Mercat a la Planxa
May 9, 2010 - It was our last day for the three of us to experience Chicago restaurants together - Amy was flying back to DC on the 6:30 am flight the next day. We decided to do a "quasi" progressive dinner - two restaurants in one evening to complete our dining experience. Mercat a la Planxa was our second stop for the evening (our first stop - The Purple Pig). We thought we would end our Chicago food adventure trip with a true Catalan tapas experience.
Amy and Maria chose this restaurant. Amy had eaten in one of Jose Garces' six restaurants in Philadelphia, and Maria was impressed that he won "the Next Iron Chef" 2010 competition. I must be honest, I actually had never heard of him but it didn't take much arm twisting for me. We were off to try Jose's only restaurant in Chicago, Mercat a la Planxa. By the way, "mercat" means market in Catalan and "planxa" refers to tapas prepared on an iron griddle from the Catalan region of Spain.
Upon entering the restaurant, we were escorted up a spiral staircase into a very open, sunken, dining room. The dining area was dark, the music was pulsating, and the restaurant had an interesting night club-like feel. I was impressed with the scene and I wanted to start dancing immediately. I loved its design and open kitchen - I had a perfect view of the kitchen.
Since we arrived in Chicago, I can say that the service had been exceptional. This was true until we arrived at Mercat a la Planxa. I'm not sure what issues the wait staff was having that evening but our waiter didn't have the same enthusiasm as the other wait staff we encountered during our Chicago stay.
Compliments of the restaurant, the waiter brought us the house made tomato bread. The bread was grilled and topped with a chunky tomato, garlic, basil sauce. The tomato bread was one of my favorites at this restaurant; however, Amy and Maria like Jaleo's (in DC) more simple version of tomato bread better.
We then had the difficult task of choosing what we wanted next. We had already eaten several little dishes at our first stop, the Purple Pig, so Maria suggested a light fare. We decided to try the diver scallops a la planxa. The scallops were tender and truly grilled to perfection. It was another favorite of the evening.
Next up, we shared the patatas bravas. Jose Garces gets a 10 out of 10 for innovativeness and creativity. These weren't your normal deep fried potatoes with aioli - Jose's Garces created a patatas bravas that consisted of deep fried mash potatoes with a spicy paprika aioli. Although I like the tangy aioli and sweet spicy tomato sauce that accompanies Jaleo's (in DC) patatas bravas better, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Jose Garces' version.
We decided to order the Muscovy (from Mexico and Central and South America) duck breast with duck confit and yes, a foie gras crepe. In addition to the "fried egg" rage, foie gras was another menu rage in Chicago. The duck breast was very delicious, tender, and melted in your mouth.
Finally, we ordered the Catalan-style charred green onions. These were very tasty; however, they were extremely chewy and I felt like I was going to choke on them. I ate a couple and then had to stop for fear I might not live through the meal. The green onions were served with an almond sauce that we all agreed was very tasty and the best part of the dish.
Final note: I wasn't "wowed" by this restaurant. Perhaps this was because we weren't all that hungry when we sat down to order or we just didn't make great choices. Despite this, I would try this restaurant again. Next time; however, it will be my first stop of the evening. I absolutely loved the restaurant's nightclub and festive atmosphere.