Grasp the luxurious opportunities when you can take them, time-wise and financially. It might be one piece of chocolate, a sunny spot in the park, a lonely afternoon in the sofa with a book, digging a hole for a new plant, or splurging on a memorable fancy meal, even if alone in a foreign town. The last thing is what I did the last night in Chicago, while it stormed, thundered and rained near-horizontally outside. The restaurant is called Mercat a la Planxa, and is a Catalonian tapas restaurant in the old historic Blackstone Hotel on S Michigan Avenue. (Sidenote to the restaurant here - please remove your annoying intro page with music on your home page.)
I ordered the Chef's selection, where they bring you tapas and you don't really know what you will get. It is like a tasting menu, and perfect for one person because they make sure you get many small one-person sized dishes. The waiter, who was very professional and personal at the same time, said "you are up for a treat". Expensive and fantastic! It was seriously worth the money.
I had a glass of a wine from a grape I have never tried before - Albariño, a white grape similar to Chardonnay and it was fantastic. The wine was called Gran Vinum Nessa, from the Rias Baixas region. Incredibly great and highly recommended.
It started with a plate with ash-rinded goat cheese, jamon ham, bread, and a small slice of potato tortilla omelet with saffron sauce. The goat cheese was incredible. I think it was called Monteverde, but I am not sure. With it was served three condiments, a coarse mustard, chilies pickled in oil, and small gherkin-pickles, all great. The chilies weren't too hot, but perfect.
The 'house bread' showed up next, a thick foccacia-like slice with fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic spread on top. The garlic made the difference and it was wonderfully sweet-tart. I want to make this at home!
The flatbread with porcini mushrooms and Catalan sausage was one of my favorites (photo above). The butternut squash raviolis served on top of lamb ragu with beech mushrooms (looked like small chanterelles) and bacon was nearly equally as good, which means it was all among the best food I have ever eaten. The microherb greens they used made it extra special, such as small tiny parsley leaves and sage leaves.
Shrimp are called gambas in Spain and I got two different kinds. Some smaller, peeled ones cooked in chili oil, garlic and parsley that melted in your mouth, mmmm. And later, one large, unpeeled grilled one, with white dipping sauce.
The hot dishes ended with two new additions to the table - baby spinach cooked with pine nuts, sherry, apple pieces and currants. Another sweet-tart mix that was delicious. Melt in your mouth. Give me more. Can't have enough... The gambas and lamb chop was served with red romesco sauce from red peppers and a chili-mayonnaise sauce. One of the best things was that all of the warm dishes were served HOT. I am tired of cold dishes at restaurants, like the one I had had the night before at the Zapatista Mexican restaurant.
So if you are visiting Chicago, and have the time and money, go and splurge at Mercat a la Planxa. It was probably one of the ten best meals of my life (with the top ten including Albert's Kök in Sweden, Amada in Philadelphia, T J Buckley's in Brattleboro, Vermont, and the bison burger at Miss Bellows Falls Diner also in Vermont...).
OK, time to make some tapas at home soon...