Last week, in honor of my 22nd birthday, I joined one of my closest friends at a Catalán restaurant she found specially for the occasion. We first met more than a year and a half ago in Barcelona, the heart of Cataluña and delicious Mediterranean food.
It seemed only fitting that we celebrate and reunite at Mercat a la Planxa, a little slice of Barcelona right in the heart of Chicago.
Owned by Iron Chef Jose Garces, the tapas restaurant brings fuses traditional Spanish tapas with unique culinary innovation to create an absolutely mouthwatering menu of shareable plates.
We started with jamón serrano, a prosciutto-like ham thinly sliced and drizzled in olive oil. When I was in Spain it seemed like almost every food contained jamón but now that I’m back in the U.S. I’ve really come to miss it. Along with our cranberry sangría we also ordered a unique take on patatas bravas, one of my favorite tapas and a typical Spanish bar food. Instead of the traditional version, covered in aioli, the bravas at Mercat a la Planxa came with three unique dipping sauces.
Though I’m usually hesitant when it comes to eating mushrooms, I decided to deal with my fear in the name of delicious food and we ordered a version of Spanish flatbread – coca de cepes y butifarra. Topped with porcini mushrooms, Catalán sausage, roasted garlic and manchego cheese, this savory flatbread was the perfect compliment to our spicy patatas bravas.
While we were originally considering ordering a paella valenciana, our phenomenal server recommended the arroz de coliflor instead. The risotto-like dish is calaspara rice cooked with truffle cauliflower cream and pan-roasted cauliflower, and topped with shaved manchego cheese. Swoon-worthy, for sure.
No celebratory dinner is complete without dessert – little did we know our server would bring them to us for free, topped with a candle (sometimes it pays to get older). The pastissosd’avellana, a bite-sized frozen treat we were instructed to wait five minutes before eating, is made of hazelnut-marscapone gateaux and apricot, covered in dulce de leche, and topped salted hazelnuts. Even more delicious was the xocolate y avellana, a chocolate creameaux and hazelnut nougatine, topped with an espresso granita crumble, tastily juxtaposed by caramelized white chocolate ice cream inside a caramelized sugar bowl. Cue sugar coma.
Mercat a la Planxa, 638 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, IL