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Frontera/Tompolobampo: 2nd Time Not a Charm

chucktowneater Apr 22, 2007 10:15 PM

I ate at Topolobampo for lunch about a month ago with a colleague last time I was in town. During that visit I found the food disappointing to say the least, especially considering the hype this restaurant had received. Although I was not impressed, I decided to go back with several friends this weekend to the Frontera grill on Friday night to give it another go . The result: everyone was underwhelmed. 2 of us had the pork in a mole sauce. It was by far the blandest interpretation of mole I've ever had. My ex's mom used to make the best mole, and I wasn't expecting mole quite that good; tasty would have been sufficient. It wasn't. Coupled with that, the pork was literally 2 centimeters thick. While it was cooked to an appropriate temp (medium), it was odd to be served these thin, bland pieces of pork. My SO had the mahi mahi special, which I tried, and was quite bland as well, drastically underseasoned. The black beans that accompanied the mahi mahi were good though. So were the guacamole and taquitos we had to start. Ok, so they can make black beans, guacamole, and taquitos. So can I, and IMHO better than each of their interpretations. There will be no 3rd try. There are far too many restaurants in this city to waste time and money on. This review is not meant to make bitter digs at the restaurant; rather to share with others that money is better spent elsewhere. For instance, the following night we ate at One Sixty Blue and had a fabulous meal. It's not that I don't like Mexican food. I certainly do. I just happen to like good Mexican food.

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    NDJ RE: chucktowneater Apr 23, 2007 05:40 AM

    I understand where you are coming from. I personally do like both Topolo and Frontera, but I do find them to be very inconsistent...particularly from a seasoning point of view. I have had things that were super bland and the next time I'm there someone orders the same thing and it is incredibly salty. I go back because once every 3 times or so they hit it and it is incredible. The other times are just ok, but I have fun given the lively atmosphere so usually have little regret.

    1. nsxtasy RE: chucktowneater Apr 23, 2007 07:59 AM

      >> the pork was literally 2 centimeters thick. While it was cooked to an appropriate temp (medium), it was odd to be served these thin, bland pieces of pork. <<


      2 centimeters is reasonably thick (over 3/4 inch)...

      1 Reply
      1. re: nsxtasy
        chucktowneater RE: nsxtasy Apr 23, 2007 10:32 AM

        The meat was thinner than 1 centimeter then. Obviously, the object of my post was to define food using the metric system, surely not to describe an overall underwhelming dining experience.

      2. h
        Helper Monkey RE: chucktowneater Apr 23, 2007 08:08 AM

        Count me in the same camp. I've been disappointed with Frontera twice (haven't been in 4+ years), but the prix fixe meal I had at Tompo two years ago was even more dissapointing due to the price. We had high hopes and the entire group walked away quite dissapointed.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Helper Monkey
          ChefJune RE: Helper Monkey Apr 23, 2007 11:31 AM

          Add me to the list of those who have been served unsatisfactory food, and with disdain by the servers, when the cold or uncooked situation was mentioned...

          1. re: ChefJune
            gymp RE: ChefJune Apr 23, 2007 12:34 PM

            I've dined at Topolobambo about eight times in the last 18 months (mostly lunch) and every visit was very impressive, both in food and service. I've also been to Frontera Grill about about once a month in that period for Saturday brunch, which has also been outstanding. We also had a great rehearsal dinner in the Morale's room for our son's wedding and last month went to the spectacular dinner put on for the restaurant's 25th anniversary. I've always been impressed with the way the preparations emphasize the natural flavors of the high quality ingredients and with the subtlety and intelligence of the sauces and accompaniments. Moles have been a particular highlight: smooth, complex, pungent without overwhelming. Desserts are also almost always spectacular (e.g., a coconut cream flan with lime-mango salsa just last Saturday). The servers are almost always very friendly and very well informed--better, in fact, on both counts than those at Everest, which has a high reputation for service.

            I have very seldom been to Frontera for the very crowded dinner service, so I wonder if many of the problems people experience are connected with that. On the other hand, I've never been disappointed with Topolobampo, either at lunch or at dinner (where I've found the tasting menus especially impressive).

            1. re: gymp
              chucktowneater RE: gymp Apr 24, 2007 01:10 PM

              I was tired when writing the review, so I just left out the desserts. The coconut cream flan with the lime-mango salsa was very good. In fact, we got several desserts to share, and that one lasted about 10 seconds. However, the ice cream was more ice than cream. It had the consistency of italian ice but was not nearly as good. We also had a wild berry tart a la mode and that too was disappointing. I was expecting bright fruit with a nice crumble and had neither. Top that with the same icy ice cream and you have one mediocre dessert. But, you are correct: the coconut cream flan was damn tasty.

              1. re: chucktowneater
                lbs RE: chucktowneater Apr 24, 2007 01:26 PM

                Did you not like it because it's not what you expected? Or did you not like it because of the taste?

                1. re: lbs
                  lbs RE: lbs Apr 24, 2007 02:00 PM

                  Please note that I am NOT being snarky! It's hard when what you order isn't what you expected. And I wanted to know if that was the case or something else. FWIW I had a really good meal at Frontera and I was also wondering if I was the expection to the rule.

        2. YoYoPedro RE: chucktowneater Apr 23, 2007 01:57 PM

          I have eaten lunch at Frontera with clients at least monthly for the last 4-5 years, and have never had anything but the best experiences there. I find the servers, hostess staff and bartenders to be at the top of their game, and always much more caring than any of the other restaurants I frequent. I wouldn't say that the serving sizes run large, but then again, most American restaurants tend to serve way too much food for a healthy meal, so I find it refreshing that they help me maintain a manageable size and shape.

          2 Replies
          1. re: YoYoPedro
            chris RE: YoYoPedro Apr 26, 2007 07:36 AM

            Agreed - I've been there several times in the past few months - lunch on weekdays, dinner on weekdays, Saturday dinner, etc and have never had anything less than excellent food and great service.

            I'll be going again this Saturday night with a larger group, we'll see how it goes.

            1. re: chris
              chris RE: chris May 2, 2007 05:33 AM

              I had dinner last Saturday with a party of six.

              Estimated wait time given at 5:30 pm: two and a half hours.
              Actual wait time: one hour and five minutes.

              Service: Excellent, dare I say flawless.

              Food: Amazing, six people, six different dishes, I sampled them all and would make a point to go back and try each one.

          2. stellamystar RE: chucktowneater Apr 23, 2007 06:07 PM

            my husband swears by the frontera formerlly in Marshall Fields food court stand. He gets his fix of Bayless' goods without the price. I haven't been, but he likes the tortas for lunch.

            1 Reply
            1. re: stellamystar
              SandraB RE: stellamystar Apr 24, 2007 07:26 AM

              Add my name to the list of those that have been underwhelmed. Have to admit that months (versus weeks and days) have seperated my visits, but we've stopped going to both. Perhaps if we went all the time they'd recognize us and treat us better, but we're not going to make that bargain.

            2. g
              gonefishin RE: chucktowneater Apr 24, 2007 11:55 AM

              Hi all,

              My wife and I have only eaten at Topo once...but we are in the exact same situation as you. The food at Topo was decent...and that's about it. We did have a good time...and the service was good. But the food was very non-descript.

              We have been saying that we will have to make the trip up to Frontera Grill and give that a try. After reading your review...we may give that more thought and just end up eating somewhere else.

              thanks for your review,

              1 Reply
              1. re: gonefishin
                ChicagoJen RE: gonefishin May 1, 2007 10:47 AM

                I would recommend Salpicon - VERY good mexican cuisine. Personally, I've always had good food and service at Topo and Frontera...

              2. WildSwede RE: chucktowneater May 4, 2007 12:00 PM

                I have only been once, since I live in L.A., but will be going again when I visit your wonderful city again next week. I had dinner at Frontera. I thought everything was fantastic. The highlight, though, was the fish ceviche (the one with the green olives) - I have been having dreams about it! Cannot wait to have it again! I ordered something with mole last time, knowing full well beforehand that I am defintely not a mole fan, but it still was very good. And that is saying something coming from me. Also, the table side hand-shaken margarita sure did put me in a good mood! Service from hostess to waitstaff was spot on.

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