A taboo is something that is forbidden, either by social custom or fear of supernatural forces. But Tabú, a new restaurant in Fulton Market from Atomic Hospitality that opens today, May 20, started with the idea that when it came to Latin food, nothing should be off limits.
“It’s a fun, modern twist on Latin cuisine,” says general manager Pepe Fernandez.
Tabú previously popped up for Taco Tuesdays at Recess, the Fulton Market bar with an enormous patio also owned by Atomic, but now customers finally have the chance to taste all of chef Saúl Román’s work.
Román, who grew up in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and cooked in Mexico City before moving to Chicago, where he worked in the kitchens of Zocalo and Artango Steakhouse, blends American comfort food with Mexican and Latin spices and Mexican food with peppers from South America and the U.S. The Que-FC, for instance, plays with the classic American fried chicken dinner by serving the chicken in a taco with tamarind gravy, aji amarillo aioli, and potato puree, while the Mole Dip is a takeoff on the French dip, only with mole jus.
Román also created his own version of the now-resurrected Taco Bell Mexican pizza, made with tlayudas. Except, says Fernandez, “it’s so much better than Taco Bell.” For dessert, there’s a churroulette, an assortment of churros standing up in what looks like the bullet chamber of a gun. Most of them are in flavors like dark chocolate, guava, and dulce de leche, but one is infused with habanero chile, and diners won’t know which it is until they try it. (The dessert can also be ordered without the extra element of danger.)
The grilled octopus, however, is served straight-up, with no twist. Fernandez says Román prepared it so well, it didn’t need any gimmicks, just a side of manchamanteles, a Mexican stew.
The cocktail list is heavy on tequilas and mezcals — management boasts that the bar stocks the largest collection of agave spirits in Chicago — plus Mexican beers and wines from Spain and South America.
The main dining room and lounge seat 160, with the bar in the center. Overhead is a rope structure that runs the length of the restaurant. Fernandez says took two months to build: each piece was individually measured, taped, torched, and stapled into place. On the walls hang pop-art paintings, some American culture to complement the Latin American vibe.
Upstairs, on the roof, there’s an 8,000-square-foot patio that will, sometime next month, open to the public as a pop-up serving an abbreviated version of the downstairs menu. Management will settle on a more permanent theme next year.
Fernandez credits Tabú’s ambition to Román. “It wasn’t until chef Saúl came aboard that we decided to go up to another level,” he says. “The first tasting he did, we just realized we had something a lot bigger on our hands than we had anticipated.”
See more pictures of Tabú’s dining room below.