So, I'm in Chicago and on my second full day here, I fulfilled the promise I made to myself to try one of Rick Bayless' restaurants. When I brought up XOCO on Twitter, both Tonya and Steph insisted I have their churros. Steph also added I needed to try one of their hot chocolates, and who am I to deny my people?
I timed my visit so that I could hit both breakfast and lunch, which, in hindsight, knowing my belly capacity, may not have been wise back to back. But regrets are for the weak, so we'll move on. The churro was a warm and fluffy start to my experience at XOCO. Lightly spiced and sugared, it was not too sweet, which made for a lovely accompaniment to the chocolate. Interestingly, I could have sworn I tasted Masa or cornmeal in there, but when I asked was told it was regular old dough.
I went with the Aztec hot chocolate, which is made from on-site fresh roasted and ground cacao beans, chile and allspice. In a word, luxurious. This was a silken chocolate that had a barely-there acidity backed by an intensely complex flavour, courtesy of the spices. I would definitely have this again.
In the 7 minutes between the time I finished my breakfast and the start of lunch service, a line had sprouted almost to the door! I joined the queue of people, including an older couple behind me whose first time it also was, and perused the pork heavy menu board of torta selections. It was small agony trying to decide between the many delicious sounding options, but in the end, I went with the ahogada. This a style apparently most popular in Guadalajara, and the word ahogada means "drowned".
The sandwich, filled with golden pork carnitas, black beans and pickled onions, standing in a pool of spicy tomato and árbol chile sauce, was a challenge to finish after the churro and rich chocolate, and I did end up abandoning the bread after the first half. (I really should have had that on an empty stomach.) It looks like different tortas come on different breads, as evidenced by what was on my co-first-timers' plates. Mine was on a dense, chewy and crusty bread, the bottom part of which was saturated with the tomato sauce it was perched in.
Let's talk about the sauce. I opted for medium heat, but let me tell you, there is a kick to the medium hot sauce. However, it was still brimming with lots of tomato flavour. The carnitas were amazing. Spoon tender chunks of pork meat that were perfectly seasoned and the bits of crunchy skin were heaven.
I did have a bit of a star-struck moment when the man himself, Chef Bayless, walked past my table and into the open kitchen. It was great to see him chatting with the cooks and taste testing the sauces on the go. Nice to know he still has that kind of touch with his restaurants.