fdm / Frida's
The key to approaching a sequel? Forget everything you know about the original.
fdm, 3908 N Lincoln Ave (773-348-7635). El: Brown to Irving Park. Bus: 11, 50, 80. Dinner. Average main course: $20.
Frida’s, 3755 N Southport Ave (773-935-2330). El: Brown to Southport. Bus: 9, 80, 152. Dinner. Average main course: $14.
Consider this a warning against high expectations. Years ago, when I first ate at Fonda del Mar, it was as if I had discovered Mexican food for the first time—I didn’t stop thinking about its borrego en mole negro for weeks. So I was naturally excited about fdm, a sleek follow-up to Fonda’s homey Logan Square original. Double the borrego, I figured. How could that be bad?
But the disappointment I experienced at fdm was not just about dashed hopes. It was about the very odd food, in odd combinations and with uncharacteristic carelessness, the kitchen is putting out. A mildly warm squid salad, for example, where said squid was the color and consistency of canned mushrooms. A bowl of guacamole that was brown and oxidized. Or the tilapia, which was covered in a grainy and sweet walnut-goat-cheese sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. This is food that aspires to a higher level of Mexican cuisine. But somewhere along the way it appears the chef who cooked it gave up and let the flavors slide. And it’s taking down the restaurant’s slick dining room and detail-oriented cocktail program with it.
Lower expectations might have saved my meal at fdm. Pessimism, after all, has frequently been hyped as the least-resistant path toward pleasure—expect less, delight more. I’ve never subscribed to that theory, preferring to give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt before I take my first bites. But as I approached Frida’s, I couldn’t help but proceed with caution. I had memories of lackluster dishes at its original Andersonville location, La Cocina de Frida: dry pork chops, rubbery tamales.
So maybe this low-expectations thing works after all, because my meal at the new Frida’s on Southport was a happy surprise. Then again, I don’t know that even the highest expectations could have taken the joy out of thick, buttery guacamole. Nor would they have convinced me any better that the kitchen had mastered the sweet-salty-spicy balance in its traditional, tomato-based ceviche; that the chicken in a peanut and chile guajillo salsa had admirable complexity; or that the caramel that was paired with the custardy bread pudding had a nice, bitter, burned-sugar edge.
Still, the next time I eat dinner here, I may as well hedge my bets and go in with tempered enthusiasm anyway. And as for fdm—well, I supposed that tactic couldn’t hurt, there, too. I just don’t know how low these expectations can go.