Mercat a la Planxa, a modern Catalan tapas restaurant and bar located adjacent to the historic Blackstone Hotel, opened in early 2008 led by celebrity Chef Jose Garces. Mercat’s menu features meats and seafood served a la planxa or on the grill, all inspired by Barcelona and Spain’s Catalan region. The bar offers Spanish-style cocktails and martinis, as well as an extensive collection of Spanish cavas, wines, sangrias and beer. Chef de Cuisine Evan Behmer oversees the kitchen’s day-to-day operations.
Despite the great success and overwhelmingly positive reviews of Mercat a la Planxa, Chef Garces is never one to stop innovating. The already stellar brunch menu has just been revamped and expanded. I was recently invited to sample many of the new menu items. The results are excellent and well worth a special visit on the weekend. They plan to offer a prix fixe concept, allowing each diner to choose a specific number of items for a set price. In a group, that means that you can sample a large number of tapas at a reasonable price.
During the meal, we sampled twelve of the new brunch items beginning with a Seasonal Marinated Fruit Plate and ending with the spectacular Churros with Espresso Dulce de Leche. Along the way, several of the dishes stood out as particularly worth noting:
- Truita de Patata (Spanish omelette, smoked salmon, smoked char roe, potato aioli) – The combination of the smoked salmon with the large pearls of roe was delightful.
- Arroz (sunny egg, Calaspara rice, artichoke, roasted tomato baguette, saffron aioli) – This is a simpler take on paella and one of the tastiest things we tried all night.
- Revuelto (soft scrambled eggs, poached lobster, spinach) – How can you go wrong with lobster? This was simple but layered with flavors.
- Filet de Carnisser (Black Angus hanger steak, Manchego-bacon biscuit, sausage gravy) – If I were to choose a favorite, this wins. The steak was perfectly prepared (on the rare side of medium rare). The combination of Manchego and bacon in the biscuit would have been wonderful alone, but with the addition of sausage gravy, the whole dish went from excellent to superb.
- Shrimp and Grits (rock shrimp, braised short ribs, poached egg) – Don’t miss out on the creamiest grits you are likely to find in Chicago.
- Setas al Horno (wild mushrooms, shallots, lemon, parsley) – This was another simple dish, but wonderfully prepared and particularly nice as an accompaniment to the Filet de Carnisser.
Accompanying these brunch dishes, we sampled some new hair of the dog cocktails crafted by Beverage Director Wesley Jackson. These included the savory Corpus de Sang, a gin-based cocktail made with tomato water, olive brine, and lemon and the sweet and bitter Negroni Sbagliato topped with sparkling cava. The Corpus de Sang is the most intriguing and atypical cocktail I have sampled in some time – savory with tomato flavors and slightly spicy. It is one to sip slowly as a pairing with food. As you make your way to the bottom of the glass, the intensity of the tomato water tends to increase, so each sip is slightly different than the one before.
Mercat a la Planxa is located at 638 S. Michigan Avenue adjacent to the Blackstone Hotel. It is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers brunch on the weekends. Mercat is open Sunday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, call (312) 765-0524 or visit the Mercat a la Planxa website. You can follow their social media conversations on Facebook and Twitter.