We got a table for five at 10PM on Friday the 13th. I was running late; by the time I joined my party they were already served cocktails. Etta loved the fresh cucumber and complex tartness of the Xoco margarita. Effie thought the Topolo margarita was in the sweet spot between sugary and tart. I was happy to order a bottle of Topochico for myself: the tightness of bubbles pushes this Mexican mineral water to the front of the pack of palette cleansing. For appetizers we chose two dishes from the raw bar: Yucatecan ceviche of shrimp and squid, deliciously full of citrus notes and habanero, and yellowtail aguachile, silky delicate fish gently marinating with lime and addictive spicy chile arbol hot sauce, with chia seeds lending the texture of roe and savory balance of flavor. Mr. Cuzco was excellent taking my guest’s mushroom allergy back to the chef to ensure that all would be well. Junior cleared and reset our table before the cavalcade of vegetable small plates.
It was a harvest feast of grilled corn on the cob two ways, Swiss chard and potatoes in earthy guajillo chile, long beans from the Bayless’ garden in Baja olive oil, smoky grilled tatume squash with fresh cheese, and habit-forming scorched shishito peppers with sea salt. The table agreed on the grilled corn with serrano mayo over the more rustic red chile and sour cream corn: beyond that everybody had a different winning vegetable. The vegetarian at the table, Gordon, who also happens to be the lead singer of the Violent Femmes, experienced his favorite of the night, and one of the best soups he has ever had, with the entree course. He had the Sopa de Guias, a Oaxacan style vegetable broth with the “three sisters” of the field: sweet corn, heirloom squash, and runner beans. He said the depth of flavor and complexity was beyond anything he’s tasted in vegetable soup, and was so into adding the fresh cheese and serrano salsa that he dropped out of conversation. That bowl was the last plate to be surrendered as he savored every taste.
The rest of my party split the classic grilled ribeye with hypnotic flavors of beef, red chile and fire, as well as the grilled Alaskan salmon in acidic, spicy, crunchy and beyond amazing salsa of tomatoes grown on the restaurants roof, ripe melons, fall apples and green chile. The best part was the tomato water, alive with those flavors. Our other friend Peter fell into the trance of that Friday night special: taco after taco of smoked brisket in black mole. Effie thought the tortilla soup lived up to the high expectations set by her mother who loved it at her lunch at Topolobampo: she appreciated the nod to French onion soup in the onions’ caramelization and how the cream and cheese melted into and enriched the steaming chile broth.
The entire table was cleared and cleaned leaving only our water glasses and despite the sudden need for a pair of elastic-waist pants we pushed on to a single shared dessert: the parfait of Concord grapes and Oaxacan chocolate. The tangy grapes brought to life the raisiny elements of dark chocolate, heightened by the sweet grape compote and puckery whipped cream. Thank you for an unforgettable dinner that demonstrated the powerful force of a fully conscious team doing farm to table cooking at the height of the harvest, with techniques new and as old as there have been people in the americas.