I happened to stumble across this restaurant last year when we came for a business meeting, and I was pleasantly surprised at their Spanish tapas menu. The food was solid and there seemed to be quite a variety, so I was interested to go back and check it out when ToyTom wanted to meet up for a quick lunch in between work meetings while we were in Chicago.
The Charcuteria Mixto came with a Chef’s selection of 2 Spanish cured meats which I could only guess was a salami (on the left) and chorizo (on the right). The characteristic saltiness was on full display with this starter and even with the cornichons, peppers and mustard grain spread to balance the flavors, I needed a little something else to give it a kick.
The Serrano ham and figs added some nice savory and sweet accents to what looked like a very normal looking plate of greens. Tapas dishes don’t naturally lend themselves to variety of vegetables and roughage, but this salad tasted good while not being overpowered with too much dressing or accoutrements to wipe out any healthy benefits.
If there was one dish I consistently feel compelled to order at any tapas restaurants, it’s Gambas al Ajillo. I love shrimp and who could argue with cooking them up in lots of butter and garlic. A very solid tasting take on gambas al ajillo with some large plump shrimps, but not particularly better than your average tapas place.
I discovered this dish when one of my friends made it at a potluck and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m completely enamored by the sweetness of the dates with the savory crisp bacon on the outside. The filling can vary but these dates tasted like it was a mix of cheese and almonds which added some texture to each creamy bite. I’m not sure what the sauce was but I didn’t think it did much to add or take away from the dish. This dish was the best of the bunch for sure.
Although the croquetas tasted fine, they admittedly were probably the weakest dish of the bunch. The inside filling was supposedly chicken with a creamy indescribable sauce that didn’t highlight any interesting flavors. Not a failure but definitely not a winner.
Not sure if this meal was as representative of the menu since at lunchtime, it didn’t even offer paella or other more hearty dishes. I liked the food but it definitely didn’t wow me. I don’t feel as confident in providing a review which truly reflects the true taste of the what the restaurant has to offer, because how can you truly judge a Spanish restaurant without tasting their paella? Although we were only two, we ordered a fair amount of food, but it still didn’t seem like a good sampling which only confirms that this restaurant is probably best enjoyed with a larger party. Overall, the food that we ordered was quite tasty, so if you’re looking for something quick and simple, this is a great option. The restaurant with its traditional menu of standard tapas and other classic Catalan dishes deserves a repeat visit with a group of your foodie friends for dinner.
Mercat a la Planxa
500 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
PAFO Ratings for Mercat a la Planxa:
Ambiance 3½ stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3½ stars