When I was contacted to join in a night of celebrating the culture of Mexico with the Mexico Tourism Board at Mexique restaurant in Chicago, I jumped at the chance. And then invited my husband along as well.
You see, we have a shared history with Mexico, beginning in 8th grade.
No, we weren’t dating back then, but we were friends, and we had an amazing trip with our church’s youth group to help build a church and reach out to the people of Matamoros with Christ’s love.
Fast forward over 8 years later, and we travelled back to Mexico, this time as newlyweds.
Edited to add: That picture above in Mexico was taken exactly 8 years before the day we got married! Just realized the date of July 3rd!
Before I knew what a food blog was, I started snapping away at all the incredible, flavorful food we were eating.
So, all that to say, we love Mexico. And we want to go back. But for now, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at Mexique on a cold, snowy night in Chicago.
Earlier that day, I went to Mexique’s website and watched a video of Chef Carlos Gaytan tell the story of how this restaurant came to be. This was one passionate chef, and I was excited to sample his creations.
That night we were able to hear him tell about his story of growing up in Mexico with a father who hunted for game, and a mother who was incredibly creative at putting together amazing meals. He said that his friends who had money would always come to his home, although they had little, because his mother was such an amazing cook. Isn’t that beautiful?
That passion and creativity was passed down to Chef Carlos, who truly is an artist with his food, and puts together the ingredients of Mexico in completely new and unique ways.
The restaurant itself is minimalist, clean, and modern, and just as Chef Carlos’ desires, nothing distracts from the food. As he says, “art is supposed to be on the plate.”
I really enjoyed the simple art, warm lighting, and exposed brick. Oh exposed brick, how I love your urban coolness.
We toasted with a bit of Cava Champaign.
Our first course was the ceviche, which was hands down Joe and my favorite savory course of the evening (and Joe’s favorite of all). Chef Carlos shared with us that this is not typical ceviche, it is not cured as most are, and I really appreciated the difference here.
Usually when I eat ceviche, I taste a lot of citrus (the fish is cured in that), but this had none. It was sushi grade tuna, lightly covered in a guacamole & heavy cream mousse with hints of spice from the chipotles, a slight crunch of red onions, and a clean finish of cilantro and ginger. This was so fresh and delicious, and started us off on the right foot. To the right is mango habanero galette, which was subtly sweet at first, with a bit of a chew, and then a nice spicy note hit the back of my tongue from the habanero. It was refreshing in a very interesting way!
With the second course I sipped on a tiny bit of red and got excited for some pork belly.
Chef Carlos explained that this pork was braised for four hours and covered in a hibiscus flower glaze. The meat was SO tender. I really enjoyed the full, smoky, spicy flavor of this dish as well as the different textures. And the explanation of the creamy corn underneath the pork made me smile: it’s cooked in duck fat and pork lard. I’m sorry, but how often do you get to eat food cooked in duck fat and pork lard? Fat doesn’t scare me, unless I’m biting into a big hunk of it in meat, and then I’m disgusted. I despise the chew. This had no chew, folks. It was delicious. Sadly, the mole didn’t win Joe and I over, despite it’s incredible 28 ingredients (including coconut!). Other guests at our table seemed to really enjoy it, however, so maybe we’re just not mole people? I also would’ve loved some fresh greens to go along with this and balance out the richness, but that’s just my veggie loving self.
With the third course I also had a few sips of this Cabernet Sauvignon (La Flor).
Unfortunatly, I was not impressed with this dish. I took a few bites of the steak and gave the rest to Joe, who thought it was great. I thought it was a bit chewy and lacked flavor. I did however, enjoy the potatoes and spinach, and the creamy goat cheese chipotle fondue was tasty, but I was left feeling underwhelmed with this dish. It takes a lot to win me over with a cut of meat to be honest.
But oh, what sweet deliciousness awaited me!
That my friends, would be one of the best desserts I’ve had.
Can you handle this warm, gooey lava of chocolate goodness? Or creamy pure vanilla ice cream atop a bed of fried cinnamon sugar dough?
I think not.
Chef Carlos has a fun spin on desserts. Since he doesn’t include “typical” Mexican fare such as enchiladas and guacamole on his regular menu, he has them on his dessert menu, in of course, a totally unique and delicious way. This chocolate tamale was unreal. I’ll take one more right now, please. Thanks.
Chef also explained that this chocolate comes from an amazing cacao plantation in the Tabasco region of Mexico.
Also finished the night off with baby sips of 100% pure agave tequila. It was warm going down with notes of vanilla and a hint of smokiness. You won’t find mixed drinks at Mexique, as they can conflict with the flavors of the food, and Chef Carlos knows the passion and time invested into quality tequila, and it is meant to be sipped, savored, and as an aid to digestion after a delicious meal.
And what a delicious meal this was.
I’m so glad that Joe and I were able to take part in such a fun evening. We also had some wonderful company at our table with Liz who is an editor at Plate magazine and has a fun blog with yummy Chicago restaurants and such, and Scott and Luis, who have a a great website if you’re looking to travel to Mexico.
Disclaimer: I was contacted by Ogilvy Public Relations to attend this dinner free of charge, however, all of my opinions are 100% my own.