Thursday, March 10, 2011

mercat a la planxa

my last chicago restaurant week destination after a run of good food and over indulgence.

the first time i read about this place was in a dining out magazine and i read iron chef jose garces somewhere in the description and i was sold.

"wait.. there is an iron chef owned restaurant here in chicago?  this i gotta try for sure! "

i've always wondered how good the food is at an iron chef's restaurant and i was thrilled to see mercat a la planxa participating in restaurant week. just some walking distance away from grant park, you can quickly spot the entrance to the restaurant from the bright red vestibule. we hasten our step since it was cold only to find a notice that says the entrance is through the renaissance blackstone hotel just around the corner.


it was slightly confusing at first since there wasn't a huge visible sign at the restaurant's entrance as we walked through the hotel. there were a lot of natural light streaming into the room through the huge windows around the room. to the left, we could see the kitchen staff in action in a mosaic tiled open kitchen and to the right it was an open space with the bar at the end. it was tastefully decorated with burst of bright colors but at the same time it felt cozy and casual. i immediately liked the ambience of the room.




my friends and i looked at the menu, trying to figure out which dishes we were going to order, expecting to get a three course prix fixe meal. instead, we were pleasantly surprised that the restaurant week menu is a seven course brunch tasting menu. on top of that, the tasting menu also included carving, charcuterie station and dessert table and the best part is it's only for $22. gosh, i LOVE restaurant week! for those who likes cocktails and such, they offer bottomless "bloody mary" and sangrias for $8.



before i go all gung ho about the seven courses, i'll start with the carving and the charcuterie station. there were two kinds of cured meats (think it was chorizo and salami) that they offered along side two cheeses (manchego and blue cheese) which all tasted really good but i passed on the blue cheese cos i've never been a fan.



there was a gorgeously seared and seasoned hunk of beef where the staff would cut a slice of medium rare juicy perfection and place it on your plate which you can then add condiments as desired. well, i liked them just by themselves because it was that good. it was so good that one of my co-workers, eric was always contemplating on getting seconds throughout the meal even though he was stuffed. lol


off to start our huge feast of seven courses.

primero cangrejo . jumbo lump crab . avocado . tomato .


the toasted crostini served as a canvas for the naturally sweet jumbo lump crab that is dressed with mayo which richness was echoed by the avocado. the diced tomatoes added another dimension of freshness and the diced green peppers for extra crunch. it was creamy, rich and great crab flavor that is served upon crisp toasted bread and it was delish..


primero | blackstone benedict . toasted brioche . chorizo . and truffle hollandaise .


this would have been my third eggs benedict in the past week. in fact, i had eggs benedict for brunch the day before. i have to say my favorite part of the dish would be the brioche and the truffle hollandaise (is this even a surprise anymore? lol). the egg was beautifully poached to perfection with the yolk oozing all the rich goodness as i cut into it. the earthiness of the truffle was just the right amount that it didn't overpower the rest of the dish. the brioche bread was such a  great vehicle for the rest of the components of the dish. however, i couldn't really taste the chorizo so a lil more of that would have made this dish awesome.

segundo | pimientos de padron . flash fried padron peppers . salbitxada . sea salt .


salbitxada is a sauce made from almonds, mildly hot chile, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and vinegar to name some of the ingredients. the general consensus around the table that this was really tasty and it was addictive. the fried padron peppers had mild heat (in my case very very mild) that is cooled by the savory, slightly tangy salbitxada sauce. i love it.

segundo | manchego-bacon biscuits . rosemary-apple sausage gravy .


by this time, we were starting to feel full and we've only had three of our seven dishes. we've come to realize that each dish is double the size of what we'd usually expect from a tasting menu and the biscuits were no different. the biscuits were cheesy, savory and moist. it was almost borderline too salty for me with the combination of manchego, bacon and the sausage gravy. the flavor of the manchego came through more than the bacon did. my friends all loved it though but i thought it was pretty good.

tercero | espinacas a la catalana . catalan spinach . raisin . pine nuts . apples .


this dish had a mixed bag of reviews. i think it's mostly due to expectations. the slightly wilted spinach was topped with julienned granny smith apples. what we didn't expect was for the spinach to be warm. i finally looked up online and found that espinacas a la catalana is a regional dish from cataluna where fresh bunches of steamed spinach are briefly sauteed in olive oil , garlic, pine nuts and raisins. my friends didn't really enjoy the combination of warm spinach and apples.  although i started out apprehensive with the dish, i actually really liked the lightness of it with the sweetness of the raisins and the slight tartness from apples. it was actually a great breather from all the rich food we had so far.

tercero | tuna . toasted brioche . sauteed shallots .

this was the substitute for the salmon motidito - smoked salmon, brioche crustini & manchego cheese which was on the menu. we were confused when the dish was served because waiter never said that it was in place of the salmon dish that was on the menu but i suspected as much though. they should at least have someone explain to us that they ran out of the salmon or something. some of us were really disappointed because we were looking forward to the salmon dish.


regardless, this offering was really delicious. the tuna was gently cooked through and served on my favorite toasted and buttery brioche accented by the sweetness of the shallots and the creaminess of the sauce. loved it.

tercero revuelto de temporado . roasted seasonal mushroom . soft scrambled eggs . black truffle toast .


although the scrambled eggs were done right, it wasn't anything too special with the exception of the black truffle toast. the seasonal mushroom happened to be just regular white mushroom. being the last dish out i was already full and wanting to save room for dessert, i finished the toast and the mushrooms. all my friends seemed to like it and christina was probably the one who liked it the most. i thought it was alright.

we were close to having food coma but we still wanted some sweets to end the awesome meal. well, in eric's case however, he was still thinking about the carving station.. lol. although he didn't ended up getting any. their dessert selections were nothing too fancy.


i still managed to get myself two pastries and finished most of it. :)  the puff pastry was okay but the raspberry bar was probably my favorite. it wasn't too sweet and had a strong raspberry flavor and sorta felt it one of the healthier choices of the dessert! haha. at the end of the meal, i just felt like going to bed and taking a nice long nap lol. :)


my friends told me that they were happy that i found this restaurant. it's safe to say that they enjoyed it as much as i did. overall, the food was delicious and tasty but the only thing i find lacking is the spanish influnce in a few of the dishes although in all fairness, it was a brunch menu. regardless, the wonderful ambience and the fantastic food will have me going back for more. an awesome way to end my restaurant week pig out sessions and wrap all my experiences up in a cute tiny bow. :)

disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others.

Mercat a la Planxa on Urbanspoon

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