Sunday, August 30, 2015


While there are a lot of Mexican restaurants in Chicago, I tend not to go to them often.  It isn't that I have anything against Mexican food, in fact I quite like it, but when I go out, I like to explore, and Mexican food generally feels too familiar to me.  I had heard of Mexique, a few years ago, and while a Mexican-French fusion sounded really interesting, I still battled familiarity issues so it was always "another time" when I chose a place to go out.  When Carlos Gaytan, the executive chef at Mexique was on Top Chef and when the restaurant won a Michelin Star, it moved up on my list of places to go, but it still took a while to get here.  The day finally came recently.  I didn't have a reservation so I made a plan to get there early when it would probably be easier to get a seat.  I was correct.  When I arrived, the dining room was mostly empty, but by the time I finished my dinner, it was mostly full.  The place is very unobtrusive from the road, so if you don't know the address, it's easy to pass without noticing it.  The color of the restaurant is done in shades of brown.  The space is narrow, with banquette seating on one side and a bar on the other, with a row of tables in the center of the room after the bar ends and another row against the wall.  I was seated in the center row, which gave me a good view of the restaurant flow.  The kitchen was at the rear of the restaurant with the serving line parallel to the line of the tables.  The walls on either side of the restaurant had large solid color block paintings with wall cutouts exposing the brick behind the wall on either side of the paintings.  I think that this was supposed to parallel the contrast between the fine dining and the rustic elements of the menu.  The white tablecloths also implied the fine dining aspect of the cuisine.
There were a lot of things on the menu that looked really good, so it was going to be a little difficult to make a choice.  Fortunately, they also had a tasting option that offered six courses and took the choosing out of the diners hands.  I went this route.  Before my first course arrived, I was presented with the bread plate.  This started showing the fusion aspect of the restaurant.  The bread was a white bread with a crusty exterior and a soft and fluffy interior.  With it, instead of butter was served Chicken Liver Pate on the right side with Black Bean Puree on the left.  Both spreads were very flavorful and tasted good, but the black been puree was easier to spread.
Dinner in a French/Fine Dining restaurant follows a standard progression:  Appetizer, followed by soup, salad, fish, fowl, light and dark meats, and finishing off with dessert.  Dinner at Mexique followed, more or less, the standard course progression.  When the first course came out, I sort of thought it was a salad of some sort.  It was a bowl with sliced Tortillas, with cubed Zucchini anf Potatoes, Corn, and dollops of Goat Cheese.  I found when they poured the Cream of Poblano broth over it that it was the soup.  It was creamy, flavorful, and very fresh with a mildly spicy finish.  This was very good and while it did make me look forward to the rest of the meal, it also made me wish for a bigger bowl of this soup.
The second course looked very nice and tasted very good.  As far as the course progression is concerned, it was fine where it was, although it could have been also presented as the first course.  It was a Steelhead Trout Ceviche with a Mango Puree to provide the acid to cure it, and served with Zucchini, Avocado, Mangoes, and Black Radishes.  It was tart and the fish was very tender, but the radishes provided a crunch to the dish.  The Tomatoes and Avocadoes almost gave it a Guacamole flavor and the sliced Mangoes provided some fruit sweetness.
The fish course looked, on the surface, pretty simple, but had some amazing complexity.  It was a pan-seared Swordfish served over Caramelized Mushrooms and Lentils with very finely pureed Potatoes and Fennel with Fennel Shoots.  The top side of the plate was layered with Parsley Oil and the bottom half with Paprika Oil divided by the potatoes and the mushrooms and lentils.  The swordfish was garnished with thinly sliced Radishes and Fennel Fronds.  The swordfish was tender and flaky and the mushrooms and lentils tasted really good.  The potatoes were actually a little finer than I would normally prefer and the oils added some additional flavor and spice as well as giving the plate a look similar to the Mexican flag.
The next course, as far as a course progression is concerned, may have fit as the last savory course, although it could be argued that they were in the right order because the most savory course was the last course presented before dessert.  This course was a Mole Glazed Braised Pork Belly topped with Apricots, Radishes, and Fennel, and served with Fried Brussels Sprouts, and More Mole topped with Sweet Potato Puree with Cocoa Nibs.  This was sweet and spicy, but it was also also very complex.  The mole was made with 27 ingredients and while chocolate and spice were key flavors, there were also many flavors that presented themselves like garlic and cinnamon.  
The last of the savory courses was a Seared Duck Breast served over a Tamarind Chipotle Sauce and Parsley Oil.  The plate was dotted with more Tamarind Chipotle Sauce, which was dark, and some Mango Habanero Sauce, which was light colored.  On the side was served a Corn and Blackberry Tamal topped with a fried Kale Leaf.  It was a very nice presentation, but since Duck is my favorite meat, I may have liked it without the fancy presentation.  The duck was very good and I was happy to see it, but the sauces and the tamal added a wealth of additional flavor.
 And then came dessert.  Dessert was a tasting in and of itself.  It started, on the left with a Blackberry Sorbet which was sweet and tart with a lot of blackberry flavor.  Next came the Tres Leches Cake topped with Strawberries.  The cake was rich, sweet, and very moist, with the very fresh strawberries on top.  The last of the major portions of the dessert was the Mango Panna Cotta which was very tart and reminded me of the Key Lime Panna Cotta that I really enjoyed years ago at the late lamented restaurant onesixty blue.  All of these together would have made a great dessert tasting, but there was also an Apple Coulis (like a thick sauce) between the main pieces and Nutella Powder was spread liberally around the three pieces.  It was a great finish to a great dinner.

I'm glad I was finally able to make it to Mexique.  The food was great, it was a true fusion, and the service was excellent as well.  It very definitely does not fall under the standard Mexican restaurant and I would be happy to return.        


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