You almost can't throw a rock without hitting a tapas restaurant, but South Loop restaurant Mercat a la Planxa ( 638 S. Michigan Ave.; mercatchicago.com/ ) is the real deal, bringing dishes from the Spanish area of Catalonia to Chicago.
However, things got off to an inauspicious start, as I encountered a little difficulty finding the spot. The problem was that I entered through the Michigan Avenue side; I ended up ascending a spiral staircase that lead to the cavernous spot. A better idea for diners is to enter the Blackstone Hotel on the Balbo Street side.
Mercat originally opened in 2008, but underwent a renovation about a year and half ago, with a decor that has as much a Catalan aesthetic as the delightful cuisine ( which is courtesy of Chef Diego Amat Lopez, who is fromdrum roll, pleaseCatalonia ).
Traditional tapas include house-marinated Spanish olives, ciabatta bread with Iberian ham and tomato ( just divine ), diver scallops, the gustatory Russian-roulette dish of shishito peppers ( with one in 10 being spicy ), sardines topped with vanilla and olive oil ( and tasting better than it sounded ), lovely patatas bravas and bacon-wrapped dates ( with almonds, in cheese fondue ).
Lopez offers a huge variety of intriguing and even challenging dishes in addition to some of the previously mentioned items. There are Catalan beignets filled with Brandade, quince aioli and celery root salad; Atlantic cod, pil pil, garlic chip, guindilla chile and alubias blancas/navy beans; and even a $65 oasted suckling pig, accompanied by Yukon gold potato, calcots and sauces.
And then there are the paellashuge pans of valencia rice with variations that include chorizo, rabbit, chicken and shitake mushrooms; diver scallops, prawns, clams and mussels; and asparagus, peas, artichoke hearts and smoked eggplant. We actually opted for the other offering: squid-ink paella with calamari, pork sausage, pork loin, artichokes and garlic aioli. It was pretty tasty, save for some tougher artichoke parts that I encountered here and there.
As for the "a la Planxa" in the restaurant's name ( meaning "grilled on a metal plate" ), there are menu items such as Black Angus ribeye, secreto and hanger steak. Dessert is a must, with olive-oil cake, ice cream and sorbets, and chocolate torte among the choices. You really can't go wrong.
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.
Furious Spoon teams with Howard Brown Health
In celebration of Pride Month, Furious Spoon announces the Pride Bowl in partnership with Howard Brown Health, offering a colorful bowl of ramen with proceeds benefiting the organization during all of June.
The rainbow ramen creation, of course, showcases the LGBTQ flag, paying homage to Chicago's community during the celebratory month.
Priced at $15, two dollars from every bowl will be donated to Howard Brown, which aims to eliminate the disparities in healthcare experienced by the LGBTQ community through research, education and provision of services promoting health and wellness.
The Pride Bowl is available at most Furious Spoon locations, including those in Wicker Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Andersonville, Evanston and Lake View. ( The smaller Loop location, at Revival Food Hall, will not have the dish. ) For more information, visit FuriousRamen.com .