Sol de Mexico has a special place in my heart. I have had wonderful dinners there, but I am certain that there is more to it than the memories of good times with dear friends.
Looking back over the threads cited above by stevez for the purpose of the renewal process, I am reminded that this is a kitchen that has some competent direction. Carlos Tello is constantly revising and refining the menu, offering tastes that may be new to his clientele, responding to his fans. This was evident from the first meal I had there, which featured ingredients little seen in restaurants: a hard-to-find green vegetable that tiny green knobs on branches(name?), deep-fried and eaten by stripping the green from the stem, and fresh nances
(blue cheese and papaya-tasting to me). Also served were corundas
, a specialty tamal in banana leaf that I have only had elsewhere at the home of a friend from Michoacan.
That the moles are praiseworthy is well known. I was reminded of how excellent they are when I recently tasted a mole negro elsewhere that did not stand up to the one at SdeM. The mole negro is on par with my friend's, and she is her family's and neighborhood's go-to-person for mole negro.
Last Saturday, I enjoyed the sweet-savory Chiles en Nogada, a one-day special for Mexican Independence Day. The accompanying salad with tomato had a note of orange (zest?), an unexpected bonus that was a simple, fine example of the kitchen's attention to detail. My husband had the Venison in Green Mole, a new-to-me item recently suggested by an lth-er whom I cannot credit, since I can't find the post. The meat was the best example of venison I have had in years, perfectly cooked, and the green mole an inspired accompaniment. Regarding the new-to-me menu, I am eager to try the stuffed calabacita
. It's great when a vegetarian entree is something beside the usual boring afterthought. I was not too sorry to see the ostrich go, though others seemed to enjoy it.
We were too full for dessert, but I was delighted to see that the pineapple upside-down cake from an early SdeM menu has returned. I posted this in 2007:
Josephine wrote:In fact, I am ready to bet that the pineapple upside down cake will surely rank as one of the ten best things eaten by me in 2007. Eating such a dessert is always bittersweet for me, because, in spite of my aspirations to amateur pastry-chefdom, I know I cannot replicate this dessert. This is partially because I cannot fully decode it. It seemed to have a spice in it-- but which one? Is there another bark-- perhaps a variant of cinnamon-- that tastes of orange? The pineapple was marinated in tequila, perhaps, then layered on top of pecans that emerged caramelized from the oven. The cake itself was almost as moist as a sticky toffee pudding and served with vanilla ice cream. 10 out of 10. Save room for dessert!
Sol de Mexico has expanded its physical presence as well, adding a bar and a second room. To celebrate our recent marriage, my husband and I asked Carlos to prepare a meal for friends and family. From start to finish, it was clear that he was invested in our enjoyment of the event. At every turn, he delivered more than we asked for, even welcoming our guests, serving drinks, and coordinating the service himself. We asked for one filling for the sopes
appetizer, and received three. We asked for tamales de elote
as a side, and he offered what basically was a second entree on the plate with the main course (chicken breast with mole negro). We packed the party room, and even with dinner service next door, all went smoothly. The food showed no signs of pre-preparation and holding. All was moist and delicious. As it turned out, the guests who were unfamiliar with Mexican dishes beyond tacos were the most enthusiastic. My beloved pineapple upside-down cake felt celebratory. It is back on the menu now. (Perhaps my entreaties had an impact. I like to think so, anyway.) Finally, on a cold night, we did have a few folks who could not make it at the last minute. Carlos generously refused to accept payment for their meals (He vigorously insisted. We made certain the servers received the same amount as a bonus.) I would highly recommend Sol de Mexico for a small to medium-sized special occasion party. Carlos even offered to open up the place for dancing, and DJ himself, but we were too worn out to take him up on it. Don't think that this is special treatment for regulars, as I had been living outside Chicago for several years, and we presented to Carlos as new customers.
Early on in the existence of the restaurant, there were some questions about handling crowds. In my recent experience, these are a thing of the past. In contrast, I have found the service attentive on weekend nights. Weeknights still appear to be a bit empty there, which is a shame, because for anyone who can easily jump on 94, the location is excellent. Friends from the northern suburbs who are unfamiliar with the city have been pleasantly surprised about the restaurant's location. In fact, the location can be an advantage on Saturday night, when other, more central locations are packed. (A friend recently gave up and drove home after looking for parking one Saturday night in Lincoln Square.) If this place were located in Lakeview or Lincoln Square, it would be impossible to get in.
A final plus for Sol de Mexico is the festive, yet softly-lit dining room. I love looking up at the masks and the Diego Rivera arranged along the deep orange walls.
To me, Sol de Mexico is the quintessential GNR. I support its renewal.
Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.