Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ixcateco Grill

While I do like Mexican food, I am very picky about it because I know that it's more than beans and rice, tortillas, and tacos.  While I love a good taco, I prefer them spiced up a little and with something other than just some grilled meat.  One of the best Mexican Chefs around is Rick Bayless, who has been teaching the general public about Mexican food with Frontera Grill and other restaurants for over 30 years.  As with most successful chefs that have been around for a while, there are many up and coming chefs that have come through his organization who now have restaurants of their own.  I recently went to one of the "children of Frontera Grill", Ixcateco Grill in Albany Park, which is headed by Chef Anselmo Ramirez, who came up through Frontera Grill and Topolabampo.  I came in early on a weekday which explained the apparent emptiness of the dining room when I arrived.  The space did become substantially more full by the time I finished my dinner.  The space is narrow, seating about 60, with a large window in the front which lets in a lot of natural light.  The walls are bright and multicolored with a lot of art on the walls in traditional Mexican styles.  The ceiling was black and unfinished with track lighting providing additional light than that provided by the large window.
As is traditional in many sit down Mexican restaurants, Chips and Salsa were served at the beginning of the meal, the Mexican equivalent of a bread course.  The chips were self made and arrived at the table very warm, likely because they just came out of the fryer.  The tortilla chips were crunchy, very flavorful, and while the salsa was amazing, it was unnecessary to enjoy the chips, which were great on their own.  This is not to say that I didn't finish the salsa as well, it was actually finished well before the chips were, which is how I know that the chips were good on their own.
I started my meal with an appetizer I thought sounded very similar to a gordita (not the Taco Bell version).  Called a Picadita, it started with a thick masa canoe filled with Chicken Carnitas, Acocado Crema, Queso Ranchero, Yellow Peppers, and Pickled Cactus.  The masa had a crispy exterior with a chewy interior and was very easy to handle by hand.  The chicken carnitas were tender and flavorful and the peppers, cheese, avocado crema provided additional great flavors and textures.  The pickled cactus provided a nice finish, both crisp and sour and kind of reminded me of pickled green beans.
For a place that is a BYOB, I was a little surprised by the entree that I ended up ordering.  I had a Puerco Tequilero with Wood Grilled Pork marinated in a Chile Tequila Sauce that it was served with along with Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  I wasn't surprised that tequila was used, but I was surprised that the tequila flavor in the sauce and the meat itself was so pronounced.  It was tender, very juicy, had a pronounced tequila flavor that complemented the flavor of the smoky pork,  The sauce was strong and spicy, but the Mashed Sweet Potatoes on the side took the edge off the bite.

For my dessert, I went with a classic, Tres Leches Cake.  It was dense, sweet and very moist, and was served with a Cream Cheese Frosting, Mint, Whipped Cream, and Caramel.  There is very little I can say about this except it was very good and fulfilled my expectations.

I enjoyed my dinner here, the food was very good, the staff was very friendly and helpful, the space was small, but comfortable and looked inviting.  It was very good and I will definitely return.          

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