frontera grill

1:19 PM sians 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


cupcakes for courage

2:14 PM sians 0 Comments

since i am already on the topic of cupcakes.. ^^

there has been a surge of cupcake trucks since last year which at one time had been a novelty for me, has got me saying, 'what? another cupcake truck?' however, good thing cupcakes for courage has such an interesting name - enough to perk my interest in their cupcakes and their concept. 

cupcakes for courage comes in this bright green truck and i first crossed path with this truck on my way to get my daily fix of caffeine. coincidentally, my boss was craving for something sweet that day and we were talking about it that morning. so i decided to get one for her and one for myself before i could even go get my coffee (you can see i was excited and didn't quite think it through). i was struggling with two cupcakes in hand when the friendly cupcake guy said he would keep it for me while i go and get my coffee. he even joked that he would still be here when i returned and not run away with my cupcakes. hehe.

usually, i feel bad giving into my sweet cravings especially with cupcakes but it was a lil hard to feel bad about spending and adding a couple of calories for the sake of raising a cause for cancer research and the "ride jeane ride" foundation. btw, it's $3.25 per cupcake. 

strawberry cupcake | moist cake baked with strawberries throughout and a light strawberry cream cheese frosting. garnished with dehydrated strawberry

the cupcake was just as delicious as it was accurately described. it was a moist cake and the cream cheese was light. there were a distinct natural strawberry flavor in its natural state - sweet and every so slightly tart at the same time which contributed to its lightness without an overwhelming sweetness. the dehydrated strawberry was a smart touch to give it that occasional difference in texture and concentrated strawberry flavor. even my boss loved it and she said it made her afternoon and it hit that sweet spot that she was craving for. i definitely liked this strawberry cupcake compared to its counterpart from sprinkles and a strong contender against the seasonal strawberry creme from my kara's which is my ultimate fav.

the triple b | black bottom banana cream pie - a tender banana cake with milk chocolate bottom filled with sweet vanilla pastry cream and topped with our famous whipped cream cheese frosting. finished with homemade pie crust crumble and shaved chocolate

it was quite a mouthful of description to the point you would think that the flavor profile was gonna be confusing or overwhelming. however, it was simply delicious. you first taste that banana flavor then suddenly the creamy vanilla pastry cream comes through with a surprise bitter chocolate undertone from the shavings. to top it off, the textural play from the pie crust crumble. when you are about to think that it was too sweet, the whipped cream cheese provide that tartness and airiness to balance it all out. basically they all worked together so well without being overly sweet. second favorite after the strawberry.

chocolate | a dark chocolate cake with fudgy chocolate frosting

i am constantly searching for a chocolate cupcake to top that ghirardelli cupcake from kara's cupcake (valhorna cupcake from more comes as a very close second contender). unfortunately, it failed to make the cut as my favorite chocolate cupcake. it tasted closer to a milk chocolate cupcake rather than the dark chocolate. the frosting was a bit too thick and it was a bit too sweet for my liking. not a favorite, unfortunately.

white chocolate raspberry | white cake filled with layers of homemade raspberry sauce and white chocolate mousse topped with vanilla swiss meringue butter cream and finished with raspberry drizzle

the cake and the frosting were good - not too sweet but it was the raspberry drizzle that makes those bites extra special. in fact, i wished there were more of the raspberry drizzle. in this case, the yummy tartness of the raspberry definitely took a backseat on this one and only whispered its presence occasionally which left us pondering if raspberry should even be in the name.

maple bacon | maple cake, dunked in maple glaze and covered with maple roasted bacon. savory, salty, sweet in every bite

when i was at the truck buying this cupcake, a couple came up to me and asked me if this was good - to which i responded i wasn't sure since i've never had it before. they thought i was rather adventurous but hey, this was very normal compared to the BLT cupcake from more. the first bite was maple-y. in fact, the whole cupcake screamed maple which is cut through by the savoriness and saltiness of the bacon bits which also gave a crunchy texture. after a few bites, i thought it was too much maple but it wasn't way too sweet. i gave the cupcake a 'not bad' vote but i think you would love it if you liked maple and bacon

oh as a bonus, cupcakes for courage has a loyalty card - after you've bought a dozen cupcakes, you get one free. so make sure you get that especially if you love their cupcakes - it's a free cupcake and surely you won't want to miss that. plus you can also keep track of how many cupcakes you've been consuming!

ooo.. just 3 away from a free cupcake :) [thank goodness this is my first card]

i'd say cupcakes for courage is able create its own loyal following even with the likes of sprinkles, more and flirty cupcakes. in fact, i think i'll go as far to say that i prefer their cupcakes over flirty cupcakes. plus, you also feel good knowing that some of the sales is going to charity while satisfying your guilty sweet baked pleasures :) what's better than that right? :)

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

Cupcakes For Courage on Urbanspoon


no such thing as too much chocolate

7:24 PM sians 0 Comments

there is no such thing as too much chocolate....


i came across this delicious dessert recipe when i was trying to use some of the baking stuff i had in my kitchen pantry. it started out with a box of chocolate fudge cake mix. in all honesty, i haven't really baked anything from scratch except for 3 occasions :: my first apple pie (which had a disastrous crust), tiramisu (i didn't bake the lady fingers, of course) and several times making the ultimate blueberry cheesecake.

so cake mixes are a great invention imo but i wanted to make it into something different and new. hence, i was very excited when i found this recipe: too much chocolate cake which i converted into cupcakes just because it's just easier for sharing.

it also required chocolate chips which i already (the mini chocolate chips type) in my pantry - perfect! but i had to go to the store for some extra ingredients: sour cream, instant chocolate pudding, eggs and cupcake liners. just when i was ready to get started with the baking it was then i realized...

.....i didn't have a cupcake pan >.< i could swear that i had one of those but couldn't find it so it was off to the store AGAIN...

i'll spare you the details and let these instagrams do the talking. 


one huge thing i was worried about was cooking time. i was converting a bundt cake recipe into cupcakes so that changes the baking time ~ so i had to guess and cross my fingers, hoping for the best.


the final product came out pretty well. since i didn't have frosting planned for this first trial, i just sprinkled some powdered sugar and oddly enough it looks like the cake-y cookies i made all the time. in fact, it tasted almost like it :) moist, fluffy and definitely chocolate-y cupcake. i brought it to work to share with others and it was a huge hit with everyone. they loved it and some even asked me for the recipe ^.^

it was so good that this thanksgiving i made it for ryan's family. and this time i had a frosting in the plans. however, i was pondering long and hard what would go well with chocolate cake and if i should make frosting from scratch or just get it from the store. my mind was weighing out the possibilities ~ from peanut butter frosting to classic vanilla to cream cheese frosting. in the end, i decided on blueberry frosting which i found a really delicious recipe of from here

blueberry in progress :)
i have to admit i messed up the frosting a tad since i have never made it from scratch before - should have creamed the butter first before adding the powdered sugar but i tried rectifying it by just adding the blueberries which ended up working out. 

the pairing worked really well! ryan's sister would put a cupcake and blitz it real quick in the microwave and then add the cool frosting on top. she loved it and mentioned that the chocolate chips melts within the cake itself. i have to admit i had a few of those delectable yummy-ness over that thanksgiving weekend too >.<

if you are interested in trying this cake yourself, you can find the recipes here:
too much chocolate cake: recipe
blueberry frosting: recipe

too much chocolate cake
found on (with some personal changes)

ingredients |
  • 1 (18.25 oz) package devil's food cake mix
  • 1 (5.9 oz) package instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream 
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • added 1-2 tsp of instant espresso powder (to bring out the chocolate flavor more)
directions |
  • preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  • in a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and water
  • stir in the chocolate chips with a spatula
  • divide the batter as evenly as possible into greased and lined cupcake pan (yields about 24 cupcakes - so 2 batches)
  • bake for about 20-25 minutes. always go for the lower cooking time and check with toothpick for doneness of cake. it is done if the wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean.
note | i didn't follow the recipe to a 'T' and it still turned out really well ~ didn't have the right amount of instant pudding mix and chocolate chips. for my first try, i used the chocolate fudge cake mix and this  second time, i used the devil's food cake mix - i actually prefer the former better.

blueberry frosting
found on shazam in the kitchen blog

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla 
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
directions |
  • simmer the blueberries on the stove until most of the berries burst and release their liquids
  • mash gently with a wooden spoon and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until cold
  • cream the butter until smooth and then gradually add the powdered sugar
  • add vanilla extract and the chilled blueberries and continue mixing until it is mixed well
blogger's note | you can also use fresh blueberries if desired but you may want to adjust the amount of powdered sugar added, depending on the liquid derived from the berries to ensure a spreadable consistency.

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