Sunday, August 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Frontera Grill Chicago

A Whole Different Kind of Mexican

I would say that I have learned over the years to love Mexican, learning over time that not everything is like Taco Bell. Initially, I thought Mexican food was limited to some ground beef or chicken, with equal amounts of pico de gallo, sour cream, shredded lettuce, refried beans, guacamole, nacho cheese, and salsa. For diversity, it would be all about what vehicle that combonation was delivered to you - whether it be a tostada, nachos, burrito, enchilada, taco, etc. So for years, I really just avoided the whole thing. The only exception was Chi Chi's seafood enchiladas and fried ice cream but that chain is long gone. . .

But I digress, in the last few years, I discovered and learned to appreciate Mexican cuisine. Truly love it. I think the food in our local area is pretty authentic as we live about a half hour from Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit. Los Galanes is a wonderful experience with great food and a colorful decor that makes me smile.

Then there is Grand Azteca in Madison Heights which is a regular haunt for us and probably the most influential contributing factor of my love for Mexican food. I have a few favorites but usually lean to a combination plate with a Chile Relleno, Potato Enchilada, Tamal, along with rice and beans. Oh and of course a frozen margarita with salt.

I have also tried some off the beaten path Mexican restaurants in our local area. I like to try new things. A tripe taco was a pretty unusual dish (at least I thought so) but quite delicious. The chili rellenos at a storefront were completely different than the ones I have had at other places but no less delicious.

Living in Royal Oak there are a couple of other restaurants claiming to be Mexican but we won't discuss them. I don't like them and don't like mediocre food. No melted nacho cheese sauce on some chips, no boring tacos or enchiladas. . . 

So when I say that Frontera Grill was a completely different kind of Mexican than I had ever experience, well, I mean it. My good friend was tasked with the charge to identify a restaurant for us to visit together during our recent trip to Chicago and she didn't disappoint. I should note that years ago, this particular friend was one that introduced me to all the joys and adventures that cuisine could offer and I am grateful for that. She did not disappoint with this pick!

Apparently this is a "hot spot" in Chicago and the owner started this restaurant after an extended visit to Mexico to research a new book with his wife. Apparently they return to Mexico every year, with their staff for more inspiration. It's inspired, and it's seasonal items offered with new twists. Do not even think about Mexican food in my Taco Bell analogy and furthermore it was a far cry from my local travels in Detroit too.

Ceviches are prominently featured on the appetizer menu. We chosed the trio that they were offering. 1. Frontera Ceviche (albacore, tomato and olive), 2. Yucatecan Ceviche (blue shrimp, calamari, orange and cucumber), 3. Tropical Tuna Cocktail (Sashimi grade tuna, avocado, tomatillo, and tropical fruit salsa). These were featured in three glasses and served with a generous amount of tortilla chips. The ceviche was very fresh with really great crisp flavors that married well together and offered a lot of different notes. Good stuff.

A Quesadilla was a completely different experience. One my kids were not used to, and not necessarily welcoming as a change, but it was quite good for a more sophisticated palate. This was more like an Empanada, filled with cheese and spongy dough texture. Beautifully hand crafted little pockets.

My main dish? Duck in Date Mole. I must say I have never had Mole before but I'm going to try it somewhere else because I'm pretty sure this was a completely new take on it with the date. The duck breast was marinated in spices and covered with the mole sauce, served in duck fat tamales with grilled bok choy and topped with duck prosciutto. Absolutely delicious. I also ordered a side of fried plantains with fresh cheese and sour cream. Oh they were sweet with a sticky coating and the cream just off set it. Mmmmm.

Yes we did dessert but I do not have photos. I think I was not on my game as I was too busy eating. We tried a duo of flans and a butter almond cake that was to die for.

Drinks? Of course. There were lots of offering with Mezcal. I actually had a Mezcal Margarita. I think the most interesting thing - and I will try it at home - is that they rimmed the glass with both salt and chili powder. It's something I had been toying with after reading Shake as it adds a whole new dimension to the drink (Shake is going to be a whole separate blog article, or many, as I now own that book).

I'm very hungry writing this but I know that while I'm inspired by this to eat some more food I won't be finding anything quite like this in town. This is a Chicago treasure.

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