Sunday, April 04, 2010

After Spending a Good Chunk of Saturday Driving Back and Forth on Devon, We Capped the Day with Dinner on Devon

While I know it's just one of many colorful Chicago neighborhoods, the stretch of Devon between say Ravenswood and California is one I always find very visually interesting. Sari shops next to grocery stores next to store fronts offering GSM phone unlocking services next to restaurants next to the National Bank of Pakistan next to etc. etc. etc. Sensory overload.

2010-04-03 15.37.52.jpg

And it's jamming at all hours. 3pm traffic. 9pm bumper to bumper traffic. Never stops. Great energy and people watching, as long as you're not in a hurry. And since there is plenty of time at every stop sign and red light, I decided to talk some random shots as I crawled along the strip yesterday.

2010-04-03 15.36.26.jpg

Love seeing the Cabbage sale featured prominently in the Patel Brothers window.

2010-04-03 15.14.49.jpg

Still need to get into Adelphi some day and try the fine Indian wine that the sign seductively promotes.

2010-04-03 15.37.26.jpg

2010-04-03 15.14.33.jpg

Flyer in the window is for 'Free English Classes for Women'. Knowledge is power.

2010-04-03 15.36.03.jpg

2010-04-03 15.16.07.jpg

I'm not 100% sure what Nayab Mart carries, but if you're in a pinch at 3am, they'll be open for you.

2010-04-03 15.37.33.jpg

All this driving back and forth on Devon got me in the mood for an Indian dinner. It had been a few months so we were due.

2010-04-03 20.34.11.jpg

Though I was almost swayed by the Chop Suey Cocktail Lounge, I couldn't quite persuade Judy that was a good idea.

We intended to try something other than our usual (Indian Garden), but Al-Habib Grill failed because it didn't look like they served alcohol and I was ready for at least one beer last night. Then we considered giving Tiffin another chance, but as we walked up to its fancy, stylish exterior we peeked inside and saw the boring grid layout of tables that were just a bit too close together and remembered why we didn't like it the last time we were there. So, we walked on to the old stand by.

But at least we mixed it up some. First, no wine. Kingfisher to wash it down, as it probably should be.


Then, we went the three app and split one entree route, finally learning after umpteen visits that we always have way too much leftover when we each get our own entree.

Vegetable samosas, cashewnut rolls and aloo tikka

Murg makhani and kandhari naan

And the main dish, Murg Makhani, which was excellent with the Kandhari Naan.

Dinner @ Topolobampo for Judy's Birthday

Like much of the rest of America, Judy has become obsessed with Rick Bayless. After the Top Chef Masters show I heard a regular refrain of "we should go there". But just try getting a reservation. No es muy facile. Try it over at OpenTable. You'll get a bunch of options Tues - Thurs at 5:30 or 9pm. But booking 6 weeks out, I managed to finagle a 7:15 slot during Judy's spring break week when a Wednesday night dinner date could actually work. A belated celebration, but still squeaked it in during the birthday month, so I'm counting it.

Though I had been to Frontera / Topolo twice before through work functions, I had never actually eaten upstairs in either dining room. So we were pretty pleased with our corner booth table in the front room.

View from our table @ topolobampo

The guacamole and jicama chips is a nice opener. Really could have just eaten those all night.

Guac and chips - topolobampo

judy w/ her sparkling rose

Warmed up by a few glasses of cava (thought I had remembered the name of the brut rose cava, but cannot find it anywhere via the Google. Guess it will just be a special one night thing) and some jicama chips, we were ready for the main show. We each went with a 5-course tasting menu. Judy chose the 'Celebration' and I opted for the 'Michoacan'. Italicized words indicate its the actual menu description. Non-italicized words are my less eloquent take on how we liked the dish.

Pollo con enchiladas a la plaza
Pan-seared red chile "enchiladas" of jicama "tortillas." Crispy chicken, roasted carrots and potatoes, homemade fresh cheese, pickled jalapeno.
Pollo con enchiladas a la plaza

Bad picture, nice opener. The jicama 'tortillas' were nice and spicy, the breaded chicken cubes were quite tasty. A winner.

Pescado crudo "al pastor"
Samshimi-grade Hawaiian day-boat catch with La Quercia prosciutto crust, lime pudding, three-shile salsa, grilled pineapple, red chile cracker.
pescado crudo "al pastor"

This was Judy's. I think she liked it.

Churipo de Lujo
Savory red chile short rib soup with epazote, chayote and chochoyotes (corn masa dumplings).
churipo de lujo

Back to me. Not my favorite. The corn massa dumplings were nice, but the smoky, peppery main flavors of the soup were a bit too strong for my palate.

Mariscos en Chilpachote
Grilled baby octopus, Viking Village sea scallop, soft-shell crawfish, PEI mussels, tender squid in velvety chilpachote broth of chipotle chiles, epazote and tomato. Yuca "sand".
mariscos en chilpachote

Definitely a Judy dish. Again, think she liked it.

Pescado con dos Chiles y Uchepos
Smoky walleye capped with roasty arbol chile-peanut salsa. Uchepo crumble, roasted tomato-guajillo sauce, Nicholas Farm beets, wood-grilled knob onions.
pescado con dos chiles y uchepos

This was my favorite. Who knew? I like walleye. At least this walleye. A few of the dishes were served with fresh tortillas so you could work up some very fancy DIY tacos. I made 3 of them on this dish alone. They were awesome. I might now be a fish taco guy.

Carnitas de Puerco
Roasty golden carnitas of Maple Creek pork shoulder and pork belly (slow-cooked confit style) with fresh green tomatillo-avocado salsa, homemade tortilla, line air, radish.
carnitas de puerco

This was Judy and she barely touched it. We were getting full and learning our lesson that, really, we don't need to be doing multi-course meals.

Borrego en Mole Negro
Roasted Elysian Fields lamb "ribeye" in classic Oaxacan black mole (made from chilhuacle chiles and 28 other ingredients). Seared lamb belly, black bean tamalon, huazontles, jamaica whip.
borrego en mole negro

I was also apparently getting a little buzz from the Cava, as I forgot to get a shot of this dish until I was half way through it. Also probably explains why I'm eating medium / medium rare-ish lamb. Not something I'm usually inclined toward.

Arroz con Leche de Coco, Nieve de Zapote Negro
Coconut ride pudding with creamy tropical black sapote nieve. Toasted rice biscocho, orange cream, puffed rice.
arroz con leche de coco, nieve de zapote negro

This was a very nice dessert. Any other night you might say it was a really great dessert. But on this night they also had ...

Cafe con Leche y Chocolate
Very chocolatey chocolate ganache cake with espresso pudding, bittersweet chocolate swirl ice cream, cookie crunch.
"cafe con leche y chocolate"

I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but at the time, this seemed like the best dessert ever. Ridiculous.

You might also have noticed that they sauced a little 'happy birthday' on the plate. When I originally made the reservation six weeks prior I had indicated it would be for my wife's birthday. But I hadn't said anything at all at the restaurant, so it was nice of them to remember that touch. Thankfully, there was no birthday sing along tableside.

Later, I asked our waiter, Paco, if I could see the menu one more time, intending to take a picture of it since I would never remember everything we had been served. Paco did us one better. He got a nice 'happy birthday' autograph from Chef Bayless himself.

topolobampo menu

All in all a nice evening. But I left uncomfortably full. Next time, I think we'll opt for the Frontera bar area. Seems that would be more my speed.