The source of the newest Chicago restaurant trend just might be Tulum, Mexico.
Fifteen or so years ago, few people had heard of this town. However, tourism and the spot's population have skyrocketednot to mention the prices of things. Additionally, many businesses (especially hotels and restaurants) have taken root there.
And Tulum has certainly come to Chicago. Cariñowhich has Chef Norman Fenton partnering with co-owner Karen Young, who's the owner of Wild Tulum, a Mexican restaurant in Tulumwill open in Uptown next month, although it's slated to bring more of a pan-Latin America vibe.
Also, the Fulton Market restaurant Costera Cocina Tulum has openedand let's just say that being there was quite the experience.
Walking into this spot on a Sunday morning may be a bit overwhelming for someespecially if they're nursing hangovers. However, I felt that it was cool in a way that would take you away from your troubles. The decor is modern (but with touches like stone plates), with runway floors that scream for a drag brunch. There's also a dayclubbing vibe in terms of the dark atmosphere that's punctuated by the (thankfully subdued) EDM coming out of the speakers. The whole time I was there, I didn't feel like I was in Chicago at allwhich could be good or bad, depending on your perspective at the time. (By the way, my friend and I both commented on how friendly the staff was, although it was hard to tell if that was because they were who we were because the place was still sparsely attended at 10:30 a.m.)
As for the cuisine, it hit all the right buttons for my dining companion and myself. We started with the hamachi tiradito (from the raw-bar selections that also include shrimp aguachile, oysters, Peruvian ceviche and tuna tartare). The hamachi was refreshing, thanks in large part to the habanero-watermelon broth that accompanied it.
There were other highlights and solid dishes. The Caesar salad would be in the latter category, although one might want to watch out for the very peppery telera croutons. The Costera burgerwith tornado sauce, smoky mayo, pepper jack cheese, pickles and baconwas quite good but the pina colada French toast was probably the biggest surprise for me. When I first saw it on the menu, my teeth almost ached at the thought of something I thought might be overly sweet, but that was not the case. In fact, it was light (well, as light as French toast can be) and very delicious. (Other entree options range from short rib chilaquiles to lobster rolls to various tacos.) Lastly, a dessert consisting of churros encircling a heap of coffee ice cream was the perfect way to conclude the meal.
Also, there are some enticing drinks thereat least, it seems that way because at our early hour we opted for non-alcoholic items (such as the very tasty Michoacan, a mango "margarita" with zero-proof tequila). Oh, and we received a couple (Michoacan) shotscourtesy of a server who brought them out on a large model Costera Cocina airplane adorned with sparklers. The presentation worked for me.
Unfortunately, there were some kinks that needed to be straightened outand that would be expected of a space that only officially opened on Oct. 4. Switching our orders in the doggy bags was only a minor inconvenience (although my friend, who's definitely more carnivore than herbivore, didn't appreciate losing his burger in favor of my salad). Also, watch out for the prices on some of the items; at one point, my friend said to me, "The burger is $28!"
However, a bigger problem might exist with the elevated areas where the seats arenext to the runway-like floors. Even our server said that he recently had trouble navigating the edges during a recent "club night" during which there was thick smoke. (I suggested having light strips, like on the floor of an airplane.) If someone pulls a chair out too far on the platform, the restaurant might find itself on Judge Judy (or Judy Justice, Judge Judith Sheindlin's newer show).
By the way, a server said that Costera Cucina Tulum is transformed on Friday and Saturday nights. Tables are pushed aside and the place becomes a full-blown club. It sounds fantasticbut try to keep one eye on the edge of the platform.
Costera Cucina Tulum is at 850 W. Fulton Market; visit www.costeracocina.com/ for more information.
Note: This visit was arranged.
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