Yolo opened quietly almost a year ago, but has recently begun to generate a lot of buzz. With restaurants like Rick Bayless' Topolobampo and Frontera Grill grabbing food section headlines and placing upscale Mexican cuisine into the spotlight, it's no wonder that other restaurateurs want to get in on the action.
Like your stomach when it comes to a good basket of chips and salsa, there's always room for one more, and in Skokie, Yolo fills that niche.
Located at 5111 Brown St., the small, attractive space is tucked away on a side street just off of Lincoln near downtown Skokie. The dining room is refined yet casual; the tables are topped with cloth but the napkins are paper. Reservations aren't necessary, but you may want to consider them.
This BYOB restaurant features only one disappointment, but it comes at the beginning and is over quickly.
The chips are store bought and it's disappointingly obvious. Luckily, the salsa, with which they're served, is fascinating and delicious. Orange-colored and pourable, Yolo's salsa has more in common with tomato soup than with the chunky red stuff you'll find the tables at most Mexican eateries. This spin on what would otherwise be a common dish is the beginning of the inventiveness, and could be said to be Yolo's trademark.
Appetizers, too, benefit from a non-traditional approach, breathing new life into dishes that could definitely use them. Yolo's version of the shrimp cocktail is a rainbow of colors and flavors - a perfectly splayed, pale green avocado strides atop a neon yellow pool of chopped mango, onion, and cocktail shrimp, punctuated by sharply vibrant leaves of cilantro. The result is both beautiful and delicious. And at $13, this appetizer comes in near the price of many of Yolo's entrees, but the splurge is well worth it.
Another appetizer appearance is that rarely found treat in Chicago, the fish taco – and a good one at that.
For $10, three fish tacos are served and while it makes them difficult to split between couples, they are well worth fighting for. The fresh tilapia Yolo uses is first lightly sautéed and then served on perfectly, ever so slightly cooked corn tortillas, topped with strongly flavored red onion. And the side of Verde sauce that accompanies the appetizer provides a nice spicy kick.
Both steak and seafood are well represented on the menu too.
Latin takes on traditional, American steakhouse dishes, like the Mignon Meztli – a fat cut of filet mignon with a mushroom cream sauce for $18 – are served alongside unexpected approaches to fish, such as the Salmon en Crema de Ajonjoli, where the fish is served in a sesame seed sauce that somehow manages to be more creamy than sharp, also $18.
The true star of the show at Yolo, however, is the mole.
This well loved sauce has as many variations as American barbecue sauce, and can be vastly different depending on the chef and the region. At Yolo, black mole sauce is king.
The sauce is crafted from 32 different ingredients. The dominant flavor in black mole is cocoa, and this thick, chocolaty sauce is brought to life by the addition of herbs, spices, tomato, tomatillo and several different kinds of peppers.
And the sauce's presences pairs especially well with chicken, as in the Mole Negro Oaxaca ($15). Another take on the sauce adds the most commonly used Indian spice tamarind, in the dish Mole de Tamarindo, also $15.
And while Yolo is a family business, the nieces and nephews of the head chef are very sociable and carry a lot of pride as it shows with their knowledge of the menu. And don't be thrown off by their formal-looking black and white attire either - the restaurant is casual enough for shorts and a t-shirt, and there isn't a hint of stuffiness: our server shared a friendly and raucous laugh with a crowd of regulars as she opened their BYOB wine.
There are great things in store for Yolo and as word of mouth spreads, one won't be able to walk in on a Saturday night without waiting. For now, the future of casual, upscale fine dining in Skokie is waiting with open arms and open tables, ready to surprise with original spins on classic favorites.