Lynne & Carrie
Our guest this week was Lynne Bailey. Lynne, Maureen and I all used to work together many moons ago and have recently found a variety of reasons to hang out more often. Yay!
Lynne suggested Frontera Grill and, being fans of Rick Bayless, we agreed. (Yes, we love Top Chef Masters. It’s getting shameles at this point.)
Stealth Agua Fresca
Frontera only takes “a limited number of reservations”, so we knew we needed to get there early so we wouldn’t need to wait. Since I (Maureen) work closer to Frontera than Carrie, I got to go play the role of squatter. Carrie knew the plan, and gave me strict marching orders. I found a tiny table in the bar, ordered a delicious agua fresca (mango, lemon and mint!). . .then Lynne and Carrie arrived and we had no problem getting a table in the main dining room. So much for Stealth Maureen.
Yeah, I was a little obnoxious with my instructions, but you have to outsmart the tourists … it’s the only way to win! I’ve never actually sat in the dining room before, so I was surprised at how easy it was to get seated. Maybe the novelty is wearing off? Nah … it’s still eight weeks out for a reservation at Topolobampo.
We quickly agreed to order the guacamole, which we did post haste. I have to be honest, I thought the portion size was a little skimpy. I mean, the guacamole at Hub51 was huge. Huge. (P.S. I am so glad our pictures now focus almost exclusively on the food. I mean we looked like it was our birthday, except we were posing with tacos.) The guacamole itself was pretty good. Nice and creamy. But I think the kind I make at home is just as good. (Yeah, I said it!)
Weird leaves and radish. . .with guac
I thought I had heard that the guac at Frontera is good. . .or maybe I just assumed it was because it was made by a Top Chef Master (ok, I’ll stop). Parts of it were perfectly smooth and a fresh mixture of flavors. Other parts of it were like eating a quarter of an avocado (i.e. not well blended). I had that moment of “Oh no, they didn’t calculate the chip-to-dip ratio correctly,” but the bowl was deceptively small (or those weird leaf things were thicker than I thought). On top of the guac was this huge radish slice that we kept politely moving from one side of the bowl to the other. If I’ve learned anything from Chopped, I’ve learned not to put huge inedible garnishes on the plate, or that one judge will have a fit. I have to agree with him.
The first thing I need to tell you is, I am definitely not a Foodie. I am happy to have a McDonald’s Chicken Snack Wrap or the Veggie Delight at Subway for dinner. When my friends invite me out to eat they NEVER let me pick the place. So, I was excited to be invited to join Maureen and Carrie at the famous Frontera Grill for their “Fancy Friday” lunch.
Before the spectacular chicken that I ordered (ed. note: more on that later!), we shared fresh guacamole and crispy chips. Naturally, it was wonderful.
Camerones a la mexicana
I was torn between two things and had to ask the waitress for her recommendation. She told me to definitely go with the camarones a la mexicana. I put that in italics so you would imply the accent she used to say just those four words. I mean, the other option was a quesadilla, which she said just as quesadilla, but then she said camarones a la mexicana. Just in and out with the accent. I thought it was weird but I didn’t want to say anything because I am generally trying to be less bitchy overall but thankfully Maureen (in a very non-bitchy way, I might add) asked if we noticed. Whew! It wasn’t only me!
So, the camarones a la mexicana … it was grilled shrimp with fresh pico de gallo and roasted poblano peppers, served with black beans and a green salad. And the best part … homemade corn tortillas. If you have never had homemade tortillas, I assure you, you are missing out. I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where if I cross the street to the south, I can get homemade corn tortillas and if I cross the street to the west, I can get homemade flour tortillas. Mmm. I felt it necessary to explain that because of what happened next.
Um. I totally spaced out the shrimp so I could eat all the tortillas. Let’s just say they are generous with the tortillas, which I realized after properly filling the first two. Then I spaced it out to one shrimp per tortilla, you know, to make it last. The flavor was good. Grilled shrimp is my new flavor thing (extra points if marinated in tequila first) and this did not disappoint. The salsa was fresh and served warm, which I liked. And don’t get me started on poblano peppers. I love them. They added a nice spice to the overall flavor. I always like their black beans and the green salad was a green salad. The dressing was light enough so that you could taste that there was something on it but not much else.
Taquitos de Pollo. And more of those leaves.
I’m usually partial to tacos, so I thought taquitos sounded delicious. To be honest, I thought it was a term that Jose Ole invented for their frozen drunk food, and that it wasn’t actually authentic Mexican food. Well, who’s the dummy now? (Me. I am.) They were served with a small salad on the side, which had this light, yet creamy dressing. I could have used the leaves cut down into smaller pieces, but it was good! The taquitos were on a bed of the guac (which was all smooth, redeeming the previous guac). The taquitos had what’s probably some sophisticated flavor or spice that I didn’t get, but man, whatever it was was throwing it off for me. The best way I can describe it is plastic-like. It pains me to say that, because Rick Bayless grows vegetables on the roof (or something. . .) and changes the menu every few weeks, so that everything you’re eating is fresh. Which is why I just think it’s my palette that’s wonky. But still. . .girl likes what she likes. . .
Enchiladas de Mole Poblano
Before I got to the restaurant, I planned on sticking to some semblance of a diet (not the fast food one). That idea went out the window after I saw the menu. I didn’t see a plain grilled chicken breast on the list, but I did spot a chicken enchilada smothered in Bayless’ world-renowned mole. Remember, Bayless was chosen to be the chef for the White House state dinner for Mexico. Guess what he made? His signature dish of shredded chicken in mole sauce. I have sampled moles in Oaxaca, Mexico; I think this was the most complex I’ve ever tasted. I cannot determine which of the 20 spices I was ingesting; but the aftertaste of chocolate was easy to identify.
Will she or won’t she? I know (at least one of) you are dying to know if I ordered the cappuccino. Um, yes. Because at Frontera there is something called chocolate cappuccino and, having had it at XOCO
before, I know it is delicious. I think Rick Bayless personally turns the cocoa beans into chocolate each morning. (Or something. I mean, don’t quote me.)
Guess what? Still delicious. I usually have to add a little bit of sugar to a regular cappuccino but this one I can drink straight up without any accoutrements. True or false: I’ve walked over two miles just to get this coffee (well, and the churros) from XOCO. True.
I was so obsessed with the cappuccino, I almost forgot about the flan. We ordered flan to share, which was a duo of chocolate and vanilla. I love flan and this did not disappoint. It was smooth and creamy and had a nice crust on the top. I preferred the vanilla to the chocolate (I am a purist) but really did enjoy both.
Chocolate and vanilla flan
Having had the sipping chocolate at XOCO, I knew we were in for a treat. I completely forgot just how amazing that sipping chocolate was, however. And now. . .that flavor with coffee! I really liked it, because it was a really good mix of chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee. None of the flavors overpowered the others. We were trying to decide on a dessert and the ladies liked the chocolate pecan pie, but I usually only eat pecan pie under duress. It’s just not my favorite. What I did think sounded good, however, was the flan. After eating lots of instant flan in Costa Rica, I was totally game for more, made by a Top Chef Masters-winning chef (oh crap, I said I’d stop. Sorry.) The chocolate one was good, but I kinda feel the way about chocolate flan as I do about chocolate cheesecake: save it for a drizzle on top, and let the dairy goodness shine through with other less-competing flavors. The caramel one made me want to stab the other two ladies with my spoon so I could have it all.
Mexican hot chocolate
For dessert, we shared a duo of caramel flans; one was Mexican chocolate with huge raspberries and the other was authentic Mexican vanilla. Then, I topped off this gastronomic extravaganza with a Mexican hot chocolate. In case you’re not familiar, the restaurant grinds cocoa beans to order then mixes it with cinnamon and milk, and served with a froth on top.
Maureen: I have to say that while I enjoyed the food, I wasn’t incredibly blown away. I actually enjoyed XOCO more! Also, I need to mention our server. While super nice, her accent would switch between Spanish and Midwestern with almost every phrase. I finally said something to Carrie, who said “I know! It was driving me crazy!!” Also, we’d ask a question and she’d leave halfway through. But she’d hear us and give us what we asked for, so maybe she’s just super busy and super efficient. Also, our awesome guest Lynne gave me her leftovers because she thought I didn’t get enough food (I did). The enchilada she gave me made an excellent dinner. . .and I should have ordered them. sigh.
I personally think she looks adorable.
Lynne: The food was wonderful and kind of to be expected, but the stand-up comedy duo of Carrie and Maureen was worth the price of the lunch and then some! (Ed. note: we were mostly sitting.) The sound at the restaurant is lousy so it was good that Maureen and Carrie regaled me with stories after the crowd started to thin. Funny, funny, funny. I laughed so hard I cried. Carrie took a picture of me that is probably extremely unflattering. Oh well, I guess you have to pay the price, right?
Can you see our check in her hand?
Carrie: I didn’t even know Maureen was going to bring up the waitress! See! It was weird. Also, here is a picture of the lengthy conversation she had with the next table over after taking our credit card. It was a little stressful because we were all really ready to go (read: needed to get back to work) and they just kept talking and talking … I mean, I know they are customers too and I don’t usually mind that, but I am also very forgiving if a waitress says, “Excuse me, let me run their cards and I’ll be right back.”
We can’t really disclose what was discussed at Fancy Friday (thems the rules), but Lynne told the most amazing story. Just when you thought it couldn’t be outdone, it was. Then we shared a story that happened seven years ago and Lynne literally laughed for like ten minutes. It was the most satisfying reaction to a story I’ve personally ever received. It was a good, good time.
Okay, back to final thoughts. I enjoy Frontera. I typically get the steak tacos, which from what I remember are really delicious. I enjoyed my meal and might order it again. Probably try a different appetizer, I think. The only thing I would say is be prepared for a long wait if you go to any Rick Bayless restaurant. Oh, you know what? Forget everything I said … I’d get the mole. Lynne gave me a bite and it was amazing.
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