I do not know how many of you watched the Top Chef Masters series like I did. I loved seeing chefs that I have admired for years compete to win money for the charities of their choice. What was even more fun was to see a local chef, Rick Bayless, win the whole thing for a charity that helps support local farmers. When I heard that Topolobampo was recreating the winning meal, I knew that I had to go. All that I could think about was the look on the judges faces after they tasted the black mole that Chef Bayless said took him twenty years to perfect.
It was a months wait for our reservation and we had a choice of three different tasting menus( $85-90) with five courses each. My dinner companions are my niece, Jenna, and my good friend, Sarah. We chose the Top Chef Masters Finale winning meal, of course, and the Adventurer’s Tasting menu. They also could be paired with wines for every course for $55, which we chose not to do because of our morning schedules. I have to say that the sommelier at Topolobampo is top notch and I always feel that I learn something from her every time I go there.
Course One: Top Chef Menu
Hickory-smoked quail with Hickory House barbecue sauce. Iroquois cornbread croutons, spicy watermelon salad, roasted garlic slaw, chili threads.This was delicious. This is the first of many sauces that I would later dream about.
Hawaiian ahi tuna carpaccio and fresh Maine sea urchin with crispy tortillas, fresh lime and roasted garlic mojo. Fried leeks, avocado, sungold tomato. The sea urchin is always something I enjoy. This is an ode to fresh ingredients.
Course two: TCM
Seared Hawaiian ahi tuna in Oaxacan black mole with plantain-filled tamale, grilled nopal salad, roasted know onions, three nut crunch. It was worth the wait! The mole was so perfect. I have a friend that says, “Sometimes food is simply the vehicle for the sauce.” The mole was just so unique, so different, nothing that I could cook at home. It took Chef twenty years to perfect and you can taste it. I licked the plate with no apologizes.
“Popcorn” sweetbreads with pumpkin seed mole. Roasted local turnip, fried plantain. Bayless garden micro greens. This was my other favorite of the night. This mole is totally different in character, but equally delightful as the black mole. The balance of this meal was perfect. Crispy, creamy, nutty, rustic, sour, and sweet. The greens were a perfect play with this sauce. I wish that Chef would knock on my door with a bowl of this made especially for me right now. Alas, no knock to be heard.
Course Three: TCM
Black rice “a la tumbada” with Maine lobster, tender squid, PEI mussels, grilled octopus and homemade chorizo in fresh tomato-jalapeno broth. Pickled vegetables, prosciutto pearls. Okay, you are tired of hearing about the sauces, but this rustic tomato sauce was another plate licker. Yes, I wanted to lick my plate, but did not. I had to talk myself out of it, okay? Black rice, prosciutto pearls… so different, so good.
Pan-seared halibut cheeks with creamy squash blossom sauce. Fresh shell black beans, garlicky “wilted” spinach, Oaxacan string cheese, tortilla crunch.
I would love to tell you that I had pictures of the next course, but I do not because this is when we spotted Mikhail Baryshnikov at the nearby table and started giggling like school girls. Jenna and I are trying to subtle as Sarah took his picture. It was so much fun. I am sure we were very subtle.
Overnight-braised Maple Creek Farm suckling pig “pibil” with crispy pig’s foot, sour orange jellies, habanero-pickled onions, sunchoke pudding. Okay, the pig’s foot was de-boned and formed in to a cylinder. Crispy on the outside and tender delicious on the outside. It was so good. I wa actually thinking that I wished that I could stick these tasty pork goodies in my son’s lunch box. He would be crazy for it. Also, I think this was the dish that Mikhail, baby, was eating.
Rich, red chile-and-epazote broth with 72-hour-braised Tallgrass short rib. Corn masa dumplings, sour prickly pear, green peas, chayote. I have to admit where I am coming from… I have never met a slow braised piece of meat that I do not love and this one is no exception, then throw in dumplings… you will have me completely.
Course Five: Dessert, TCM
Tart of Mick’s height-of-season peaches. Prairie Fruites Farm goat cheese (infused with Earl Gray) and toasted puumpkinseed frangipane. This was all delicious, but the peaches were the stars.
Warm, nutty mesquite-bean with cajeta (goats milk carmel). Negra Modelo-poached Klug Farm pears and apples, dark beer chocolate. Vanilla ice Cream with some kind of salty crunch topping. Oh, oh, oh my. This was my favorite dessert. The cake was great, the carmel sauce was amazing, but what made me almost devour Jenna’s entire plate was the ice cream with the salty topping. It was just so good. I have had nuts on top of a sundae before, but this was different. The ice cream was homemade and godsmacking good, then you add salt and make it puurrrfect. What a beautiful ending.
In closing, I would highly recommend Topolobampo anytime. I have lived in Chicago for twenty years and it has always been a month waiting list to get in. Growing up in the restaurant business has taught me that no restaurant can sustain that long with out serving good food, attention to service, and being good to your employees. In this time of my life as a single mom trying to recreate her career, my restaurant dollars are spent with much thought behind them. I am so glad that I went, planning my night, asking some of my favorite people to join me. I need to get out more, but in the rare moments that I do, they should all be like this one. Bon appetit!