I have been living in Chicago for over 9 years now. I venture regularly outside of my South Loop neighborhood to explore the many wonderful restaurants in this city. However, this Thursday I decided to stay put and enjoy one of the few, excellent dining options in my own backyard, Mercat a la Planxa.
Mercat a la Planxa is a tapas restaurant located in the historic Blackstone Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, across the street from Grant Park. Executive Chef, Jose Garces, a Food Network “Iron Chef America” winner, offers a delicious, Catalan-inspired menu in a stunningly beautiful setting. Since I live just a few short blocks from Mercat a la Planxa, I decided to walk over there for lunch.
However, you can take the CTA Red Line to the Harrison ‘L’ stop and walk just 2 blocks east and 1 block south. Alternatively, you can take the CTA Orange, Pink or Brown lines to the Harold Washington Library ‘L’ stop and walk 2 blocks east and 3 blocks south.
I love the tapas experience. Of course, it is best enjoyed with a group of friends. However, I was on my own Thursday afternoon and I am not one to deny myself a culinary craving 😉 It had been quite some time since I dined at Mercat a la Planxa with friends and I did not know when I would be able to round up everyone again for another rowdy fiesta. So, I took my solo, Spanish-loving palate over to visit Chef Garces at his lovely restaurant.
The space at Mercat a la Planxa is brightly lit and very colorful. There is an open kitchen, a vaulted ceiling and several large picture windows with views overlooking Grant Park and Michigan Avenue.
I have dined in this room during a snow storm and I felt like I was inside a snow globe. Very cool!
Here is how my lunch went down:
Since soup is my favorite food, I started with the Arroz a la Cazuela which is a generous bowl filled with chicken, rice, smoky and spicy chorizo, shrimp, artichoke confit, paprika aioli and a crispy baguette. It was piping hot, just as soup should be and it was incredibly flavorful. I could have stopped there but I skipped breakfast. So, it seemed wrong to have only 1 tapas 🙂
Next, I ordered the Datiles con Almendras or the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with marcona almonds. These were served over a citrusy, zesty slaw. Loved them!
I felt like I still had room for dessert and I have a very clear and fond memory of the traditional olive oil cake I once had at Mercat a la Planxa. However, when my friendly server told me it was no longer on the menu (heavy sigh), I decided to order the Horchata Bon Bon which is made with horchata ice cream, dark chocolate, cinnamon puffed rice, coconut crema and marcona almond brittle. Yes, it is as delicious as it looks.
A big shout out to Chef de Cuisine, Cory Morris, for sharing his olive oil cake recipe with me, once he heard how much I loved it!
Mercat a la Planxa is a 2014 Michelin Bib Gourmand winner. It is a well-deserved honor. Whether you are a Chicago resident or visiting the city, I recommend dining here for lunch, dinner or weekend brunch. The menu is solid and the staff is attentive and lovely.
Also, I recommend you linger a bit in the beautiful lobby of the Blackstone Hotel and enjoy the view.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA Red, Brown, Orange or Pink lines to Mercat a la Planxa. Save gas money. Avoid traffic and parking. Don’t drink and drive!