I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh You Fancy, Huh? Part 3, Rick's Café

There is a smorgasbord of great restaurant/chef combinations in the Chicagoland area but few rival the success, the hype and the longevity of Rick Bayless and...

When Bayless opened it in 1987, Frontera was a revelation; before it, there simply wasn't a big time restaurant (or big time chef) whose sole focus was to showcase Mexico's culinary nuances and traditional recipes. Frontera Grill (and its fancy sister Topolobampo) has since brought Slick Rick (one of my many nicknames for him) much fame and praise: he's won nine James Beard Awards (aka Food Grammys), hosts his own PBS cooking show, won Top Chef Masters, and has written a heap of best selling cook books. Yeah, he's doing pretty well.

Well, guess what.
I don't give a shit.
Last time I checked, Bayless and his "authentic" Mexican food haven't passed my test. So, Ricky, I'll see your 3 successful restaurants, army of loyal followers, and flawless goatee and raise you one low-budget blog review. GAME ON!

Me and my Mexican-born dining companion (future Master of Dietetic Science, Cristain Alejandro Mendoza) sauntered up to Frontera at high noon on a Friday and threw down the gauntlet (oh, you best believe I brought the Foodlosophy Scale of Excellence out for this one).

Small Plates
--Coctel de Atun--
why isn't this glass bigger?!
Sashimi-grade yellowtail Ahi, mango-grapefruit salsa and tomatillo guacamole were mixed together to make this marvel of freshness. I hate to cave into hyperbole but everything from the rich avocado, to the tangy grapefruit and tomatillo, to the steaky/freshness of the yellow tail were a picture of flavor balance. I could eat this every day for the rest of my life. Round 1 to you, Rickster. I give this a HEFAP1.

--Tamal de Elote--
Two sweet corn tamales steamed in banana leaves, topped with homemade crema, queso fresco and wood grilled poblano peppers was lighter than the ingredients would suggest and sweeter than I thought it would be. A strong dish, but probably the weakest of the day. I give this small plate a grade of SACCASI2.

No pictures necessary here as this guac looks like almost any other guac. But it separates with itself with its perfect consistency (not too chunky, not too smooth), lack of overbearing limey-citrus flavor (lime is meant to keep guacamole from turning brown, not drown out other flavors), and balance of creamy and salty flavors. I give it a grade of AOBAG3.

--Cebollitas Asadas--

Mr. Mendoza gets credit for ordering both sides, including this one. Normally I wouldn't go near something like this; it's just lime seasoned grilled green onions. But I found them refreshing, delicious, and perfect in their simplicity. Definitely a HGAG4.

--Verduras en Escabeche--

When this was put on the table I said it looked like giardiniera. Essentially that's what it is. Pickled jalapeños, cauliflower, carrots and onions. That's all there is to it. But that's all it needs to be. Its spicy-vinegariness makes it an excellent palate cleanser in the same vein as sushi's pickled ginger. This side earned a grade of ADCFTC5.

Main Dishes
--Pato en Clemole Castellano--

Everyone and their mamma knows I'm a sucker for duck. It's chicken's more flavorful, moister, more amphibious counterpart and it should have it's own public holiday (oh wait). This dish celebrates duck to the Nth degree through precise cooking and a expertly blended flavors. The Gunthorp Farms breast meat is smoky, slightly gamey and has a low intensity heat (thanks to the chili rub) that lingers in the mouth like out-of-town businessmen linger in an airport T.G.I. Friday's. But Frontera didn't stop there, they kicked it up a notch by placing the perfectly cooked breast meat on top of a bread pudding-like sweet-iroquois-corn torta that is anchored in a sea of spicy-rich clemole. I could write a sonnet about this dish, but I forgot how and don't care to look it up, that's why I have this blog. Oh, there were also green beans. I give this dish a grade of HIJOLE6.

--Mixiote de Borrego--

Check out the picture if you want to know what a mixiote is, it's that neat little parchment paper package on the plate. But, just like new acquaintances and Tootsie Pops, it's what's inside that counts. In this case, it's a Gunthorp Farms lamb shoulder that's slow cooked with ancho-pasilla sauce and giant butter beans (aka lima beans). The result is a super tender, smoky, sweet and dark concoction that you wish there was more of. Ricky Ricardo and his team could've left it at that but instead they added a bushel of fresh frisee and watercress that bring some much appreciated astringency to the party and effectively balance out the whole freaking thing. This plate is only available on Fridays, so plan accordingly. I give this dish a grade of USFAGTPS!7.

--Sopa de Frutas--

Sopa is Spanish for soup. Frutas is Spanish for fruit. De is Spanish for Awesome (that's my best guess). So this dish's name roughly translates to "awesome fruit soup" and I couldn't agree more. The hibiscus sorbet sits contently in a cold lemongrass broth dotted with cilantro. They float tangerine and Meyer lemon gelatinas around in the liquid for good measure. The result is a tangy, effervescent and refreshing dessert that makes you feel less guilty about the pound of rich-spicy food you just inhaled. The sweet treat gets a grade of BAMF8.

Marisol, I like it... a lot.
-Blue Agave Margarita: It's just three things: Cazadores Blanco, Cointreau and lime juice. That's all you need. It's sour, a touch toasty, lean, citrusy-boozy, and possesses a distinct lack of sweetness that I really admire.
-Mezcal Margarita: I was feeling a little wacky when I ordered this blend of Torres brandy, Peychaud's bitters, limonada, and, of course, that bastard tequila cousin turned well-to-do artisan spirit known as Mezcal. It was smoky with hints of plum and caramel finished with a touch of citrus. Me gusta.
-Marisol: Get this: you can only get this Belgian style wheat ale at Frontera. That's because Goose Island9 makes it only for Frontera. Frontera and Goose Island are, like, best friends. Which is nice. Anyways, I had three of them over the course of the afternoon and, as far as I can remember, it was creamy, crisp, fruity, versatile, and very food friendly.

Authenticity Report
According to my inside man, Cristian, Frontera's food was fantastic in both its respect for Mexican culinary tradition and in quality of ingredients used (including the use of Mexican avocados. Oh, he can tell the difference, don't try him). He was taken back to his childhood by the cebollitas (a favorite childhood snack), the verduras, and the guacamole, while being impressed by the ingenuity of the coctel and the borrego. It wasn't all glowing nostalgia, however. Cristian thought many dishes, notably the pato and the tomal lacked the heat he was expecting while the tortillas, while clearly housemade, were lacking in both robust corn flavor and hearty firm texture. Overall, he gives Ricky and his crew two thumbs up.

Bottom Line
Like my south-of-the-border-hermano, I was impressed by Frontera. I had absurdly high expectations going in and was prepared to be underwhelmed by an overhyped restaurant. Nothing could be further from the the truth, Frontera has managed to keep their food bold yet balanced (this is the fifth time I've used that word), their manner affable, and their bathrooms clean (didn't think I would comment on that did ya, Ricky?! Well I did! Ha!). In the end, I have to take my metaphorical toque off to RBay and his team and, because I know they all read my blog religiously, give a shout out to our stellar baritone-voiced server Alfredo. Also, a big gracias to Mr. Mendoza for his insight, his company, and his fashion tips (we have the same bike helmet).

*In case you didn't catch it, this review's title is a reference to Casablanca, if you haven't seen it then do yourself a favor and get some culture.

1. Healthy, Engaging, Fresh and Perfect
2. Sweet And Corny Creamy and Smoky-Intuitive
3. An Oldy But A Goody
4. Humble Green And Great
5. A Discerning Choice For True Connoisseurs 
6. hijole, that's all I've got to say about that.
7. Unwrap Some Fun And Get This Party Started!
8. Bubbly And Memorable Finish.
9. Goose Island was sold to InBev subsidiary Anheuser Busch the day after I posted this, thereby making them less cool and much less local. Just thought you should know.
Frontera Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We're Just Ordinary People: Part 2, Ventre Urbaine

go to UB, you'll leave looking
like this!
Historians theorize that Thomas Jefferson --inventor of the airplane, the french fry and the cuisinart-- first proposed the idea of bringing your own booze to restaurants during a diplomatic trip to France in 17871. Our third president's alcoholic legacy is very much alive today in the form of asian, italian, and contemporary dining establishments scattered throughout our shining city. It's only right that my first documented BYOB adventure take place at Urban Belly.

Since it opened in twenty-aught-nine food critics and regular folk alike have been FREAKING OUT over Bill Kim's hole-in-the-stripmall send up to communal dining and simple but sophisticated asian cookery. So, on a downright cold and rainy weeknight, I saw what all the fuss was about.

The menu at UB is made up of only nineteen items separated into four parts: dumplings, noodles, rices, and sides. I thought I should try one of each. Because I care.
1. Asian Squash and Bacon Dumplings were tart in a citrusy way that  none of us saw coming. The physical bacon was hard to find, instead only the essence of it could be smelled and tasted (in the industry, we call this "ghost bacon"2). The dumplings were tangy, oniony, and squashy-sweet. While I enjoyed these morsels, I do have one critique and that is they were too...soft. I wasn't expecting them to be crispy or firm, but I was expecting them to have some bodily presence on the plate.
2. Shrimp, Coriander, and Sweet Chili Lime Broth Udon was sweet (go figure), and salty and downright delish. It must be said that udon is probably my favorite thing in world after gummy worms and Pharrell's Miami Apartment, so I'm a little biased here. The adjective that comes to mind with this guy is seafoody. The broth has the strong briny character of a premium fish sauce and the shrimp and chili lime spice are best friends...with my mouth. Shiver me timbers this bowl was good!

3. Pork Belly and Pinapple Fried Rice was pure heaven. How could I resist ordering pork belly from a place called Urban Belly? I couldn't. There was a veritable pile of diced pork belly on top of this fried bowl of pineapple laced long grain perfection. At first bite you feel nostalgic because the smokiness of the pork belly reminds you of those backyard barbecues your grandpa used to host down South (what? was that not part of your childhood?)3. At last bite you're left feeling sad that it's all over.

4. Wrinkle Beans were so good I wanted them to be a main dish. They were so good that I immediately wished Lake Michigan was filled with them instead of water so I could go on day long deep-bean dives into their szechuany/spicy/garlicy depths. These were so good that I am convinced that if the Federal Reserve4 installed them as our currency we could kiss this recession goodbye. Unfortunately, I failed to get a good picture of them so you'll just have to make the trip to Avondale and see them for yourselves.

Many BYOBers opt to bring a six pack of their favorite beer to BYOBs but considering I've been drinking beer at Homeric levels over the last two weeks, I went with wine. When it comes to asian food I usually like a crisp, acidic white (like Albariño, or fragrant/peppery Viognier) but it being cold and all I opted for a red. 
With Asian? 
I know it seems counterintuitive but as long as you steer clear of fat, alcoholic tannin bombs like California Cabs and Merlots you should be fine. 
In theory you want something that has enough acidity to make the ginger, garlic, and chile sing while also having the right amount of tannins to keep the fatty proteins (think beef short ribs, pork belly, and duck) from going all Genghis Khan on your mouth. I chose a Shiraz (Australian for beer...Syrah), which tend to be peppery, berry-fruited and dense, and complimented most of the dishes I ate.

Brass Tacks
The food was good. The atmosphere was festive. But the best part is that that you don't have to be a rich russian guy to order a bountiful meal here. I'm tempted to use the phrase bang for your buck but I won't, because I respect you as a person. As far as the whole communal dining thing goes I can say that I actually enjoyed hearing my neighbors conversations, sharing my food with them and making outrageous statements to them like claiming that I was a food columnist for the Boston Globe (for the record, I'm not). All in all, Urban Belly left my urban belly full and content. Namaste.

1. I give Thomas Jefferson credit for most of the great things that have occurred over the course of human history, because I'm a patriot, that's why!
2. No we don't, and, also, what industry?
3. My childhood didn't look anything like this either, I just wanted you to feel nostalgic. Is that a crime?!
4. I'm not sure what part of the government controls currency, or debt, or recessions but Federal Reserve rolls off the tongue better than Mint or Treasury, so suck it political science majors.
Urban Belly on Urbanspoon
Urban Belly

Friday, March 11, 2011

Street (Food) Fight: Part 4, Reuby Tuesday

It's been said that the Reuben is the only entirely invented* sandwich**. With Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen you get a close rendering (in spirit as well as ingredients) of Reuben Kay's original invention. With Grahamwich you get a jazzy update of the invention. In other words, what we have here is a classic battle between tradition vs. innovation.

When I go to an old school deli, I don't order the Reuben. Never have. Why? Because I don't like Thousand Island dressing, I consider sauerkraut an annoyance, and Swiss cheese is, like, 11th or 12th on my favorite cheese list (it keeps flip flopping with gorgonzola). I love pastrami and I love rye, so I usually order the pastrami on rye (along with a bowl of matzo ball soup and a bottle of Manischewitz for the table). But this comparison is all about tradition. So, out of respect for tradition, I give you... the Reuben (and a side to go with it).

The Breakdown:

Manny's has earned its reputation as a Chicago landmark by unwaveringly offering the same kosher comfort food since 1942. Chicagoans love Manny's for this reason. Politicians, cops, and your grandparents love Manny's for this reason. It is Chicago's restaurant in the way that only a deli/coffee shop/cafeteria can be.

-Manny's Reuben:
Rye: a good hearty rye, not gourmet but grilled to perfection; crispy on the outside, tender on the inside (like my ex... nevermind).
Swiss: it was completely melted but somehow didn't compromise the consistency of the bread, this is a very tricky trick and I'm still not sure how they did it.
Sauerkraut: again, I'm not a big fan of this sloppy German import but if you think I'm going to leave it off a Reuben then, comrade, you don't know me very well. The best thing I can say about Manny's sauerkraut is that it adds a quiet and somewhat pleasant sour note to the flavor of this 'wich.
Meat: in this case, Corned Beef. Three and a half inches of Corned Beef. The guys put a metric ton*** on the bread before it goes on the grill then, just when you think they're done, they toss another heaping helping of it on and slide the now 5 lb.*** sandwich across the counter to your waiting arms. Normally I'm a pastrami man (like my father and his father before him) but am I gonna argue with Manny's Reuben recipe? Fagetaboutit. It should be noted that the sheer volume of corn-enhanced-cow borders on comical; the rest of the components were an afterthought, the bread (usually the vehicle that carries ingredients) was hanging on for dear life.
Dressing: the Thousand Island is served on the side so I had the choice of dipping or dumping, again, showing why Manny's is the delicatessen of the people! As far as taste, this was text book deli shit: Creamy and tangy with a hint of paprika. It added some much needed diversity to this monster of a sandwich.

-Manny's Side:
The Potato Pancake: These are a must have when going to Manny's. The ingredients are simple: pureed potatoes, salt, pepper and breading.  They're fried. They're delicious. 'Nuff said.
(Here's an idea, take two potato pancakes and put mustard and pastrami in between, voila! Latke'strami™.

Grahamwich is a brand-spanking-new sandwich shop from Graham Elliot who is the executive chef/namesake of Graham Elliot (confused? check out the link). Grahamwich has Mr. Elliot's keen sense of contemporary/funky verve written all over it. The sandwiches range from Vietnamese (bahn mi) to Mexican (jabarito taco) to classic mid-American (grilled cheese).

-Grahamwich' Reuben:
Rye: a thick cut marble rye that the sandwich dudes took great care in selecting. They then grilled it separately from the ingredients.
Swiss: really starting to get creative here. Instead putting a slice of swiss on the sandwich and then grilling it these wacky sandwich scientists keep the cheese in a state of constant fonduey readiness. On top of that they use the snazzy French version of swiss known as GruyereTrès gourmande.
Sauerkraut: Graham had the clever idea to substitute shabby drabby cabbage with a hip and happening root vegetable, that's right friends, I'm talking about the rutabega. Long neglected in favor of its more attractive cousin the turnip, or relegated to overcrowded vegetable stews, this tuber is having a coming out party in part thanks to Graham and his sandwich minions. This stuff was packing heat, and by heat I mean zing and by zing I mean tang.
Meat: nothing but pure unabashed pastrami here. And, like the cheese and the bread, this component was heated independently of the rest of the sandwich. In this case a convection oven was used to bring the meat up to optimal temp. Well played, Elliot.
Dressing: straightforward Thousand Island here. In the final product the gruyere fondue and dressing blend together and drip all over your hands and clothes in a way that's so wrong but yet so right (if you catch my meaning and I think you do).

-Grahamwich' Side:
Popcorn: more specifically, g'wich popcorn. It's doctored up with parmesan, chives, sea salt, black pepper and truffle oil. If that sounds like a lot of flavor it's because it is.
Too much.
This stuff should be regulated by whatever government organization regulates plutonium. It is food plutonium; if mishandled it could end civilization as we know it. You HAVE TO mix this stuff up before eating it because all of the seasoning just sits on top waiting, just waiting, to decimate your unsuspecting taste buds.

-The Winner:
Despite my initial bias I have to give this one to Grahamwich. It kills me to write that because I have such respect for Manny's. But, in the end the G'wich Reuben proved its worth by being innovative without gimmickry. Every ingredient played well with its neighbor (with the exception of that popcorn which would only play well with a can of FourLoko). The flavors were loud and complex and made me think that somebody really put some thought into making this classic sandwich better.

Manny's tried and true set up is better: two pickles, one huge halved sandwich, and a potato pancake. These things just work together, gastronomically speaking. The food at Manny's is comfortable, reliable and reassuring in the way a good pair of underwear should be. Furthermore, Manny's is untouchable, and no runner up reuben is going to change that. Mazel!

*I'm not sure what this phrase means either but I saw it in the movie Quiz Show and thought it would be fun to throw in.
**Debate is hot on whether it was invented during a poker game in Omaha in the 1920's or by a German deli owner in New York City circa 1914. Personally, I'm rooting for Omaha in this one.
***these weights are used for comedic effect only, I don't actually know what a metric ton is.

Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli on Urbanspoon
Grahamwich on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 7, 2011

Street (Food) Fight: Part 3, Teach Me How to Dougie

after one hour of hell
I wasn't sure what category to put this review under. This is street food but I'm not comparing anything here. After all, how do you compare any place to (drumroll please).... Hot Doug's! It is a singular entity whose reputation has reached an almost legendary status.

Here's why: they are a Chicago foodie destination that modestly refers to themselves as a "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium." They put weird stuff in their sausage (like rattlesnake, cherries and cocaine*). They put weird stuff on their sausage (mostly in the form of unique mustards and exotic cheeses)**. They are concurrently gourmet and cheap, exclusive and laid back.

so irish, so good
-Traditional Irish Banger (with Guinness Stout Mustard, Cahill's Porter Cheese). I had no qualms about ordering this Gaelic goody because 1. I hadn't eaten breakfast, 2. This was my nickname in high school (I'm kidding, or am I?), and 3. St. Patrick's Day is next week. When biting into this taste o' Dublin, the first thing you notice is the cheese. It looks like the kind of cheese the Guinness people would make if they made something other than beer and really cool commercials. It tastes like the kind of cheese Guinness would make; slightly tangy/sharp like a good Irish cheddar, with a hint of coffee like a good Irish stout. The second thing you notice is the mustard, which doesn't taste like Guinness but does taste like moutarde, which I like. Oh, you also notice the perfectly cooked, if subtly seasoned banger, which was a nice bonus. This was my third favorite "hot dog"*** of the day.

-Spicy Beef Hot Link (with Coca-Cola BBQ sauce, and Mantoro Cheese). In case you were wondering what Mantoro cheese is, it's Michigan's version of Manchego (check my review of The Cellar to get my take on this Spanish jewel). If you're wondering what Coca-Cola barbecue sauce is, it's barbecue sauce made with Coca-Cola. Combine both of these mystical ingredients with a housemade hot link and what you get is a spicy, sweet, rich, and tart phenomenon. Seemingly simple but polished in execution, this was my second favorite "hot dog" of the day.

-Saucisse de Toulouse (with Sweet Garlic Mustard and Yellow Buck Camembert Cheese)
This saucy French sausage, usually used in fancy-dancy cassoulets, was dressed up with a velvety garlic mustard and creamy-dreamy camembert. It tasted pretty much like you'd expect it to taste; sweet and winey with lingering garlic and pepper notes. This taste-tour-de-force walked the line between sweet snack and savory meat-treat, and walked it well. Over all, my fourth favorite "hot dog" of the day.

decadence in hot dog

-Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage (with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse, Fleur de Sel).
If you thought the last hot dog sounded good to your inner francophile, then you're going to downright LOVE this one. France's best known liver, mushroom, salt, and mallard join forces here to make this a very delicious, if rich, marriage of meat, bun and condiment. This one was a show stopper but it ended up tied for third on my favorite "hot dog" of the contest.

Nobel Prize worthy
-Cherry and Apple Pork Sausage (with Sir William Pear Mustard, and Vosges Bacon Chocolate).
A revelation. That's the only word for a chocolate topped, syrupy sweet mustard drenched, cherry and apple imbued meat wonder. Like so many other strange sounding coalitions (pineapple and pizza, Harold and Maude, shorts and blazers, Splinter and the Ninja Turtles), this works. It's everything you could want in food; sausage, chocolate, bread, and sauce, then throw in some bacon flavor and...what's left to say. It's perfection. It's a must order. And it was my favorite "hot dog."

-Duck Fat Fries. Only available on Fridays and Saturdays, these fries are one of the big reasons why Doug's is Doug's. They are the same hand-cut fries Doug's normally uses but fried in rendered duck fat instead of the usual canola/peanut oil. Truth be told I don't think I'm enough of a fry connoisseur to fully appreciate the fineries of these les frites au gras de canard. They were good but if you gave me the regular fries instead, I don't think I'd miss the duck.

-Chili-Cheese Fries.
Now these, THESE are fries. Appropriate amounts of chili (tons) and gooey yellow cheese (some) made this calorie laden number a hit amongst the still defrosting members of my posse.

Yes, ordering a bounty like this (I left off three hot dogs, oops) would subdue even the most stout midwesterner but when you wait outside for an hour in pelting snow and subfreezing temperatures, you order a fucking bounty, because you've earned it and because you're a bit delirious. In case you hadn't heard by now, there is always a wait at Hot Doug's and the wait is worth it (even if I still can't feel my face).
No, Hot Doug's is not your quintessential Chicago hot dog place (it's so much more) but it is where you should take your friend/future father-in-law when they come to town.

*no cocaine was present in any of the food, that would be illegal. But some of their creations are as addictive as cocaine.
**this sentence, taken out of context, is hilarious.
***none of the food reviewed was, technically speaking, a hot dog (hence the quotation marks). That's because I can get a really good chicago dog lots of places and this place makes their own sausage and puts crazy wild condiments on them. Can you blame me?
Hot Doug's on Urbanspoon
Hot Doug's

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oh You Fancy, Huh? Part 2, Mexique-can

Let me get historical on your ig'nant ass for a second. The Mexicans and the French are age old foes. In fact they tend to hate each other. On the one hand, the French have looked across the Atlantic with disdain at their romance-language brethren ever since Ignacio Zaragoza kicked their snail-eating asses in the Battle of Puebla. Mexicans, on the other hand, have hated the French ever since Napoleon III joined forces with the Brits and Spaniards and tried to get physical with them in the Franco-Mexican War. Historical enemies they may be, gastronomic friends they may soon become.

Enter peacemaker Carlos Gaytan. His West Town eatery Mexique is a heartfelt attempt to bridge the gap in this ongoing food war. Before we go any further I have to put my cards on the table: I love, LOVE Mexican food. It's my comfort food. It's my rock. I grew up eating it and I will likely die from eating too much of it. I respect French cuisine. It's the grandfather and standard-bearer of fancy food, fancy sauce, and fancy wine and every good chef pays homage to them in some way. So, needless to say, I was very excited to try this one-of-a-kind culture combo.

Because it's part French, Mexique doesn't do margaritas (or tequilas, or beers, or anything). They do wine. And what fine wine it is. I ordered a bottle of Jigsaw Pinot Noir from Oregon. Like any respectable Oregon noir it was light bodied and earthy, with the usual suspect esters of cherry and blue berries. A WIDE variety of foods were ordered and this versatile beast played nicely with all of them.

The review features the debut of my Foodlosophy Grading Scale of Excellence, look for it at the end of each segment.


1. Betabel: a big time port poached beet topped with a battered and fried goat cheese puck made this starter as perdy as it was tasty. The tangy cheese/beet combo is a common theme in the restaurant world right now but the Mexique peeps nail it here with its crispy/velvety texture and sexy presentation. This starter gets a grade of FAF*.

2. Trio of Sopes: a magnificent trifecta of diverse flavor profiles is a quick summary of this well plated dish. I was instructed to start with the escargot and chimichurri (which is quickly becoming my favorite Spanish word) which was rich, buttery and tangy. Second, I hopped over to the shrimp provençal and avacado mousse and I wanted it to be Hunny I Blew Up the Kidized because it was soooo good. And, just in case you were wondering, avacado mousse is just a smoother version of guacamole (not a bad thing). I finished with the young coconut and Xico mole sope. This dish tasted a lot like your "typical" mole in that it was sweet and smoky with chocolatey undertones (just like my ex girlfriend (can't stop, won't stop)) and very little like the young coconut it enveloped (though I'm not sure I'd be able to distinguish young from old coconuts). With the impressive performance of this dish I give it a VTAT**.

Main Courses:

1. Cordero: this herb crusted rack of lamb was served with a lamb shoulder barbacoa sope that seemed to have no connection to the overall theme of the plate but it was so delicious that I have no complaints. The rack de lamb was a bit on the rare side but that's the way I like my meat so, again, no complaints. The sauce had the appearance of barbecue sauce and the spice of a rookie New York drag queen. The flavors were bold, complex and abundant on this plate, though I'm not sure they all played well together. This dish gets a grade of DBC***.

2. Pan Seared Skate Wing: This chondrichthye is notoriously temperamental to cook but Carlos and his crew handled this delicate beauty with a gentle and attentive hand. It was served with sauteed grapes, chopped yukon golds, serrano chiles, microgreens and tied together with a subtle citrus butter sauce. It was buttery yet light, fun yet serious, rustic yet sophisticated (I just ran out of contradicting terms). I give this one a grade of NTS****.


Enchiladas: Enciladas?! For dessert?!! Sounds wild but Boy Howdy did these crisp fried crepes filled with chocolate ganache, served with toasted walnuts, ancho chile chocolate fondue, and vanilla bean ice cream hit the spot after a very filling first two courses. I give this hot number a GBIAASFD (STTIC)*****.

Brass Tacks:
This sleek little spot keeps it simple, puts out a hell of a plate and infuses their dishes with pizazz, heart and scrumtrelescence. As far as uniting the otherwise disparate flavors of the Continent and Old Mexico, I'd say the good people at Mexique are doing a commendable job but their work is far from over.

*FAF= Fun And Fresh
**VTAT= Varied, Tasty And Tantalizing
***DBC= Delicious But Confusing
****NTS= Not Too Shabby* (*I just stole that from a movie trailer)
*****GBIAASFD (STTIC)= Good But I'm Also A Sucker For Desserts (So Take That Into Consideration).
Mexique on Urbanspoon