In one word – Lackluster
Location – 205 N. Peoria (Peoria and Lake)
Food – So I’m going to be frank, I was really not impressed by Meze. The food was just adaquate. Let’s start with the best, which were the bacon wrapped dates. Obvi, you can’t really mess those up (unless they’re cold). And, ours were piping hot, so I was happy. The rest of the meal was just “eh.” We had the Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart, which felt like a Trader Joe’s frozen appetizer to me. Not impressed. Then we had the Grilled Baby Lambchops with Red Pepper Puree. I felt like it was defrosted and then served. Maybe it wasn’t, but it felt like it was and that’s what counts to me. Finally we had the Greek Pomme Frites. They are french fries. How do you mess them up? They were soggy and I didn’t think that the feta cheese enhanced the dish (I can’t believe I just said that).
Drink – I had the Pinot Noir, which I actually liked. I wish I had written the name down so I can get it on my next trip to Trader Joe’s (ha.).
Service – My favorite moment during the meal was when our server asked us if we needed more time to decide what we wanted to order and when we said yes, he responded with “Ok, I’ll come back in 3 minutes.” Even though he was precise at the beginning, it later became impossible to get his attention for the rest of the meal. I had to resort to waving my arms over my head to get his attention (which I’m not above doing).
Scene – When we came it was empty, like really empty. But, I blame that on going during the holidays when most seem to be out of town. If it were to be filled, I would imagine that this would be a place to dress to impress.
Occasion – You could come here with friends or on a date…that is if you were to come here at all (aw snap, GB).
Price – My portion of the meal was $53 with tax and tip. So not worth it.
If you like, try – Cafe Ba-ba-reeba, Cafe Iberico, Emilios, really any other tapas place
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
Location – 42 E. Superior (Superior between Wabash and Lake)
In one word – Sangria
Food – When Cafe Iberico is claiming a 2 hour wait, head over to 1492. You can get well executed tapas with no wait at all! We ordered the bacon covered dates, potato omelet, patatas bravas, grilled calamari and croquetas with chicken. I had no complaints whatsoever.
Drink – What I like about 1492 is the multiple flavors of sangria offered. We ended up just going for the basic sangria despite all the options.
Service – We were a decent sized group and they accommodated us with a last minute reservation on a Friday night. For that, I am appreciative.
Occasion – There were a lot of group dinners going on at 1492. Come here to indulge in tapas with a large group of friends and to pass around a couple pitchers of sangria.
Dress – It seems that people stop here before going out to a different nightspot. As a result, I saw a lot of folks in their weekend club wear. Obviously that attire is not mandatory.
Cost – Expect to pay $30 if you’re sharing tapas with a couple of friends.
If you like, try…Cafe Iberico
Location – 737 N. LaSalle
Food – This is one of those oldies but goodies for me in the city. I find that they have one of the best and most reliable Spanish tapas menus around. We ordered the patatas bravas (it had a kick), queso de cabra, croquettas de pollo, calamares a la placha and chorizo and morcilla. All of which were good, but we knew they would be, it’s Iberico. My only beef…they don’t have datilles con tocino (bacon covered dates). Que horror!
Drink – If you’re at Iberico, you’re supposed to order the sangria. They also have a decently sized wine list if that fits your fancy better.
Service – Plan to wait to be seated here. Once I was told the wait would be an hour and a half on a WEDNESDAY night. You can guess what the wait would be on a Friday or Saturday (they only take reservations for large groups). We found the loophole today! We came in at 2 pm and were seated immediately. Our server was capable and nice – I have nothing bad to say. The only thing I will say is that there was a spoon and some beef dropped below our table. It wasn’t cleaned up before we sat down. Kind of gross…
Occasion – You kind of feel like you’re at a party when you come here. It’s crowded, loud and festive. If you’re in the mood for that, it’s a great time! Come with friends, not when you want an intimate date.
Dress – Look cute here. It’s appropriate to wear a dress or blazer because it’s sort of sceney.
Cost – Without any drinks, we paid just under $20 each for our five appetizers.
If you like, try…Avec, Nacional 27, 1492