Richard Sandoval

Michael Nagrant / 09.11.07

Denizens of the Viagra Triangle have a new way to perk things up, at least when it comes to their palates.  Instead of dumbing things down for the masses like the cooks at many pan-Latino spots, chef Richard Sandoval — noted for Asian-inflected fare and modern Mexican flair at restaurants like Zengo in Denver and Maya in New York City — kicks you right in the chiles at his new spot, Mexx Kitchen at the Whiskey Bar.

Mahi mahi ceviche features a full-blown fire of grassy serrano chili, cut with a zingy tomato citrus; regional seafood delicacies like walleye get a spritz of guava and watermelon juices.  Even seared rare ahi tuna, which has become a cliche item on haute menus, gets fired up with a chili-coriander crust and a hibiscus, blood-orange and habanero emulsion that simultaneously sears and soothes your tongue.

Q. What do you wish you could change or pickle and preserve about the Chicago restaurant/ food scene?

A. Chicago is a sophisticated food town with a passion for ethnic cuisine.  I love the energy and vibrancy of the city.

Q. What would your last meal be?

A. I’d be surrounded by friends and family, sharing dishes from my childhood like my grandmother’s sopa de tortilla or the fresh clams with lime and spicy sauce I used to eat growing up in Acapulco.  I will also have a lobster dish, like a lobster roll with chile chipotle rouille, accompanied with lots of tequila.

Q. What Chicago chef would you be most willing to share a kitchen with?

A. Rick Bayless.  I admire his commitment to Mexican food and to educate guests about food traditions that have been lost here.

Q. What’s the can’t-miss dish at Mexx?

A. The seafood enchiladas made with scallops, shrimp and gouda cheese in a chile de arbol sauce.  It is one of my favorites because most people don’t associate enchiladas with seafood, but it is a very traditional ingredient in Mexico.  I’ve put my own spin on the enchiladas by making them with a chile de arbol sauce and cooking them in our wood-burning oven.

Q. What should we know about Mexx that we probably don’t?

A. When I partnered with Randy and Scott Gerber to create Mexx, we all agreed that it would be great to have a bar/restaurant with the synergy of their great bars and night life and my modern flavors.  I think all guests will be somewhat skeptical when they first hear about Mexx, but I want everyone to know that even though the spot is casual, I was very serious about creating a great menu.

Mexx Kitchen; 1015 North Rush Street, Chicago (312) 475-0300