Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #5
El Nido (The nest)
<-- Before black mole hot fudge, and after -->
Golden donut holes filled with Three Sister's Garden pumpkin crema in cotton candy nest; black mole hot fudge
Paired with 2003 Capcanes Pansal Del Calas, Montsant, Spain
Couldn't have asked for a better bittersweet treat.
Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #5
Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #4
Puerco en Clemole Castellano
Maple Creek pork loin in clemole (pasillas, anchos, avocado leaf, hazelnuts, pinenuts, pecans, spices) with red chile bread pudding (infused with "tacha" -candied- pumpkin).
Paired with 2003 Reserva Marques De Vargas, Rioja, Spain
Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course # 3
Pescado en Mole Verde de Cacahuate
Pan-seared day-boat catch with classic green peanut mole, polenta-like "tamal frito", braised chard and crispy epazote
Paired with 2003 Ici/La-Bas "Les Reveles" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California
Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #2
Silky southern Mexican soup of sweet dumpling squash, ancho chile, sweet spices and roasted garlic; with apple wood smoked shrimp, grilled green onion and watermelon jelly
Paired with 2006 Knappstein Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia
Topolobampo restaurant's "Mole Menu" tasting, course #1
Tartara "Tallgrass" Sabor a Mole
Hand-cut tartare of Tallgrass grass-fed beef with the essence of mole poblano (mulato, ancho, pasilla, seeds, nuts, herbs, spices) and Bayless Garden microgreens
Paired with 2006 L'Herminette, Tavel Rose, Rhone Valley, France
Mulato: "Wrinkled, flattened, brownish-black, dried chile with a heat level that ranges from mild to medium. When it is fresh, the Mulato Chile Pepper is referred to as a Poblano Chile. The Mulato Chile provides a slight licorice flavor with a hint of cherry and tobacco." (recipetips.com)
Pasilla: The pasilla chile (pronounced pah-SEE-yah; literally "little raisin") or chile negro is the dried form of a variety of chile, named for its dark, wrinkled skin. In its fresh form, it is called the chilaca. It is a mild to medium-hot, rich-flavored chile. ... It turns from dark green to dark brown when fully mature. (wikipedia.org)
Topolobampo restaurant Seafood Menu tasting, course #5
Tartaleta de Pina y Tamarindo
Upside-down browned butter pineapple tart with homemade puff pastry crust, tamarind caramel sauce and sweet-and-salty toasted pumpkinseed ice cream.
Paired with 1998 Isole e Olena Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
I like snacking on dried tamarind. It tastes a lot like dried persimmon. In fact, if cracking the pods open and peeling the strings away weren't rather annoying and time-consuming, it would make my favorite snack.
Topolobampo restaurant's Seafood Menu tasting, course # 4
Vitaminas al Vapor ("Steamed vitamins"?)
Rustic red chile seafood soup of grilled baby octopus, Hawaiian blue prawns, epazote-flecked chochoyotes and poached egg
"Chochoyote" doesn't appear often on Mexican food glossaries. It is corn (masa) dumpling or pressed dough, and it seems to hail from Oaxaca.
Epazote: "A jagged leafed herb, popular in Mexican cooking, that is considered to be a weed in many regions. It provides a pungent pine-like odor and a similarly strong, unique flavor, similar to licorice or mint. It is sold fresh, dried or ground and because of its unique flavor no other herb can be used as a substitution. Popular in bean and tortilla dishes, epazote is also known as Mexican tea, wormwood, goosefoot, and Jerusalem oak." (Recipetips.com)
Comfort food with all the trimmings.
(Paired with 2005 Luca Syrah, Altos De Mendoza, Argentina)
Now we are talking (moderate) fire. I am also realizing all three tasting menus at Topolobampo restaurant could be called "Chili Tasting Menu", a la Ritz-Carlton Dining Room's "Salt and Pepper Tasting Menu".
So far mentioned are poblano, ancho, guajillo, guero (güero) and serrano. For fun, let's compare their Scoville units. (The number varies depending on whom you ask - here's one table.)
ancho (1000 - 2000), poblano (2500 - 3000), guero (2000 - 5000), guajillo (5000 - 10000), serrano (7000 - 25000)
Let's not get distracted, though... Topolobampo's Seafood Menu course #3
Mone de Pescado
Garlic-marinated Alaskan black cod roasted in banana leaves with guero chile rajas, Spence Farm blue potatoes, local tomatoes and sweet plantains; roasted serrano-lime salsa
According to GourmetSleuth, "the word "rajas" just means "strips" but in Mexican cooking it refers to strips of chiles. The chiles are roasted, peeled, and cut into strips. After that the recipe can vary but normally they are sautéed with onions, herbs and seasonings. The cooked mixture is used as a condiment with meats or as a vegetable side dish."
Paired with 2003 Ici / La-Bas "Les Reveles" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California.
Sizzle and substance.
Apple stuffed with melted cheese. Sounds like dessert, but it is the second course on the Seafood tasting menu at Topolobampo.
Crab apple combo; roasted Michigan "honey crisp apple" filled with "queso fundido" of goat cheese, poblano chile and dungeness crab, grilled frisee salad
Paired with 2005 Eric Bordelet Sidre Doux, Normandy, France
All the flavor combinations are here. Savory crab and cheese, tart and sweet apples. Chili heat. It makes a fantastic "salad" course.
Did I rush through the first tasting menu?
I will break the next one down to show more details. The second tasting menu option at Topolobampo was "Seafood Menu".
Here's Seafood tasting menu course #1.
Tiraditos de Kampachi
Thin slices of buttery sashimi-grade Kona Kampachi tossed with cilantro green chile "chimichurri", Three Sister's Garden greens with pinenut pipian dressing
Pipian is a "sauce containing ground nuts or seeds and spices; Indian stew or fricassee thickened by its ingredients rather than by flour" (recipegoldmine.com).
According to a Peruvian food dictionary, tiradito is "similar to ceviche, but differs in cut and presentation. The fish is sliced into fine, long pieces, without onions. The evolution of the dish has likely been influenced by the Japanese immigration into Peru during the late 1800’s."
Recipetips.com explains chimichurri. "A spicy herb sauce or marinade that is served with grilled and roasted meats. With orgins credited to Argentina and their use of the sauce, Chimichurri Sauce generally consists of water, salt, garlic, parsley, oregano, pepper, red chile peppers, lemon zest, red or white-wine vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil. However, there are numerous versions of this sauce that range from tangy and spicy to tart or somewhat sweet flavored. It is a food item that can be used as a basting sauce on fish, shellfish, poultry, beef, and pork or as a dipping sauce after the food has been cooked. Chimichurri may also be used as a term to reference a hamburger that is popular in the Dominican Republic."
A refreshing first course, voted winner among the three at my table, paired with 2006 Knappstein Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia.
I came across a most remarkable dish at Topolobampo in Chicago.
As my sister put it, my face lit up like the "Ratatouille mouse". I suppose the "mouse" had a moment, too, but it was the critic's Proustian moment I recall more vividly. Yes, it was that good.
(It was great to see my sister chatting with the Portuguese waiter in her limited Portu... well, Spanish.)
There it was, the second course in my tasting menu, named "Celebration Menu". It was a rather simple looking tomato and mushroom soup, but oh, my. It was paired with 2006 St. Hallet "Poacher's Blend", Barossa Valley, Australia, which was good, but forget the wine!
*Consomé de Jitomate y Hongos: Rich consommé of roasted tomatoes and cilantro with poblano and porcini mushroom flan and brioche croutons.
The dark consommé (sorry, consomé here) had decadent flavors of roasted vegetables and mushrooms, nary a drop of fat, and I was truly sorry I couldn't have the flan and eat it too. Now, if this dish doesn't make one want to experiment with poblano chili peppers...
1) Carnitas Dos Estilos
Flaky-pastry empanada filled with pork carnitas, pork belly slow-cooked carnitas style, with Yucatecan tomato salad, paired with 2006 Knappstein Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia
2) *mentioned above
3) Langosta en Calabaza al Ancho
Pan-roasted Maine lobster stuffed with delicata "chilaquiles" in Tracey's organic delicata squash sauce, ancho chiles and sweet garlic, paired with 2005 Luca Syrah, Altos De Mendoza, Argentina.
4) Borrego en Salsa de Pera y Guajillo
Chile-marinated, roasted Elisian Fields rack of lamb, guajillo chile sauce, bacon-scented potato-apple torta and jicama salsa, paired with 2003 Graziano Kazmet Vineyard Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California.
Another revelation. The pear-infused red guajillo chile sauce had all the sweetness and heat you would hope for.
5) Trio de Suenos
Upside-down caramelized pineapple tart, black and white chocolate cream cake with pumpkinseed-olive caramel crunch, lime-infused custard with apple shaved ice and raspberry "broth", paired with 2003 Capcanes Pansal Del Calas, Montsant, Spain.
<--a hefty amuse bouche
A little something after the meal -->
It's about time you visited Chicago - for just the spice you needed.
(Here are the other tasting menus. "Seafood Menu," "Mole Menu.")
Update: President Obama celebrated here at Topolobampo restaurant with this Celebration tasting menu just before he was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
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