Saturday, May 15, 2010

Frontera + Mercadito

You know how I've been going on and on about how much I love Mexican food? Well my dad is an even bigger fan. He was in town recently, so I just had to take him to Frontera and Mercadito.


We were fortunate to get a table for lunch at Frontera on cinco de mayo. To start we had chunky guacamole with lime, garlic, and jalapeno and three salsas: garlicky three-chile (cascabel, morita, guajillo), roasted tomatillo with serrano and cilantro, and habanero. I could not stop eating the garlicky three-chile salsa. I wanted to pour it onto everything. My dad, loving all things spicy, could not get enough of the habanero salsa.

Frontera's main menu changes monthly, so there is always something new and exciting to try. We ordered several small plates to share, starting with the vegetarian tamal filled with swiss chard and shiitake and oyster mushrooms, steamed in banana leaves, and doused in a hoja santa tomatillo sauce. The tangy hoja santa and tomatillos added a welcomed acidity to the smoky mushrooms.

After all, it was lunchtime, so we shared the ensalada frontera, a blend of romaine, arugula, radish, grilled knob onion with garlic-lime dressing topped with aged queso anejo, crispy tortilla angel hair, and cilantro. The combination of the bitter radish, crunchy tortilla, and crisp greens with the juicy garlic-lime dressing was superb.

We moved on to quesadillas nortenas which are flour tortillas folded over Samuels melted Jack cheese and filled with tender Mexican woodland mushrooms and roasted poblano peppers. Again the woody earthiness of the mushrooms did not disappoint. My only compliant is that the server did not inform us that the black beans were not vegetarian and served them even after I let her know our dietary restrictions. Thankfully I knew that the beans were not vegetarian from previous visits.

My dad loved the Topolo Margarita. A well-made margarita is worth taking note of, especially in this city. Naturally, I had to find the recipe to share with you!

Image from flickr user kevinlacassin

Topolo Margarita (from Rick Bayless)
3/4 cup fresh lime juice, about 3 large limes
6 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons blanco tequila
1/4 cup Gran Torres orange liqueur
Lime wedges
Coarse salt
About 1 1/2 cups small (or coarsely broken) ice cubes

Make limeade. Combine the lime juice, sugar and 1 cup water in a glass or plastic pitcher. Cover and refrigerate if not using right away (but no longer than 24 hours).

Finish and serve margaritas. Add the tequila and orange liqueur to the pitcher of limeade. Rub the rims of 6 martini glasses with a lime wedge, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. In a large shaker, combine the half of the margarita mixture with half of the ice and shake 10 to 15 seconds, then strain into the prepared glasses. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.


To continue with our Mexican food kick, we went to Mercadito, a NY based restaurant that recently opened in Chicago. It was as loud and crowded as you would expect from a glitzy, River North restaurant on a Saturday night. At 6:45pm the wait for a table was 2 hours. We promptly decided to head downstairs to the lounge for drinks and to whet our appetites before dinner elsewhere.

I was dying to try the huitlacoche and mushroom tacos. Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn and is sometimes referred to as Mexican truffle or corn smut. Deep rooted in Aztec cuisine, huitlacoche is considered a delicacy in Mexico.

Image from Buried Mirror

When the platter of four tacos arrived at our table, my mouth had a sudden pavlovian response. Woody, smoked mushrooms and warm huitlacoche topped with manchego cheese and tangy salsa verde and served in a mini corn masa tortilla. These tasty tacos made me so happy. Each three bite taco induced a finger-licking frenzy.

Someone forgot to wait for the food paparazzi

In his usual fashion, my dad added a kick to his tacos with a side of habanero salsa with grilled tomato, garlic, and lemon. (He liked the habanero salsa at Frontera better). I cannot wait to go back to Mercadito for dinner so that I can sample more of the menu. I think the tacos just might be worth the 2 hour wait for a table.

445 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654

108 W. Kinzie St.
Chicago, IL 60654

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