Restaurant Week Reviews: Topolobampo
By Lisa White in Food on Feb 3, 2014 5:00PM
Restaurant Week, like any promotional event, can be a tricky situation. You’ll spend a good amount of time dodging mediocre food, underwhelming speciality menus, overworked chaotic front of house staff and have an overall experience that does not live up to the potential of a restaurant you usually enjoy—all in the name of saving some cash. It’s no surprise the best Restaurant Week meal I’ve found comes from a successful empire that has been consistently winning praise and awards since the late 80s. It brings truth to the old adage that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Topolobampo first opened in 1991 as the high end sister restaurant to the popular Frontera Grill. Walk through a sliding door wall of Frontera and you enter a hushed and intimate yet inviting establishment showcasing some of the most well balanced flavors in Mexican cuisine. There is a reason Bayless & Co. has so many awards and restaurants and is one of the go to chefs for traditional Mexican cuisine in America.
I started the meal with their seasonal margarita on the menu: blood orange. A mix of blood orange juice, lime, agave silver tequila and Cointreau made for a tart yet sweet refreshing drink shaken tableside. My lunch guest had the Scarlet Wave, one of the refreshing and light non-alcoholic options on the menu. The Restaurant Week menu was different than the original one advertised online and offered three options for your first and second course and two options for your third. I chose the classic ceviche to start. A mound of brightly acidic fish was complemented by the crunch of jicama, sweetness of tomato and a briny bite of olive. No taste overpowered the others and the acid worked to bring out the flavor rather than fight it, showcasing a perfect textbook example of ceviche. My guest had the Sopa Azteca, a dark broth that was rich in spice but incredibly light, a subdued starter for such bold flavor.
For my second course I had to choose the Carne Asada dish with its promise of Oaxacan black mole, one of the more difficult moles to make. The meat was perfectly cooked, pink and tender to the point of barely needing a knife. The Oaxacan black mole was poured tableside over the creamy black beans. It was complex (not surprising given the amount of ingredients that go into making it) and every spice worked together to create a richly deep mole. Once again, balance reigns supreme in the Bayless empire. The chepil tamal contained some of the freshest corn flavor I’ve had in a tamal and the smoky green beans and fresh greens provided a peppery crunch of texture. I also tried my guest’s course, the striped bass so delicate and buttery and balanced perfectly by the bright yellow mole.
For dessert I went with the Sopa de Frutas. Each element alone was simple almost to the point of boring, but when you combined the honey sorbet with the broth and the crunch of toasted almond alongside the segments of fruit it instantly brought forward memories of spring and summer, a crisp cold freshness that ended the meal perfectly. My guest had the Oaxacan Chocolate Sundae which was delicious but wasn’t near the level of fine dining served up at Topolobampo. If you are going all out at Restaurant Week, stick to the high brow for the full experience.
Everything at Topolobampo truly is a balancing act. Even the servers are perfectly timed to swoop in and clear your table, provide an extra napkin all while dishing up the calm and warming attitude that one would expect from a chef who strives to make his kitchens feel like a home. The key to a successful and happy life is finding a good balance and rhythm so it is no surprise that Bayless is still churning out thoughtful dishes for over two decades. Bayless is an avid yoga student, another world that strives for balance in life, so it isn't surprising his cooking does the exact same thing.
Topolobampo only serves lunch during Restaurant Week and reservations are completely booked at this time during the remainder of the promotion. If you want to experience some of the most well executed and consistent food Restaurant Week has to offer, get ready to snag a spot next year, knowing that you can count on a good meal from a chef that has more than proven his worth.