Random header image... Refresh for more!

Undisputed Top Chef

About a year ago I visited Frontera Grill in Chicago with some ill intent. My earlier visit to Topolobampo was less than thrilling and I thought I had to at least try Frontera Grill before I declared Hugo Ortega the real king of modern Mexican cuisine in the US. In a mind of a committed narcissist, such declarations actually carry weight and I had to be sure.

For one reason or another, Topolobampo failed to capture my imagination. Coming from Houston, the Mexican flavors seemed far too timid and got lost in technique that was unnecessarily French. The meal was a disappointment to my Tex-Mex bred table mates as well. Add to that the Bayless mania in the media, the cookbooks, the grocery store salsas and you have yourself a better than average celebrity chef target that deserves to be taken down a notch or two.

IMG_2356

I was wrong. From a trip that took me through a bewildering number of courses at Alinea, L2O, Graham Elliot and Moto, the dishes I remember most vividly came from Frontera Grill. After spending a night ingesting otherworldly foams, gels and aerated frozen solids, the mouth feel of a chili, tomatillo and lard laced tamale felt like food therapy.

IMG_2384

Unlike what I found at Topolobampo, the relatively simple dishes at Frontera were bold, bright and complex.These were some of the best executed renditions of these Mexican dishes I’ve ever had, prepared with the higher quality ingredients and precision uncommon in other Mexican restaurants (unfortunately, this includes Hugo’s, which at the time took a walk on the dark side and had serious consistency problems). Flying back home all I could think about was that I really should have gone to Frontera for dinner, too. 

Watching Rick Bayless stun the judges on Top Chef Masters, I am not at all surprised they recognized him as an enormous talent and I no longer feel the need to question whether he is unfairly recognized by the media. Anyone who cooks Mexican food with as much confidence and skill as Rick Bayless deserves all the praise in the world.

I only wish he’d open a restaurant in Houston…

Related posts:

  1. The California Connection This week I am heading out to San Francisco with...
  2. Will Houston chefs finally infiltrate ‘Top Chef’? Yesterday Alison Cook mentioned that Bryan Caswell was in New...
  3. Top Chef Houston Ok, so Top Chef really isn’t coming to Houston, although...
  4. Houston Restaurant Week picks I am sure this isn’t news to people reading this...

3 comments

There are no comments yet...

Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment