Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Not Frontera/Frontera - Continued

The feedback/questions surrounding my Frontera posts go something like this:

1) Was I holding back anything on Frontera, in other words do I think it worse than I said

2) Is Frontera worth it ever, that a skilled, committed chef can add little to the process or experience of eating Mexican food. Or, put slightly different, that Not Frontera will ALWAYS be better.

My responses to the issues about Frontera Grill, I believe, boil down, likewise to two points:

1) Frontera has been a very good restaurant, but it has slid

2) Frontera Grill can a good job of cooking authentic and real Mexican food but does not right now.

To address whether Frontera is a good restaurant, I have to say, resoundingly, that Frontera's success as a restaurant is not tied explicitly to its ability to provide Mexican food. I support fusion and even inauthentic presentations if they taste good. Believe it or not, I like eating at Chipoltle. Heaven on Seven is another not very authentic kitchen I like. Authenticity can help a restaurant in many ways, but it is not the mark of a good restaurant.

What I seek in a good restaurant, or at least the criteria I look at include decor, service, style, value, panache, originality, comfort and the product of the kitchen. I am, of course, highly subjective in my ratings, as those who know me know. Yet, even if I can be happy eating in a dump, I respect, enjoy, appreciate and value all the other factors. Frontera falters right now because, as a restaurant, it is missing so much. It is crowded, noisy, the service is not very adept, there are tons of niggling charges (on top of high prices), some of the dishes are not wholly well executed, and some things, like the table salsa's are just too industrial for me.

The other question, can Frontera serve good Mexican food? Can a white guy sing the blues? It was offered to me that none of the high price affectations of Frontera quite matter, that no fancy Heirloom pork could ever improve a lowly carnita. I disagree. I believe Frontera can truly bring the recipes of Mexico to Chicago, and I believe that all the finer products just make for better food. Good ingredients do help.

I believe that "ethic" food does not have to be cheap, but when I pay more for ethnic food, any food generally, I am seeking, more than anything, better ingredients. I expect the piece of fish served at Frontera to be of much higher quality than the piece of fish at Not Frontera. In this case money matters. Not just that, but I expect a Rick Bayless to just know how to get better fish than most of the places in Not Frontera. In my opinion, Frontera has the ability to put out very good Mexican food. They are just not doing it.

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