frontera grill

1:19 PM Sian Mei Yeoh 2 Comments

this was a long time coming. 

after trying rick bayless' mexican street food offerings at xoco and anticipating for many years (this restaurant was the the first to make it onto my wishlist), i was very excited about the dinner reservation at frontera grill on saturday of thanksgiving weekend. (i made reservations 2 months in advance and that only secured me a table for two at 5:45pm). in fact, frontera grill is the first restaurant rick bayless opened when he first moved to the windy city in 1987.

the weather on saturday evening was pretty crappy but i was determined not to let that dampen my spirits. we entered the restaurant and was greeted by a lively atmosphere - just like how you'd imagine a mexican restaurant to be.

both tapolobampo and frontera grill share the same entrance so don't be confused like we were when we were trying to figure out if we were at the right place.

the interior were clad in bright colors of yellow and red, adorned in several colorful art pieces and paintings. this theme was actually carried through to their menu and its food.

they started us out with a bowl of mixed nuts spiced with mexican flair.

there were just so many things to try but we started out with a couple of drinks.

seasonal cocktails :: holiday margarita | cazadores blanco tequila . fresh-squeezed orange juice . crimson prickly pear . aperol st. elizabeth allspice dram. ($12)

ryan loved this drink so much that he ordered a second one. he commented that there is one element of the drink that just kept him coming back for more - he guessed it might have been the prickly pear.

soft drinks :: scarlet wave | fresh limeade floating with 'jamaica flower' tea. peychaud bitters (on the rocks or shaken at the table) ($3.50)

LOVED it! jamaica flower is really hibiscus tea so the drink had a sexy tinge of red. the limeade was tart which was balanced out by the sweetness of the hibiscus tea. yums! and they frosted the rim of the glass with hibiscus sugar for a more hibiscus floral punch. even ryan thought this was an excellent drink.

appetizer :: trio, trio, trio | sampling of ceviche fronterizo, ceviche yucateco & coctel de atun tropical ($18.50)

so basically a ceviche trio. perfect for the indecisive and for those who likes varieties (both in my case)

o1 ceviche fronterizo | lime-marinated hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, cilantro & green chile

o2 ceviche yucateco | steamed mexican blue shrimp & calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama & cilantro

o3 coctel de atun tropical | sashimi-grade hawaiian yellowfin tuna, avocado-tomatillo guacamole, tangy papaya salsa. 

i really enjoyed the three offerings on this plate with fresh tortilla chips which was crispy but not greasy as the perfect vehicle for textural difference. the first one had the fish gently cooked by the acidity of the lime and more of a reflection of the classic ceviche. ryan guessed that my favorite was probably the second one... i have to admit he knows me too well - the yucateco has shrimp that is cooked perfectly which its natural sweetness coupled well with the tangy and the lil rich creaminess from the avocado. the third one has a different flavor profile than its two other counterparts - it had less of a lime citrus tartness. the sweetness from papaya and the guacamole just paired beautifully with the fresh tuna. a great way to start. 

specialties ::  carne asada a la oaxaquena | creekstone natural black angus rib steak (marinated in spicy red chile & wood grilled). black beans, sweet plantains with sour cream, guacamole ($29.50)

if you've read my blog often enough, you'd probably know that black beans is really not my thing. so we asked for the black beans to be served on the side/separately which our server was very nice to accommodate our request. lovely grilled marks on the meat with grilled caramelized plantains dressed with sour cream and a sprinkle of queso fresco (i think). medium rare is the only way to go which they nailed perfectly.

this steak was featured in the first 'best thing i ever ate: filled with envy' and i was convinced i needed to try this. this steak is marinated in the spicy chile marinade, grilled, then here's the interesting part. the chef would take that semi grilled meat and dip it in the marinade again and then returned to the grill to cook it to desired done-ness. i thought it was tasty hunk of meat with mild flavors but seasoned well and goes perfectly with the sweetness of the plantain as well as the creaminess and tangyness of the sour cream and guacamole.

daily & seasonal specials :: costillas enchipotladas  | chipotle-glazed gunthrop farm pork back ribs. tangy cabbage . black beans ($24)

+1 to our server who recommended this daily special of delicious smoky, slightly spicy and meaty succulent ribs! literally finger licking good. i love the spicy and smoky chipotle mingling with the sweet flavor of the sauce all smothered and coated tender ribs made this a match made in heaven :) now, for ryan, steak always tops his favorite meat list but this was so delicious that he prefers this to the carne asada to which i responded in disbelief. i almost had to pry this dish away from him. lol.

our server explained that this was one of the more popular dishes at frontera grill and had a lot of patrons asking why they don't offer it on the regular menu. one bite and i understood why. one downside on the plate was the tangy cabbage slaw which i thought was negligible and ryan felt that it was just thrown together without much thought (in retrospect, i concur). in fact, they could have probably gotten away with just serving the ribs and we would both be happy eaters.

we weren't planning on getting a dessert but when we overheard the other table ordering dessert - we were tempted...

dessert :: tartaleta de chocolate, maracuya y mezcal | gooey dark chocolate-passion fruit tart (oaxacan chocolate-almond crust), pomegranate-mezcal ice cream, tangy passion fruit gelatinas ($9)

unlike the rest of our meal, the dessert was just okay. they weren't kidding when they described the passion fruit gelatinas as tangy cos ryan snickered at my puckered face when i popped one in my mouth. (> ~ <") the tart itself had a bitter undertone and texturally pleasant from the crust to the filling. the best part was probably the ice cream which i enjoyed very much so. oh and the flowers (which were marigolds) were more than just garnishes ~ it actually paired well with the rest of the components in the dish.

i think the whole dinner experience was elevated by the ever friendly and knowledgeable server we had. he even went back to the kitchen and asked about the flowers on the dessert just because i was curious. 

frontera grill has definitely lived up to my expectations with their contemporary twists to mexican classics. it has layers and depths of flavors you'd expect of rick bayless's creations. i say plan a couple of months ahead and make reservations (yes, they take reservations now and you won't have to wait for hours) - it's worth it.

disclaimer  this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others.

Frontera Grill on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Hi! I just found your blog & love your approach to food and living a healthy lifestyle! I can’t wait to read more of your great ideas!

Sian Mei said...

Thank you ! I'll be posting more entries soon just put of town right now but I have some stuff ready to be written ^^