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North Side Restuarant Review: Salpicon

By Laura Oppenheimer in Food on Oct 26, 2006 4:55PM

Chicagoist's search for the best Mexican food in the city took an upscale turn with a trip to Old Town favorite Salpicon. Before dining there, we had never even heard of this gem of a restaurant, as whenever we heard "upscale Mexican," we would think of Frontera Grill, Topolobambo, or Adobo Grill.

2006_10_salpicon1.jpgSalpicon is nestled on the south end of Wells, almost to Division St. The night we went it was gray and drizzling outside, but inside the restaurant, you wouldn't know it. Canary yellow walls -- normally something we would hate in a dining establishment -- are complemented beautifully with large multicolored canvases to create an upbeat atmosphere in the small Wells Street space.

Mexico City native Pricilla Satkoff is the owner and head chef. “I’m obsessed with educating the American public on the true art form of Mexican cuisine," Satkoff writes on their website, "and the freshness of its flavors and dishes.” Satkoff trained under Rich Bayless in Topolobambo and Frontera Grill, and you can see the influence with the different types of moles and sauces, and innovative takes on traditional dishes.

2006_10_salpicon2.jpgLike so many restaurants, we were more interested in the many entremeses (appetizers) than in the actual main dishes. The Sopes Rústicos -- "small, thick country tortillas topped with a roasted tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, onions, and avocado chunks" -- were a perfect starter for the table. The tomatillo sauce soaks through the warm corn cake, softening up the base of the appetizer, and creating a unifying flavor. These little sopes only made us more intrigued of what would come out of the kitchen next. And, though only three usually come in an order, the server graciously gave us a fourth so each person in our party could try one.

Chicagoist ordered Queso Fundido con Camarones -- "melted Chihuahua cheese, with serrano chiles, onions and tiger shrimp served en cazuela with warm tortillas for making tacos" -- as our appetizer. We thought the addition of shrimp was an interesting one to traditional queso fundido, and the dish was delicious, full of roasted onions and chilis. Though we enjoyed it, we had two complaints. First, we would have liked to see a more even ratio of cheese to shrimp, because before we were even halfway through the dish, the cheese had cooled and congealed, making it difficult (and not so appealing) to eat. The second thing we would like to have seen is homemade tortillas instead of the mass produced corn variety.

For our entree, we picked an additional apppetizer -- Enchiladitas de pescado, "small baked enchiladas of shredded achiote-marinated mahi mahi topped with a creamy roasted tomatillo-serrano sauce, queso fresco and red onion." We thought this was a particularly effective way to update the classic enchilada. The achiote sauce almost tasted like a pumpkin-based mole, and it worked well with the tomatillo sauce as a contrast.

One of the members of Chicagoist's party ordered Chiles Doña Queta for an entree. This dish was a clever way of updating a traditional chili relleno. It came with two chilies, the first being stuffed with a mix of mushrooms, corn and zucchini, and the second filled with a mixture of potatoes and cheese. Neither was fried as a typical relleno is; instead they were topped with a roasted poblano cream sauce and a spiced tomato sauce, respectively.

Salpicon isn't cheap, but then again, it isn't a standard Mexican restaurant. We would definitely head back if we were in the mood for updated takes on classic Mexican dishes.

Salpicon is located at 1251 N. Wells St.