Chicago Magazine, July 2001
Topolobampo: 4 stars
by Rick Bayless
Who would have thought? Whoin an ethnically staunch Mexican restaurantwould have aspired?
For the last 12 years, we’ve been cooking at Topolobampo not so much to capture stars as to capture the vitality, generosity and guileless sophistication of true Mexican cooking. We’ve cooked dishes that stole my heart while I was studying Latin American culture in Mexico, while I was researching that country’s regional cuisines for cookbooks and articles, while I was there celebrating milestones in my and my family’s lives. We’ve cooked dishes inspired by our thousands-strong Mexican cookbook collection, some dating back to the early 1800s. We’ve cooked dishes that virtually leaped into being at our stoves, informed by Mexican tradition but made deliciously tangible with seasonal, sustainably raised food from our extensive network of local farmers.
I’ll admit, however, that a single Mexico City meal was almost single-handedly responsible for fueling these years of Topolobampo aspiration. Student-poor, my wife, Deann, and I rode a bus south down Insurgentes from our mid-town quarters to a tony enclave called San Angel. There we found San Angel Inn. Set among the lushness of gardens that had never known the ravages of frost, this ex-hacienda cum restaurant offered a luxurious moment of tranquility to take in (both literally and figuratively) the deeply rooted tradition of Mexican cooking and eating. Perfect picadillo-stuffed chiles rellenos and pork loin in long-simmered red-chile adobo; hammered copper chargers and hand-painted plates; wine from Santo Tom‡s in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California. It was an unforgettably multifarious experience, a gustatory symphony played in perfect harmonycomfortable surroundings, richly complex flavors, gracious people.
That’s the piece we’ve spent years rehearsing for our restaurant guests. Sure, critical acclaim brings enormous satisfaction, but it has never meant as much to me as hearing guests exclaim that our flavorsour placesang with the soulfulness they’d only known at an abuela’s (or tia’s) house in Puebla or Veracruz or any other Mexican town.
©2001 Chicago Magazine