden a bit.
Since it was pretty late my bf and I decided to share. We got the Ensalada Otonal (Roasted Nichols Farm beets & grilled Seedling apples, Bayless Garden greens, caramelized onion vinaigrette. Toasted guajillo crumbles, crispy ham hock, pecans) $8.75~
I was in serious need of some veggies. haha. The Chicago diet so far has been very carb and sugar heavy. :P I liked the salad a lot. There were some interesting elements that you normally don't see in most places. For one the little pieces of crispy ham hock added that slight bacon-ish feel. I liked the way they roasted the beets, which were thinly sliced. All the different components added a complexity of flavors. And it was really fresh!
Enchiladas de Mole Poblano (Homemade tortillas rolled around Gunthorp free-range chicken, doused with Mexicos most famous mole. Black beans) $18~
This is the dish I came for. All through Top Chef Masters, Chef Rick Bayless kept mentioning his mole. I believe he made it for one of the final challenges. I love mole. I had really great mole when I went to Mexico 2 years ago so I really wanted to try his. I was a little hesitant because the mole was on top of enchiladas (since I don't like enchiladas). But after trying the corn tortilla with the Queso Fundido, I think I'd be ok with the flavors. It was a good portion size. The dish had a nice pop of color with the garnish on top against the black sauce and beans. The mole was great. There were so many different spices and flavors going on, and had a nice spicy kick that hits you at the end of a bite. The black beans paired with the mole really well. The enchiladas were good too but didn't live up to the mole as well as it should have. The only complaint is that the dish needed more texture. The corn tortilla was soft, the chicken was soft and tender, and the beans were soft as well. It really needed more of a crunch somewhere. Overall I liked it though.
One friend ordered the Pollo en Mole Verde Queretano (Garlic-marinated, wood-grilled Gunthorp chicken breast, Queretaro-style green mole (sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, poblano, plantain, sweet spices). Poblano-flavored mashed potatoes, braised greens) $23.50~
Also a good sized plate but needed some pop of color or something. The presentation was very neutral looking. The sauce was very interesting...with all the nuts and seeds inside, it reminded me of Thai curry. I liked the sauce with the mashed potatoes and greens a lot. The chicken was tender but not very exciting. It was definitely outshined by the sides and sauce.
Another friend got the Pescado en Crema de Calabaza (Wood-grilled day-boat catch (salsa negra glaze), spicy/smoky butternut crema. Roasted garlic spaghetti squash, lime-dressed arugula) $24.50~
The catch of the day was Cobia, which is similar to Mahi-Mahi...a firmer fish. This was really good! I particularly loved the sauce. So it seems like they are masters of sauces at Frontera Grill. haha. The fish was cooked well and had a nice glaze on top. I also enjoyed the spaghetti squash with the sauce. It was delicious.
Overall it was a pretty great meal. I enjoyed everything we ordered. But I have to say with all the expectations I had, I wasn't blown away... Maybe I just hyped it up too much? I would definitely recommend it for some great Mexican food, but I don't think it's worth waiting 2+ hours for...
Quality of Food:
~~ CHOMP CHOMP ~~