Frontera Grill – Chicago, IL

I finally made it to one of the famous Rick Bayless’ restaurants when I was in Chicago last week! I’ve been to the city six or seven times now and for one reason or another it hasn’t worked out to make it to one of his restaurants and I’ve been very disappointed until now. This time we almost missed lunch at Frontera Grill because we didn’t make it in until 2:15, lunch ends at 2:30. Thank goodness for good service – they were still willing to seat us that late!
We started with an appetizer of black bean corn cakes, called Tlacoyos de Tocino, flavored with bacon and an avacodo mash. Three cakes came with the order and every bite was wonderful. The crisp outer texture contrasted nicely with the warm soft black beans, salsa and cheese in the center. I’m not usually an avocado fan, but the mash added a nice texture to the dish that wasn’t overpowering and it was light and fresh.
I ordered one of the house specialties for my main entree, Pato en Mole de Chabacano. It’s a red-chile rubbed duck breast served with on apricot mole sauce and garnished with a delicious fruit salsa. The plate comes with a side of black beans and fresh mixed greens. This is hands down the best dish of duck breast I’ve ever eaten. The duck was perfectly cooked; tender, but not greasy. The fruit elements in the sauce and salsa married perfectly with the light heat in the chiles.
For dessert we chose the corn meal pound cake, Pastel de Maiz, Helado de Maple, with maple crunch ice cream, blueberry salsa and a maple-goat’s milk caramel drizzle. I’m not a blueberry person normally, but I trusted the chef because the avocado in the first dish was so good. I wasn’t disappointed here either. All the ingredients came together for me. The cake was tender, the ice cream had the sweetness I was looking for and the caramel touches were complex, but not overdone. The blueberries added a brightness to the dish and I enjoyed them (though I wouldn’t have complained if peaches or raspberries were in their place).