Topolobampo, Chicago, IL (April 2014)

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.

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Amuse: hearts of palm pudding, watermelon radish, escabeche

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Portuguese Rock Hen, fresh peas three ways, tomato salsa, savory pork picadillo

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Saffron rice torta, poached egg, olive-raisin salsa, pulque sabayon, spicy chiletepin-pinenut salsa, anchovies

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Smoked quail tart, corn masa bechamel, sherry reduction, slivered almond crumble, gold leaf

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Street Food 1671: pork chicharron braised in pasilla borracha, black beans, grilled carrot, pasilla compote

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Fresh tortillas

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Lamb porchetta, pumpkin mole, roasted sunchokes, fingerlings

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More tortillas

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Sous vide pork shoulder, clemole castellano, Iberico ham, clemole bread pudding, charred turnips

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Goat’s milk ricotta fritter, caramelized carrot ice cream, sweet beet crema, frozen sabayon and cocoa-dusted walnuts

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Rice flour cakes, golden plantains, plantain-infused brandy caramel, house-made crema, coriander crumble, plantain pudding, edible flowers

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Goat milk crema mousse filled with peach gelatin and raspberries

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Mignardises: chocolate truffle and prickly pear pate de fui

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4 thoughts on “Topolobampo, Chicago, IL (April 2014)

  1. That’s a rough meal. It was, I think, unfortunate for Bayless to restrict himself with the historical tasting theme. The prix fixe looks more satisfying and I’ll return for the mole negro, which (it appears) one can still order.

  2. It seems that restricted composition aside, you actually encountered some major execution and pacing issues. I hope that Topolo can work out whatever problems they have in boh. I’ll be sad to see one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago go down like this.

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