Recently, I found a review for Chef Rick Bayless' newest branch of his Frontera Grill franchise in the Macy's Cellar in San Francisco. I cannot honestly for the life of me remember where I saw the review, but whoever it was, it was not favorable. I was aghast. I thought "Rick Bayless, master of Yucatan Cuisine, would never open a shoddy, poorly designed restaurant. Never!" The review in question said that the menu was lacking in choices, was expensive for what it did offer, and the food was mediocre at best.
Again, I thought, "Pshaw!" I have watched many of his PBS shows where he enthusiastically and thoroughly describes the many facets of Yucatan cuisine and the history behind the dishes. In fact, it was because of Rick Bayless that while on vacation on the Yucatan Peninsula myself I purchased a bottle of Xtabentun, a unique sweet honey liquor.
Therefore, when my wife and I visited the Macy's Cellar in downtown San Francisco to wrap up our wedding gift registry, we decided the reviewer mentioned above must have gone on an off night and we would be the ones to prove them wrong. At the very least, I wanted to give Chef Bayless another chance to prove himself.
As it turns out, whoever wrote that first review was spot on. I was THOROUGHLY disappointed, in both the restaurant, and Chef Bayless. The menu, if you can call it that, consisted of four Tortas, or grilled sandwiches, and a handful of enchiladas, a tortilla soup, and that was about it. And every dish on the "menu" was over $8, just a tad pricy for a quickly assembled pre-made sandwich. And here's another thing: Maybe I have become a bit jaded about my Mexican food, but I generally expect a basket of warm tortilla chips and some salsa to accompany my order. As it goes, Frontera Grill charges you almost $2.00 for this luxury, and they aren't even fresh! Nay, the chips you pay an extra two dollars for come stuffed into a hermetically sealed bag, prepackaged and already stale for your chewing enjoyment.
My wife and I both ordered the same thing, a chipotle chicken torta, which was not bad. Sadly, that is the best thing I can say about the whole experience. The sandwich was not bad. Mind you, it wasn't great either, but it did the trick. The Missus ordered one of Chef Bayless' Limeaid drinks, this one with mango, and I got the feeling he didn't try very hard on this one, either. After tasting the "beverage", I imagined someone being paid $8 an hour to mix gallon jugs of high-fructose corn syrup, pre-measured powdered flavoring and water into a large vat before pouring it into a stylish and convenient serving container.
My unfortunate experience was compounded mostly by the fact that I had such high expectations for a restaurant, although technically "fast food", that was designed by a respected and celebrated chef. I would have expected this dining experience if I had walked into say, Taco Bell, but not a place created by someone who has dedicated their culinary career to the Yucatan Peninsula. While I was expecting something akin to "Mall Food", since we were of course in a department store, Frontera Grill shares space with a Wolfgang Puck grill and a Boudin Bakery, one of San Francisco's best go-to eateries; so I was at least hoping to be able to give a thumbs up to Chef Bayless. How Rick Bayless felt secure about stamping his name on this waste of time is beyond me. Shame Chef Bayless, Shame. Try harder next time.