I have loved Mercat a la Planxa, meaning, “market on the grill, ” since it opened in 2008 in the refurbished Blackstone Hotel on South Michigan Avenue. Iron Chef Jose Garces is the executive chef and partner of Mercat, and his menu has been solid since he first opened Mercat’s doors. With its soaring ceilings and windows overlooking Michigan Avenue and Grant Park, Mercat is a destination in itself. Combined with tasty Catalan bites, refreshing sangria, and delicious Spanish wines, Mercat is a palate pleaser.
If possible, I recommend partaking in Mercat’s tasting menu, a plethora of exquisite dishes chosen and prepared by the chef for the entire table. The menu highlights Mercat’s best and most popular dishes, and are made up of choice selections of tapas, cheeses, cured meats, salads, flatbreads, pastas and paellas, seafood, meats, and vegetables.
Recently, I returned to Mercat for a casual weeknight dinner with my husband. We arrived without a reservation, and the restaurant was full, so we sat at the bar and had a nice dinner. I’m a fan of Spanish wines, and was indecisive as to what I wanted to drink, so I ordered the chef’s luxury tasting wine flight, which included a white Priorat, a Tempranillo from Rioja, and a Monastrell.
We started with the delectable pimientos de padron – flash fried padron peppers, lightly salted with coarse sea salt, and served with a delicious traditional Catalan sauce called salbitxada.
My husband enjoyed the albondigas de cordero – lamb meatballs, with sherry foie cream, and peas.
Our server recommended the grilled calamari, and it did not disappoint, especially with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a nice herb and olive oil drizzle.
I can never leave a tapas restaurant without ordering patatas bravas – spicy potatoes with smoked paprika aioli. While I enjoyed the presentation, the flavor was lacking, the spice was faint, and overall, this dish fell flat and was disappointing.
All was well, however, after I tried the veneras, or grilled diver scallops – my favorite dish of the night. I would gladly return for a whole platter of these perfectly cooked mollusks that just melted in my mouth.
Equally as delicious were the gambas – grilled jumbo prawns. Juicy, delectable, and wonderfully executed, I may have been caught sucking the juice out of the shrimp heads.
The pulpito – grilled baby octopus – was also very good. The texture was nice and not at all chewy. Overall, I enjoyed all of the grilled seafood and appreciated the simplistic preparation.
A surprise standout of the evening was the escalivada d’alberginia, or crispy eggplant fritters, served with a jar of roasted tomatoes, chipolini onions, red peppers, whipped goast cheese, and a drizzle of lavender honey. Even my carnivorous husband devoured these vegetarian delights. I would definitely return for this fantastic dish!
Finally, we rounded out the meal with the cepes y butifarra flatbread, topped with wild mushrooms, catalan sausage, roasted garlic, and manchego cheese. The crust was crispy and the toppings were tasty and we were happy campers.
While Chicago has its fair share of tapas restaurants, Mercat a la Planxa is among the best for authentic, well-executed, and delicious Catalan cuisine.
638 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago 60605