For the past three years I have visited Chicago for the annual Midwest Political Science Association conference and have enjoyed a number of outstanding meals at Tru, Alinea, Grace, L20, and most recently Girl & the Goat. After a nine-course tasting menu, the question is, does Topolobampo belong in that set? Does a priest make a good sitter?
I’m afraid, dear reader, the onslaught of amateurism made for the most joyless dining experience I can remember in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Those three hours were marked by numerous blunders, beginning with the melancholic amuse of hearts of palm pudding and watermelon radish, which just might be the most insubstantial kitchen offering I’ve witnessed; it valiantly parried my spoon’s best efforts to compile even the faintest bite. Then came a near twenty-minute wait for the first course, leading my server to issue an apology before the meal proper had even begun. And when the stuffed rock hen did arrive, it was lukewarm. One misstep deserves another, I suppose, as next out was a poached egg, which is described on the menu as “perfect[ly] poached;” what may have been perfectly poached was imperfectly served as the egg was cold enough to lead me to believe it was plucked straight from an ice bath and plopped atop a gummy saffron rice cake.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dining room manager who did his best Hank Paulson impression in trying to rescue this Lehman Brothers of a meal, but the errors on the plate were beyond his control. A cube of sous vide pork shoulder was so dry that no amount of mole could reconstitute the protein to edibility. My frustration reached its apogee with the first dessert, a ricotta fritter with, inter alia, a frozen sabayon. Described on the menu as a “warm little ‘doughnut'” what arrived was a dessicated mass that 7-11 wouldn’t deign to serve; the dish would return to the kitchen in largely the same condition that it arrived in front of me.
The tasting menu was redeemed only partially by (1) a lamb porchetta dish I opted to add in between two pork courses and (2) the final peach and cream dessert that the aforementioned dining room manager supplied gratis as recompense for the litany of pratfalls throughout the evening.
Spend enough time in Topolobampo and you’re sure to hear a table lionizing Monsieur Bayless for his commitment to authentic Mexican cuisine. I’m not sure how he managed to acquire such fealty from patrons, but I know it couldn’t possibly be based on the cooking that was on display during my visit.