Sabor Saveur (Chicago): Chef Yanitzin “Yanni” Sanchez melds Mexican ingredients and French technique at her best-of-both-worlds eatery

Sabor Saveur shows diners another side of the Mexican culinary experience — upscale, gourmet cuisine. Photo by Alex Janowski

Closed effective 6/15/12

Chef Yanitzin “Yanni” Sanchez will be the first to admit she eats and enjoys traditional Mexican foods — tortillas, frijoles, tacos.  But she makes it abundantly clear that no one will ever find a humble burrito or the like on the menu at Sabor Saveur, her Mexican-French fusion eatery in Wicker Park.

“We have in Mexico another kind of cuisine: gourmet food,” says Sanchez, whose goal is to show diners just how fancy Mexican food can be.

Sanchez (left) honed her culinary skills in both her native Mexico and in France. Photo by Alex Janowski

Trained mainly in France, Sanchez  graduated from Paris’ Ecole de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie, and she worked at the Paris Ritz-Carlton.  In Chicago, she has distinguished herself by using French technique to craft Mexican ingredients into beautifully presented, upscale dishes.

“If you don’t know [the basics of French technique], you are not a chef,” says Sanchez, whose chef’s jacket is embroidered with Mexican, French and American flags.

And if you do, “you can use any ingredients, simple ingredients, and make gourmet food.”

Sanchez runs an “author’s kitchen,” where each dish is solely her own creation, she says.  And while the French influence comes in mainly through preparation and presentation, it peeks through here and there in other ways as well.  For example, there is fondue on the menu as well as beurre blanc sauce and chocolate ganache — which in this case surprisingly tops braised salmon.  Yes, I said braised salmon.

But the menu is far more “south of the border” than it is Continental.  And that was just fine with my family members, who love Mexican food — even when it goes beyond tacos and tostados.

Our group of five started off with a slew of Sanchez’s dreamy-sounding appetizers, beginning with her interpretation of cheese fondue ($9).  Here, tequila replaces conventional white wine, and chipotle turns up the Scoville heat in this bowl of warm and cheesy goodness.  My middle son, The Connoisseur, protectively kept the bowl at his end of the table and declared this Mexified fondue “mind-blowing.”

Although Sanchez calls this appetizer a tamal, it uses a phyllo wrapper rather than the expected corn masa shell. Photo by Alex Janowski

Sanchez’s ground beef, pork and fruit tamal ($10) is neither enrobed in corn masa nor wrapped in a corn husk.  Instead, the savory filling is encased in a sizeable phyllo purse, then plated with a brushstroke of prunish plum sauce and topped with a palate-cleansing salad of verdolaga greens, cucumber, avocado and watermelon.

Bocoles, or corn masa and bean cakes ($10), are stuffed with chorizo, garnished with a peppery mix of shrimp, lobster and tilapia, and sauced with an azafrán (saffron) beurre blanc and a dash of cilantro oil.  Crunchy taquitos ($8) are filled with pumpkin flower and cream and served with a chunky, garlicky tomato sauce.

The evening’s special ceviche, tropical-style smoked salmon ($15), proved extremely popular with our group.  Served atop a glass block, the fish was tossed with a wonderfully transporting mix of strawberries, mangoes, coconut and lime sauce.

Sanchez also offers a soup du jour ($9).  During our visit it was cream of mango, a well-balanced and unique mix of sweet and savory flavors that Campbell’s couldn’t imagine in its wildest dreams.  And she puts out three starter salads — I went with the simple combo of fresh avocado and shrimp ($8), which Sanchez amped up with crushed peanuts and pistachios and dressed with orange reduction and balsamic vinaigrette.

A French item or two — such as chocolate ganache over salmon — may appear on the menu, but dishes mainly emphasize Mexican ingredients and flavors. Photo by Alex Janowski

Entrées consist of ample portions and come with a collection of conversation-starting sides.

Both The Connoisseur and his older brother The Eating Machine had the sizeable filet mignon ($25), which Sanchez tops with pumpkin seeds and the Mexican herb huazontle and serves with a creamy garlic yellow mole, starchy-sweet potato-coconut croquettes and amaranth green beans.  In an unusual twist, both The Eating Machine and The Connoisseur were fully sated by their filets.

The Girl, my youngest, selected the pork loin ($22), which was stuffed with apple-like tejocote fruit and almond crust and sauced with fruit purée.  Although The Girl was not keen on the accompanying chipotle mashed potatoes, I could not keep my fork out of this pile of pure spicy comfort.

The Husband opted for the al pastor-style, or grilled, sea bass ($23), and was treated to a thick and meaty filet accompanied by roasted corn relish, prickly pear-like grilled xoconostle and a kicky guajillo pepper sauce.

I went with the most traditional dish on the menu — chile relleno ($19).  But once again, Sanchez puts her own signature on this classic.  Here, she lightens these customarily deep-fried pepper-cheese bombs — she stuffs her poblanos with an airy fluff of ricotta and walnut, lightly batters and then bakes them.  A heap of greens and simple baked potato wedges rounds out this vegetarian dish.

Desserts feature Mexican and French ingredients and concepts, but include a number of Sanchez's creative twists. Photo by Alex Janowski

Desserts (all $8) such as rice pudding and mousses pay tribute to both the Mexican and French cultures.  “I try and get the most traditional ingredients and add another twist,” Sanchez says.

The chef treated our table to three desserts including fresh pineapple-studded rice pudding, which incorporates Mexico’s most popular grain.  We also tried her interpretation of chocolate mousse, here a minty confection dolloped with ricotta goat cheese.

And finally there was tejocote, pulque and tamarind jelly mousse.  The airy mousse is flavored with the tejocote as well as pulque, a traditional Mexican alcoholic beverage.  And then the dish is topped with the tamarind jelly and a heat-inducing quajillo pepper sauce.

Not your classic French mousse by any means, but muy delicioso all the same.

Sabor Saveur
2013 West Division Street
Chicago Illinois  60622

Sabor Saveur on Urbanspoon

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2 Responses to Sabor Saveur (Chicago): Chef Yanitzin “Yanni” Sanchez melds Mexican ingredients and French technique at her best-of-both-worlds eatery

  1. ETMIKE says:

    The chocolate genache salmon looks very interesting…will have to sample on my next visit to Wicker Park. On second thought, the sea bass sounds delicious as well and may trump the salmon.

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