One of our favorite competitors, and eventual winner, was Chef Rick Bayless. His respect for Mexican cuisine and use of fresh and authentic ingredients won us over. We couldn't wait to dine at Frontera Grill!
The restaurant itself was casual, vibrant, and tight. We actually had to walk through the kitchen to get to the restroom. This was fun because we could see the kitchen staff prepare various dishes (we're pretty sure we saw Bayless' sous chef who also appeared on the show's finale).
So with the restaurant's last glass of the Shakira margarita (we're not sure how that happened), we eagerly awaited our meal. The margarita (above, $10) was fresh and fruity, made with guava, pineapple-infused tequilla, lime, and crimson hibiscus.
A savory snack to start and Frontera's own hot sauce. We had the sauce on our tortilla chips - it reminded us of Valentina hot sauce.
Trio, Trio, Trio ($16) - A ceviche sampler with housemade tortilla chips...finally a $16 ceviche actually worth the price! From left to right:
Ceviche Fronterizo: lime-marinated Hawaiian sunfish with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, and green chile. This tasted the lightest and freshest of the three.
Ceviche Yucateco: steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, and cilantro. The shrimp were huge and this ceviche had a spicy bite at the end from the habanero.
Ceviche de Atun "Chamoy": Hawaiian Ahi tuna with jicama and red chile-apricot salsa. The sauce gave the tuna a sweet smokey taste.
Pescado a la Veraniega ($23): Garlic marinated dayboat Mahi Mahi served with salsa (made with fresh ingredients from their rooftop garden), pea shoots, and Yucatan-style achiote rice.
We do not usually order Mahi Mahi because we find it is often overcooked. This fish was moist, not dry, and went well with the fresh, sweet salsa. We also love the abundance of pea shoots we have had during our trip to Chicago - wish we had a rooftop garden!
Barbacao de Borrego ($23): Red chile marinated Crawford Farms lamb slow-roasted in banana leaves with mashed potatoes and pea shoots on the side. A nice balance between the rich tasting lamb and spicy chile rub with salt and coffee bitterness.
Empanada de Cerezas y Queso Crema ($8.25): Flaky pastry turnover with filling of cherries, cream cheese, and goat cheese. It came with goat cheese ice cream and cherry-apricot salsa (with pretty edible flowers). The ice cream definitely tasted like goat cheese and the overall dish tasted earthy and tart.
Prior to our Chicago trip, we had dined at 2 of the 5 finalists (Anita Lo's Rickshaw Dumpling Truck and Chiarello's Bottega). Our Chicago trip brought us up to 4 (Art Smith's Table 52 and Bayless' Frontera Grill), leaving Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys in San Francisco left for us to visit once we saved enough for it!
Frontera Grill is located at 445 North Clark Street in Chicago, IL.