One of my college pals and I met up in O'Hare just after we landed and I got a proper coffee. We have been jabbering nonstop since then and having a blast catching up. When we checked into our hotel, we linked up with another college friend, and I determinedly searched for a fab lunch spot: Mexique! If you feel you've heard of Mexique, it may be because its chef, Carlos Gaytan, is in season 11 of Top Chef (in New Orleans) and Mexique was recently awarded a Michelin star.
Mexique is on a relatively nondescript block of W Chicago Ave, in West Town. Inside its heavy front glass doors though is a lovely, spare oasis. We sat at the only table looking out onto the street, primarily because we knew we'd be laughing and talking and didn't want to bother the few patrons at the rear of the restaurant.
The cuisine is purported to be a Mexican-French fusion, though I didn't find much evidence of the latter. That said, our food was really, really good, so the absence of elements French didn't detract from the pleasure we took in the meal.
Alli and I shared the pumpkin soup with cranberries and two other delectable ingredients I can't recall (it was a special so not written down), and it was absolutely scrumptious. Dairy-free, you'd never suspect as much, and the layers of varying textures and spice made each bite a new and happy experience. I would very willingly eat a bowl of this daily!
Alli and Steph each continued on with mixed taco plates: tilapia with negro modelo batter and chipotle aioli; coffee-braised lamb barbacoa; pork belly with almonds, mole negro and pickled onions; crispy chicken... They loved each one but felt the lamb shone as the brightest star.
I opted for the huarache de camaron, an oval shaped masa cake that was perfectly crisped on the outside and soft and chewy inside, topped with shrimp in guajillo salsa, bacon, black beans, guacasalsa and pickled onions. I thought it was absolutely wonderful: fresh, bursting with a nice and thoughtful confluence of flavors, and just the right size portion.
It was another dish I'd happily eat on a regular basis. Alli and I each enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay from the Penedes region of Spain which was wonderfully clean and crisp, no syrupy malolactic biz anywhere in the glass!
The few flaws were disappointing ones: restaurant 101 stuff really, and downright shocking coming from such a highly regarded place. Almost every one of our plates and glasses looked and felt dirty. Not "this has never been washed," but "hmm...this has not been washed well." If you look on the soup bowl, for example, you might be able to discern a pinkish spot. It had a little fuzz stuck to it. There was some grit on the rim of my wine glass. And forget the plating. What could have been lovely, even strong, was marred by ugly, unprofessional drips and spatters, and by wilted garnishes or old greens. Alli's salad was definitely not on the good side of fresh, and there's no excuse for that.
Our waiter professed to have absolutely no cash for change; either on hand or in the restaurant. He said he could send someone out to find some; we said we'd just use credit cards. But that was utterly bizarre and should be remedied ASAP.
There were at least four flies/gnats buzzing around our heads the whole time. We were sitting by the door and window, and I didn't totally fault Mexique but in concert with the dirty dishes, well, you do the math.
Overall, though, I have to give Mexique an enthusiastic review because the food was excellent! Hope they can smooth the few rough edges because it's a delicious asset to Chicago's exciting food scene.