Mercat a la Planxa
Update: I went back to Mercat last week and was still as impressed by the cuisine as I was at the time of the original review. I also recommend the Estrella Damm Inedit – a beer they serve that was developed by El Bulli’s Ferran Adria. I was more astonished by the high price point during this visit, but I want to think that the quality of food legitimized the cost.
Location – 638 S. Michigan (Michigan and Balbo)
In one word – Experiential
Food – Here’s my disclaimer: Moons ago, I spent three months in Barcelona where I indulged in Catalan cuisine everyday. You can imagine my glee when I heard a Catalan restaurant was opening in Chicago. Colcots, creme catalana y croquetas, que bueno! Would this place live up to my memories of Barce? Yes, it most definitely did. You’ll order tapas style, so let me just run through the gamut of what we ate: pan tomate (one of our favorite dishes from Barcelona, which lived up to our memories), Cadi Urgelia cheese (it’s served with a lavendar jam, which tastes AMAZING! If this is what flowers taste like, count me in), Mitibleu cheese (it’s gorgonzola gone wild served with this ridiculously fantastic mustard), the olive assortment (it had a strong marinade, which worked for me), croquetas de jamon (which were my least favorite because they seemed too pan fried, but I still ate ALL of them), alcochofas y setas flatbread (flatbread served with artichokes and mushrooms, it has this super roasted flavor, the table loved it!), setas al horno (roasted mushrooms, I barely got a bit because my eating partners were such heathens and devoured it quickly), patatas bravas (these potatos aren’t smothered in the spicy sauce like they are at most places, this made the dish feel lighter), colcots (eating these roasted green onions really did make me feel like I was back in Spain). Enough food for you? What about dessert? We did it up right: Crema Catalana (their version had jam at the bottom which so worked for me), the quatro chocolates (which included this white chocolate hot chocolate, and this chocolate made me feel like I found my life partner in a tea cup) and goat milk’s cheese mousse on a chestnut cake with grape (sigh). I wish I could have filmed my eating partners and I attacking the desserts. True survival of the fittest.
Drinks – They had my favorite beer from Barcelona, Estrella Damm. We also sampled their seasonal sangria, which tasted nice but wasn’t potent.
Service – JC, our server, treated us us well. By the end of the meal, JC was speaking to us in Spanish. It was like we had known him forever. He recognized that we knew a little bit about Catalan cuisine and brought the chef over to meet us. I don’t tell anyone that I write about food when I go into a restaurant, so I appreciated that the chef wanted to meet a group of barely getting by-2o somethings. The chef, Jose, was so down to earth. This is his third restaurant and he’s going to be on Iron Chef. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity!
Scene – It was hip! They did a nice job with the asthetics of this place. It felt rich and contemporary. I liked that the decor has a touch of Barcelona while staying true to Chicago style. The bar is downstairs and the dining area is upstairs. There was this interesting table on the third floor of the building, it’s isolated at the top of the restaurant. I’d like to sit there one day, you get to oversee all that’s happening in the restaurant from that angle.
Dress – I thought that all the other patrons were attractive and really well put together. You better, too. Work on your hair and make-up before walking in. However, don’t feel like the place inaccesible. Even though you have to comb your hair, you should still come.
Cost – For all of that food, sangria and tax/tip, I paid $42. Yes, it’s not cheap, but I considered it to be a bang for my buck (did you read how much we ate?).
If you like, try…avec