At a time when modern Mexican cuisine is in the spotlight, it’s exciting to peruse the menus (below) by Chip Barnes, the chef behind the forthcoming Alto Bajo restaurant, which opens adjacent to the Hi-Lo Hotel, part of Marriot’s Autograph Collection, in downtown next week, on May 31. Barnes has experience at some of Chicago’s biggest restaurants, and to develop the dishes at Alto Bajo, he teamed up with none other than Oaxacan chef Iliana de la Vega.
Noting de la Vega’s background, it seems obvious Barnes would want to showcase mole — that rich, soupy sauce with numerous ingredients highlighting chocolate, chilis, and seeds or nuts — which is native to Oaxaca, Mexico. And he does, with four mole dishes called the Fiesta de Moles.
“With moles, you strive for depth and complexity, followed by balance,” says Barnes, who will use hazelnuts in his mole, in a nod to Oregon. “You should taste the chili, taste the tomato and the cooked onion and garlic.” Barnes adds the Tikin Xic and Cochinita Pibil plates — which are large platters of meats and seafood served with local Three Sisters tortillas — are designed with the Mexican sobremesa dining style in mind: the habit of lingering in a restaurant over conversation with friends and family after the meal is done.
But the plate he’s most excited about is meijollnes nayarit, a dish of mussels with a spicy and intensely aromatic butter-based broth, served with freshly made Three Sisters masa for dipping. “I think it highlights a side of Mexico many people are not familiar with,” says Chef Barnes.
Currently, the modern Mexican cuisine scene in Portland is largely dominated by Xico, a featured restaurant on the Eater 38, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Peruse the menus below to see what’s in store: