Monday, October 7, 2013

Mexique

I walked into Mexique with negative biases.   The attention given to the Michelin rating system is something of a joke to me, so I’m prone to discount anyplace with a star.  When restaurants take to Groupon, as Mexique did last year, I view it as a sign of decline.  Finally, the place is called Mexique.  Have you ever tried Mexican restaurants in France?  If so, you would know not to name your restaurant after that take on the cuisine.
With my first taste of the night, I was nearly converted.  A spoonful of the “spiced bouillabaisse broth” served in a bowl with something called a “Pescamal”, though more like a thick mole than a broth, was packed with intense roasted chile, complex spicing, and a shellfish undertone that made it unlike anything I’d ever tasted. 
Had the kitchen served this compelling puree simply with fresh tortillas instead of the sad rectangular starch plopped in the bowl, it would have been great.  The Pescamal , described on the menu as a corn tamal, had the texture and taste of a bake-and-serve dinner roll, stuffed with rubbery bits of fish that were devoid of flavor. 
A trio of sopes furthered the possibility that the chef might be shopping in the Trader Joe’s frozen food section.  The masa pucks were equally sized and perfectly rounded as if by a machine, and they were dense, greasy and tasteless.  The toppings tasted far more pedestrian than their menu descriptions implied.  Bizarrely, two disparate-sounding sauces tasted identical – like balsamic vinegar reduction.  Maybe the kitchen made a mistake with the plating.
The best dish of the night was one featuring braised veal short ribs served with orange-scented mushrooms and peppercorn gastrique.  A well-executed dish even though every component pushed the sweet, fruity side a bit too far.  Had the advertised escabeche de fresas actually tasted pickled instead of just macerated in sugar, this might have been a nicely balanced dish.
Worst was a special of seared tuna loin with chile-infused polenta and “mole de la casa”.  The tuna was seared nicely, but the polenta was so full of lumps that I was shocked that a restaurant of this ambition would serve it.  The mole was way too sweet and overpowered by cinnamon.  Put a straw in it and call it an horchata, and I’d believe you.
The chef at Mexique is mixing a lot of different flavors and techniques, and I suspect there are cases where this produces more winners like the broth served with the Pescamal.  Unfortunately, everything skews very sweet and there is a lot of flawed cooking, including a special level of ineptitude with cornmeal based dishes.  For a place with any degree of Mexican makeup, that’s hard to forgive.

Mexique
1529 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 850-0288