A Tapas Haven – Mercat a la Planxa
A bit of background on my trip first. My son for his 14th birthday chose Chicago to celebrate his birthday. Why? It proudly boasts a multitude of gastronomical adventures for all foodies. And Chicago certainly is gorgeous in the summer. Knowing too well how anal retentive I am about organization, I quickly initiated my research to find the best of what Chi-Town had to offer. (After all, it was only a 3 day trip).
Since we attended the Grant Park Music Festival at Millennium Park, our fellow foodies made reservations at Mercat a la Planx, a few blocks walk of the Park. Little did I know that Mercat a la Planx was sharing the honor of being the finest Spanish restaurants that Windy city had to offer? Not to mention that the Executive Chef, Joses Garces has won a season of Iron Chef America and is one of the few Chefs in the country to earn the title of “Iron Chef America”.
Mercat a la Planx resides in the newly renovated Blackstone hotel; the second floor opens to a swanky space filled with beautiful people, hustling and bustling, with a vibrant bar, and a fantastic view of Grant Park. Even on a weeknight, the restaurant was at maximum capacity.
Parched due to the unusual heat wave Chicago was hit with, we ordered the seasonal sangria with rhubarb. The uncommon ingredients married perfectly to create a fresh, fragrant, and chilled cocktail. We simply couldn’t get enough of it.
Our waiter was professional and polite. One couldn’t help over looking his tardiness as the restaurant was super packed and he didn’t even have a minute to breathe. Yet, he attended to us with a smile.
Tapas, certainly not what you would expect from your local neighborhood joint in Spain. Chef Garces has taken Tapas to a gourmand level with intrinsically prepared dishes and addition of fusion flavors. The community of Catalonia (north-eastern Spain) favors garlic and one can surely taste that influence on the dishes here at Mercat; I for one relish garlic in all forms.
In between savoring the rhubarb sangria and catching up with friends, we ordered pintxos muranos, patata bravas, morcilla, flatbread, tocino con cidra, gambas al ajillo, cordero lechalel en curry, pimientos, and cheese selection. Aside from the lamb brochettes (kitchen ran out of), we managed to taste everything else we ordered. They even have Roast Pig on the menu which involves advance ordering.
The Patata Bravas were presented unlike any of my previous encounters with this classic dish. Crispy tater tots like potatoes topped were adequately with spicy paprika aioli; we ended up ordering seconds.
Patatas Bravas - Spicy Potatoes with Spicy Paprika Aioli
At times, the description of a certain dish tends to evoke fear or disdain in diners; morcilla, blood sausage falls into that category. However, I for one love them; hence I look forward to the signature touches of the restaurant that are bold enough to offer them.
Morcilla - Traditional Catalán Blood Sausage
Mercat a la Planxa, had one of the best I have tasted in my various travels. It even won the vote of my friends who hadn’t tasted them before. With the right amount of sweetness combined with the rice, the morcilla melted in my mouth. Nicely done!
The Garlic Shrimps were another favorite on our table. Mercat a la Planx has perfected this relatively staple tapas dish into a dish exploding with bold flavors. It was addictive and everyone was eagerly trying to sop up every last bit of the creamy sauce.
GAMBAS AL AJILLO
The Roasted Suckling Lamb in Catalan Red Curry hands down was the best dish of the night. Delicate flavors such as fennel even didn’t lose their character being cooked with lamb. The dish was not only delicious but was ultra fragrant too; another luscious accomplishment of Chef Garces.
CORDERO LECHAL EN CURRY - Roasted Suckling Lamb in Catalan Red Curry
The Porcini & Catalan Sausage Flatbread was a hearty addition to our meal. A big doughy for my personal liking but the flavors blended well together.
The Holland Pork Belly was beautifully presented. Even though the pork was cooked beautifully, somehow it lacked the oomph factor and the truffle slaw was rather heavy on the salt.
Slow Cooked Holland Pork Belly, Cider Glaze, Granny Smith Apple-Black Truffle Truffle Slaw
The Chef’s selection of 3 cheeses was a befitting ending to our delicious meal. The generous portions of cheese were accompanied with finger licking dipping sauces; yet another display of the Kitchen’s uniqueness.
Mercat a la Planxa seems to serve minuscule portions with higher prices in comparison to average typical tapas fare; however each dish coming out their kitchen is uniquely paired, packed with bold flavors, presented beautifully, and most importantly tasting exquisite.
What should have been a casual evening out with friends, turned into a spectacular dining experience commendable of any epicurean’s delight.
Mercat a la Planxa for the fortunate Chi-Town residents and travelers is open throughout the day offering breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. One can contact them via their website .