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Lunch at Topolobampo

2009/09/03

On my previous visit to Chicago, I had a fantastic dinner at Mixteco where they served up some outstanding Mexican food. As a result, I wanted more! We don’t get many tasty eats up here when it comes to that type of cuisine. Unfortunately most people in Toronto seem to think Mexican food consists of burritos and tacos and nothing else. I was quite excited to eat at Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo, especially after seeing his dishes on Top Chef Masters. Topolo was busy before Bayless’ win, and is even busier now. Its sister restaurant, Frontera Grill, doesn’t take reservations and was lined up for two blocks before they even opened for lunch. Fortunately my very wise and savvy friend planned in advance and made reservations well before the TCM finale. Aside from an issue with one dish (that was quickly taken care of), the food was outstanding. Superb! Especially the mole. Oh mole, so tasty!

Guacamole

Guacamole

Shortly after sitting down we were presented with a very tasty and fresh guacamole. I wanted a vat of it to take home as well as a couple bags of the chips served alongside.

Ceviche Trio

Ceviche Trio

In typical fashion, we shared all the dishes. It was impossible to select from the ceviche options on the menu so we went for the sampler trio instead. They were all completely different so it was nice to taste each one.

Ceviche Fronterizo

Ceviche Fronterizo

First up was the Fronterizo – lime-marinated Hawaiian blue marlin with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, jicama and green chile.. This was the most delicate of the three and a good starting point. Well seasoned, digging into the citrus in bottom of the glass really balanced out the marlin. The texture of the ceviche was outstanding!

Ceviche Yucateco

Ceviche Yucateco

The Yucateco was my favourite ceviche of the three because I love calamari. Steamed organic shrimp and calamari were tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama and cilantro. I also liked how the citrus and habanero came together. It worked nicely with the first blue agave margarita I ordered (there were several consumed).

Ceviche Fronterizo

Ceviche de Atun "Chamoy"

The final ceviche was the Atun “Chamoy” – sashimi-quality Hawaiian ahi tuna tossed with crunchy jicama and tangy, fruity, spicy red chile-apricot chamoy salsa. This was also delicious and the favourite of my friends. I had it just behind the Yucateco, but we’re splitting hairs here. They were all amazing and more than enough for the three of us to share. I still laugh when I hear waiters in the States say that the portions “are on the small side so you can have a selection of plates.”

Sabana de Jitomates

Sabana de Jitomates

After the gorgeous and refreshing ceviche trio, we moved on to a nice summery salad of locally sourced heirloom tomatoes (with some as local as their rooftop garden), nasturtium leaf, sweet corn jellies, Mexican gherkins, chile-tossed muskmelon, and guajillo-sherry dressing. I love great tomatoes. With the tomato blight we’re experiencing in Ontario it’s been slim pickings this year, so I jump at any opportunity to eat the good stuff.

Atun de Mole Negro

Atun de Mole Negro

This was easily the dish of the day and quite possibly of the entire weekend. Seared Hawaiian ahi tuna in Oaxacan black mole with plantain-filled tamale, grilled nopal salad, roasted knob onions, three nut crunch. Simply put, it was f***ing fantastic. Sorry for the language, but it’s the only way to describe it. This is the mole that Chef Bayless described on TCM as having 27 different spices (yes, 27!) and took him over 20 years to perfect. Perfect is damn right. It was amazing! The layers of complexity were unlike any other mole I’ve ever had. The finish went for minutes. One replay after another and each time a different nuance would come to the fore. Apparently there was tuna and other stuff on the plate but none of us cared. Just give me a spoon since the other stuff was only there to sop up the mole. When we were finished with the tuna, there was still a boatload of sauce on the plate. Our waiter asked if he could take it. We all looked at him and said, “not a chance!” He brought us a stack of warm tortillas so we could scoop the mole like dal. I think I can still taste it!

Barbacoa de Pato

Barbacoa de Pato

Apparently there was more food after the amazing mole. One friend had the Barbacoa de Pato – Gunthorp duck two ways. Seared breast, slow-braised leg (red chile, avocado leaves), pan juices. Braised garbanzos, tomatillo-avocado salsa, verdolagas (purslane) salad. The duck was beautifully cooked to medium-rare on the breast and had well-seared fat layer.

Pozole de Hongos

Pozole de Hongos

My other friend ordered Pozole de Hongos – wild mushroom pozole with slow-poached egg, roasted baby turnips, Napa cabbage, Sun Gold tomatoes, Mexican oregano. I was really looking forward to trying this dish but the sauce was so over-salted it was completely inedible. Think soy sauce, but then dump in another handful of salt. The waiter quickly removed the plate after it was mentioned and the chef agreed that it was not right.

Tacos de Pescado

"Tacos" de Pescado

The replacement dish that came from the kitchen was “Tacos” de Pescado – mahi-mahi two ways (poblano seared, beer-battered), with fresh-made tortillas, homemade lime mayo, Tracey’s pea tendril salad, pickled vegetables, avocado-tomatillo salsa, lime-Corona “air.” While the beer-battered mahi-mahi was good, the poblano seared was outstanding. Well cooked, very flavourful, and perfectly moist. Combined with a small dollop of lime mayo it was delicious.

Cuatro Cositas

Cuatro Cositas

My entree was the Cuatro Cositas, a sampler that included Cochinita Pibil with habanero pickled onions, tamale with shitake mushrooms and queso fresco, and chile-marinated gulf shrimp with spicy black bean sauce. Cochinita Pibil was suckling pig, picked, pressed, cut into squares and then seared. I found it to be slightly on the dry side and would have benefited from a touch more sauce. I much preferred the preparation at Mixteco. As an interesting side note, a former chef at Topolo is now at Mixteco. The tamale was delicious, but the killer was the shrimp, especially for the spicy black bean sauce.

Blue Agave Margarita

Blue Agave Margarita

The three-and-a-half hour lunch with plenty of lively conversation was accompanied by many blue agave margaritas – Cazadores Blanco tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice – shaken table-side. They were delicious and refreshing; a perfect foil for everything we ate. I really enjoyed the meal at Topolo! Definitely check it out if you’re in Chicago.

Next up … Pizza at Great Lake.

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