Chicago Tribune, January 7, 2005
Frontera Grill: 3 stars
Phil Vettel, Tribune restaurant critic
Hard to believe that Frontera Grill is closing in on its 18th birthday (in March). This restaurant always seems fresh and innovative, mostly because chef/owner Rick Bayless simply won't let his concept stagnate. The menu changes monthly, and one-third to one- half of every menu consists of new dishes. "We strive for new territory," Bayless says, and it shows.
Bayless' latest innovation is the Marisqueria Ecologica, a Mexican raw-bar menu offering exclusively sustainable (environmentally friendly) seafood. It's a compact menu of fresh oysters, seviches and other goodies, and it's the only menu that is simultaneously available at Frontera and Topolobampo (Bayless' haute- Mexican dining room next door).
Highlights of the Marisqueria menu include remarkably crisp and clean oysters, served with a habanero-lime mignonetta (not as spicy as it sounds) and one of two salsas. Typically there are three oyster varieties featured daily, and the best approach is to get a mix of all three in your dozen or half-dozen order.
The seviches are outstanding. The seviche fronterizo offers lime- marinated Alaskan halibut with tomatoes and olives; the seviche de calamari mixes pieces of squid with pickled jalapeno bits and pieces of avocado. Bayless has added a sampler, which includes two seviche varieties plus a shrimp-halibut cocktail.
The regular menu offers a number of enticements, ranging from familiar tastes (queso fundido, enchiladas in red mole) to more imaginative creations, including a fine adobo-marinated duck breast with a chile-laced Veracruz-style sauce, and perfect sea scallops over a red-peanut mole.
Service continues to blow me away. The fellow serving me knew the menu inside and out and offered knowing wine-pairing recommendations. The kicker: I was eating at the bar, and the knowledgeable waiter was, in fact, the bartender.
Note: Frontera Grill (and Topolobampo) will reopen from annual vacation on Jan. 11.
Recommended: Ceviche de calamari, sea scallops in red peanut mole, pistachio flan.
Open: Dinner and lunch Tue.-Sat.
Entree prices: $14.95-$24.95
Reservations: Same-day accepted.
©2005 Chicago Tribune