French-infused food is nothing new to Chicago. Takashi slips French into Japanese fare, Avec makes a (very) happy family of French, Mediterranean and Italian flavors and Le Passage fancies their bar food as French, but who’s doing French-Mexican? No one, until Mexique.
Husband and wife duo (it’s the chic way to open if you haven’t noticed) Carlos Gaytan and Iliamar Isaac chose Tuesday to open their doors on a stretch of Chicago Avenue known for its cowboy boots and taquerias. You can even buy live chickens at Hermitage, but probably not for long. The stroller-pushing hipsters and single-scouting diners that have settled into the hood need a place where they can be seen, preferably eating upscale food. A spot like Mexique feels appropriate.
If your first thought is burritos and French fries, you’re wrong. Chef Carolos Gaytan, whose resume includes seven plus years at the Union League Club, three years at Bistrot Margot and a short stint at Adobo Grill, combines his Mexican heritage with French training for a sophisticated result. Carlos tells us (talk to him when you go, his voice coos) he loves to cook and knows that to be a chef you must also be a “creator.”
So what’s he creating? Pretty good stuff. On the appetizer list, a trio of sopes are filled with escargot and chimichurri butter, shrimp and avocado mousse, and plantains slathered with a spicy chocolate mole. Tuesday’s tuna ceviche (chef’s choice daily) was surrounded with tiny translucent gelatin cubes that tasted like a tortilla chip. The vetabel sounds just as peculiar as its spelled, but the combination of port wine poached beets with horseradish vinaigrette and a fried goat cheese cake promises an entourage of flavor.
On the main menu, Gaytan purees Malanga root from the Yucatan with white truffles as a topper for the NY steak. Dorado (Spanish for mahi mahi) is served with green beans, tiger shrimp, muscles and clams in a morita-saffron bouillon. A duck breast sports a chipotle-temple tamarind glaze and comes with a cranberry tamal.
After-dinner drinks are not on the menu, which is limited to a well-priced selection of wine. Iliamar (who is behind the design of the space and now has her career as an architect on hold to run the restaurant) tells us the list is only preliminary and will include beer in the future, but that cocktails have intentionally been left off. For fear a patron might order a midori-infused margarita to drink alongside their poblano pork tenderloin, maybe? We’re not sure, but if it’s tequila and citrus you want, you can find some resemblance of it on the dessert menu: the “Margarita” is a tequila pomegranate gelee with pink grapefruit sorbet and sea salt, for example. France and Mexico take turns down the list with classic options like crème brulee and apple tart or chocolate ganache and ancho chile enchiladas.
Call now for a table. It’s our guess once word gets out they’ll be hard to come by. Lunch starts in two weeks and weekend brunch is in the works.
[Photo: Carne at Mexique]