If there is one cuisine that seems to personify a good time, it’s Mexican!
I mean, even the word ‘fiesta’ is all we need to hear, to know that there are some good times ahead. Mexican cuisine is first and foremost, fun! It is relaxed, colourful, not fussy, but rather totally communal and festive. We have an entire day of the week dedicated to the Taco. Just saying ‘enchilada’ ‘tostada’ ‘burrito’ ‘churro’ puts a smile on my face.
And it is the one cuisine that will always make Jim happy. When we were dating, the one meal we would go out for weekly was nachos. Loaded to the rafters. To this day, it is one thing that I can guarantee will put a smile on his face when I tell him what is for dinner.
So when my sister booked reservations to eat at Frontera Grill in Chicago, I knew that I wouldn’t have to run it past Jim. He would totally support this choice. My sister and her family are huge Mexican cuisine lovers in their own right. She makes a mean fish taco. Her hubby and son could eat her tacos every day if they had their way. But she is like me, loves to experiment, so they have to take all the other creations coming out of her kitchen as well. That’s no hardship tho- she is a fabulous cook!
We had a fantastic visit with them in Chicago last month. They had actually flown to Minneapolis from Vancouver, British Columbia to start a baseball vacation. After taking in a Brewers game, they made their way to Chicago, where we were waiting for them.
We love visiting Chicago. The food scene here is fabulous. Always something new to try. And the architecture is truly impressive. Especially to this Torontonian. I marvel at what they have managed to preserve, as well as the new construction continuing to pop up. There is an attention to detail, and the character that is included puts Toronto city planning to shame. Our two cities have so many similarities, including the extremes in weather, being situated on water, and a vibrant and diverse culture and demographic. Yet what continues to get approved as acceptable architecture here is appalling. Okay, enough ranting. Back to the joys of visiting Chicago…
If you get a chance to visit, take a boat tour. You will see Chicago in a way you can’t see from walking the streets. The various styles of architecture, the skyscrapers, the parkland preserved along the riverwalk, it really makes for a lovely way to spend a morning in the city.
Along with a boat tour that we all enjoyed thoroughly (would you believe, in all the times we have visited, this is the first time we actually took an official tour!) we naturally had to take in a Cubs game. The old world charm of Wrigley Field is second to none. It totally reminded me of when we were kids and would head over to Tiger Stadium in Detroit for a game. The weather was unbearably hot and humid this weekend, so we did melt somewhat, totally justifying the beers and hot dogs. And we found a great place for thin crust pizza afterwards.
This visit also included a city food tour. My sis really did her research, and found a tour that would take in the sights and history of the Chicago’s south neighbourhoods. It is Chicago’s only Chef Driven Tours, which means that we were actually chauffeured around in an air conditioned van (so very necessary in the heat wave the city was enduring) by a former Chef who worked for the Chicago White Sox. This made the whole afternoon for my baseball loving nephew Sam, much more intriguing. We were even treated to a stop over at the stadium for some behind the scenes stories. The food along the way was amazing. From soul food at Pearl’s Place in the historical Blues district of the city, to an amazing Breaded Steak Sandwich at Ricobene’s (voted one of the best sandwiches in the world!) to a succulent Polish Sausage on a bun at Jim’s Original (Jim was taken with this spot for some reason!) to our first Italian Beef Sandwich at Al’s. It is tender, spicy and juicy shaved beef on a soft bun. Yes we ate a lot of meat and bread. But it was so worth it. The tour ended with a light and flavourful Italian Lemonade, which is actually more of a snow-cone. But way more than that!! The perfect ending to a delicious afternoon 🙂 Let’s just say, it’s a good thing we did a LOT of walking, despite the heat, to work off that afternoon!
Two other spots to take in if you get to visit Chicago: Au Cheval, and Public Quality Meats. They are both in the best neighbourhood- it totally reminds me of the meatpacking district in New York City. Au Cheval is simply sublime. I can’t tell you how much this spot is worth grabbing a bite at. It isn’t a large spot. From the outside it is unassuming. It has the vibe of an old time boxcar diner inside. But the food!!! We had brunch there (go early to beat the rush and line up) and Jim ordered a burger. Yep, a burger for breakfast. But it was worth it. I ordered a shaved bologna sandwich with a cheese sauce. You’re thinking that I’ve lost it. I was confident that I would be thrilled with my choice. I was beyond thrilled. This was no ordinary bologna. It is house-made, pure pork shoulder meat, and the cheese sauce is epic. It comes with scrumptious pickles. The sandwich is towering. It is messy. And I will order it again! We popped into Publican for our last brunch together as a family that trip. Healthy, and decadent at the same time. Their pastries and bread, along with their meat counter is worth popping in for, even if you can’t stay and eat. Bring something home to eat later! Oh, and of course, visit Eataly. It’s a great spot to shop and dine. All the craziness of a market, with all the fabulous food of Italy, all under one roof. They have managed to maintain the quality of their establishments, no matter how many spots they open in. We are getting our first Eataly in Canada early next year here in Toronto- so excited!
So, the whole reason for this post. We loved our meal at Frontera Grill. I have wanted to eat here since we used Rick Bayless‘ book, ‘Mexico, One Plate at a Time’ for the Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on Instagram. Rick is truly the authority on Mexican cuisine, and has made it accessible to the rest of the world. His restaurant is booked well in advance (I always seem to leave it to the last minute when visiting Chicago, and have missed out every time. Till now) Their tequila selection alone is worth the reason for a visit. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order here. I had shrimp tacos, and was thrilled with my choice.
We started the meal with several crocks of guacamole. The Strawberry Margarita Guacamole totally intrigued us. And it was epic. There was such a balance to the flavours. The kick from the tequila was there. The sweetness of the berries was balanced by the queso fresco and cilantro. It was nice and chunky (just the way I like it. Not into a creamy guac at all!!) So I thought, I need to have this again.
I had to play with the recipe till I got the balance. Tequila can be overpowering. And you don’t want it to be the only thing you are tasting in a dip. But after some experimenting (it was soooo hard eating all the versions!) I am happy to report that I now have a new favourite way to make guacamole. I can’t say that this is exactly Frontera Grill’s guacamole. But you know, it tastes really just as good!!! I’m thrilled with it. If you are a guac lover, it is really just taking it up to the next level. It may not be for every day. But it is perfect for your next fiesta. Or Taco Tuesday. Or any evening you are just feeling festive.
Huge disclaimer: A fresh Mexican cheese is the best way to top this guacamole. It has the softest, crumbliest texture, which is a fantastic contrast to the creamy avocado. But in a pinch, I have used feta (oh don’t roll your eyes at me, you’ve done something similar at some point in your cooking careers) Just don’t use an overly salty feta. Crumble it up, and all it a day.
We parted ways in Chicago filled with the laughter of great memories. My sister, her hubby, and son went on to continue their baseball vacation (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit), and we drove home. But it just made us excited for the next time we can be together.
Strawberry Margarita Guacamole
Taking classic guacamole to the next level. With the flavours of tequila and fresh strawberries added to the mix, it is a true party in your mouth! Thanks to the jalapeño, cilantro and queso fresco, there is still a balance, so no worries about this getting too sweet or dessert-like. Olé!
- 2 medium to large ripe avocados or 3 smaller avocados
- 1-2 tbsp fresh lime juice 1or 2 limes
- 1/4 cup minced white onion
- 1 ounce tequila
- 3 medium to large strawberries not overly ripe, you don't want them to get mushy when combining with the avocado
- 1 jalapeño pepper minced, divided
- 1/3 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro plus a little more for garnish
- kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
- 2-3 tbsp queso fresco cheese or any other fresh, crumbly cheese
Scoop out the flesh from the skin and place into a large bowl or large mortar and pestle.
Use a potato masher or the back of a large spoon to mash the flesh into a coarse texture. Leave some pieces of avocado intact. You don't want this to be creamy. This isn't hummus.
Add the 1 tbsp lime juice immediately and loosely stir it in. This will help keep the vibrant green colour intact.
Add the onion, and tequila.
Chop 2 strawberries into smallish pieces. You don't want them to be too large to take over. Save one to cut into slices as a garnish at the end.
Add the strawberries, 2/3 of the jalapeño and the chopped cilantro into the mixture.
Add 1/4 tsp of the salt and pepper to start.
Give it one more stir to combine, but don't over-stir to create a mush. Taste and re-season if necessary. (The saltiness will be determined also by the cheese you are using) At this time, if it is too thick, add more lime juice. This will be affected by how large the avocados were to begin with.
Place into a serving bowl. Garnish with the queso fresco, extra cilantro, extra jalapeño confetti, and reserved strawberry slices.
This can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for a half hour or so. Don't let it rest for too long though, as the colour may start to turn brown.