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Topolobampo

445 North Clark Street, Chicago, 60654-4682, United States

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Celebrity TV chef and cookery book writer Rick Bayless runs two Mexican restaurants side by side, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, the latter serving slightly more ambitious dishes (as well as a fast food outlet called Xoco). The two restaurants share an entrance and reception. Topolobampo has red tiled floor and walls painted in panels of white and red, with assorted artwork and very attractive flower displays during our visit. It was bustling at lunch (70 seats at capacity), the hard floor contributing to somewhat high noise levels in the dining room. As you read the menu a bowl of guacamole and tortilla chips appears; the guacamole was unusually good, the avocados ripe and fresh, with just a little chilli (13/20).

The wine list had choices such as Gramona Gessami 2009 at $40 for a wine you can buy for $16 retail, Vieux Telegraphe Telegramme at $80 for a wine that will set you back $36 in the shops, up to classy wines such as Kistler Les Noisetiers 2007 at $150 for a wine that retails at around $69 in US wine merchants. I just had a Bohemia beer.

To start with, a "tuna cocktail" ($14) featured Hawaiian yellowfin tuna with avocado-tomatillo guacamole and a mango and grapefruit salsa. The guacamole and salsa were nice, but the tuna was present in vanishingly small quantity given that it was supposed to be the focus of the dish (between 12/20 and 13/20). Better was ceviche Fronterizo ($13.50), which comprised albacore from Hawaii marinated with lime, served with olives, tomatoes, cilantro (coriander) and green chilli, resting on a pair of crisp tostaditas. The lime balance was excellent here, just enough to provide freshness but not so much as to be over-acidic, while the chilli flavour was also nicely controlled (14/20).

"Longaniza de Valladolid, Chiltomate, heuva dos Estilos" was a dish of dry cured and smoked achiote pork sausage, sitting amongst soft poached egg yolk on a bed of roasted tomato-habanero salsa and pepita-egg "crpea". This was a comforting dish, the pork and egg flavours a natural match, with a fair kick of chilli from the salsa (13/20). Less impressive was a warm ricotta cheese dish "queso fundido", the cheese melted with a mix of roasted tomatillo salsa, caramelised onions, serrano chilli and cilantro (coriander); this was enjoyable enough but I found that the cheese flavour dominated the other ingredients (12/20).

Service was quite brisk, but friendly. The bill came to $37 per person for two courses and a beer, which did not seem particularly expensive for what was delivered to me. It was definitely a step up in quality from the usual standard of Mexican food, thought it was not the very best that I have eaten.

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