Last August, Mr. CG and I made reservations to celebrate our October anniversary at Rick Bayless’ Topolobambo. Then we found out that we were going to be out of town on the date we had made the reservation and, watching the finale of Top Chef Masters, realized that Bayless was about to win. So we called the restaurant during a commercial to change our reservation to about a week later in October. Fine so far.
Something happened (maybe the reservationist at Topo was distracted watching the show) but the restaurant never recorded our change in reservations. We came home from our trip to discover that in Topo’s world we had missed our reservation and there was nothing available – for months. Mr. CG called the maitre d’, explained the problem and he was gracious enough to give us a late (9:30 pm) reservation for a week later.
Well that was last night. We arrived about 20 minutes early and were told that they couldn’t seat us early, but that we would be seated at the appointed time and invited to have a drink in the bar, which we did. I had a margarita, Mr. CG had a tequila blood mary. Both unremarkable, but pleasant.
We were seated promptly at 9:30 (not my favorite time for dinner, but, hey!). The service was friendly, intelligent, informed and never overbearing. We each ordered a tasting menu with matching wines. Mr. CG had the Top Chef Masters Tasting; I had the Adventurous tasting.
The Adventurous tasting included a tuna carpaccio and sea urchin with crispy tortillas, fresh lime and roasted garlic mojo, fried leeks, avocado, and tomato. Every bite had a different bit of garnish; every bite was a new treat. That was followed by what they called “popcorn sweetbreads,” small bits of fried sweetbreads with a green pumpkinseed mole, turnip, fried plantain and micro-greens. The mole had a cilantro tone at first that disappeared into something much more complex. Next were halibut cheeks that were good, but nothing next to the TCM black rice with lobster, octopus and other seafood. I was at capacity by the time the last course of grassfed short ribs cooked for 72(!) hours in a red chile and epazote broth. I have no pride and asked for it to be wrapped up for today’s lunch Dessert was a mesquite-bean cake with goats milk caramel Negra Modelo-poached pears and apples, dark beer chocolate. Somehow I found room for that.
The Top Chef Masters Tasting was amazing. It was clear how Bayless won. The food was both intellectually and emotionally on the mark. The food was complex, satisfying, and perfectly prepared. If you saw the show, you have a sense of it. I was lucky enough to taste it and, in spite of how good mine was, I was jealous. The wines complemented it very well.
It is nearly impossible to get a Topo reservation for months because of the Top Chef Masters results, but so worth the effort and the wait.
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610