Tag Archives: Tapas

La Mi Venta, Excellent Tapas in Madrid

La Mi Venta
Plaza de la Marina Española, 7
28013 Madrid, Spain

spain

On our short trip to Madrid we wanted to cram in as much food fun as possible. We had previously experienced the frenetic market scene of San Miguel, and we wanted to take things a little slower for our second foray into Madrid tapas. Spaniards do not eat dinner until 9-10 PM at the earliest, so tapas serves as a kind of happy hour snack, where you can drink, have some munchies and meet with friends. However, Americans tend to buck this tradition and make tapas more of a meal. Alas, so did we, as we found ourselves famished at the odd-for-any-nation hour of 3 PM. In Spain lunch may even run as late as 2:30 or so, so I guess we fell into the late lunch crowd rather than the geriatric early-bird crowd.

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The specialty at Li Mi Venta is tapas (along with a limited selection of main courses). The tiny restaurant consists of a bar and a back room with a few tall tables. You could get most of the offerings in a large portion or as a tapa – so depending on how hungry you are you can either try many different little plates or stock up on a favorite. We decided to go with a variety of meat and vegetables. And of course M could not resist getting his hands on some more rare and delicious Jamon Iberico. As another meat dish we sampled was spicy chorizo “from hell” (how could we skip it), and migas, one of the more unusual offerings, a composed plate of fried breadcrumbs, peppers and chorizo. We were shocked by the reasonable prices – everything was under 3 euros.

La Mi Venta Tapas

La Mi Venta Tapas: (clockwise) Migas, Tuna, Jamon, Manchego and Tortilla.

However, not all of our selections were so carnivorous. We also ordered the manchego cheese, which was excellent (but not as good as in the market). M’s favorite selection was the Tuna bocadillo with tomato confit, a delicate combination that really worked well. L also enjoyed the Spanish Tortilla (potato omelette), and could have gone for another slice or two. To finish our tapas “meal” off we decided to end on a paradoxically healthy note: Salted tomatoes in olive oil (8€). Such a simple dish – but it was extremely tasty and refreshing. The portion was also extremely generous, justifying the higher price.

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M’s Favorite – Tuna and Tomato Confit.

In addition to tapas, there was a nice selection of teas and coffees that came served in little silver pots. They also had free wifi, though that seemed a little incongruous with the other offerings. We also appreciated the friendly and attentive waitstaff and the pleasant ambiance. It’s almost as if you are eating in a private wine cave – it would definitely be a great place to have a small party (maybe someday). La Mi Venta was a welcoming place with a great selection of fresh, well-prepared tapas. For less than 30 euros we were full for the entire day!

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A giant plate of tomatoes – simple but delicious.

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We eat the menu at Mercat a la Planxa

Mercat a la Planxa
638 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL

One of the best things about tapas restaurants is the huge variety of food options, however, it is also the worst things since there is never any way to try all of the enticing options. So when we had the occasion to go out in a group of four we figured a tapas restaurant would be perfect, thereby upping everyone’s chances of enjoying as many dishes as possible. Mercat a la Planxa, helmed by Jose Garces, has been open since 2008, and specializes in Barcelona-style tapas. The menu changes frequently and has a rotating selection of traditional and more avant-garde tapas, as well as fish and meats “a la planxa” (“grilled”). We went to Mercat with quite an appetite, so we were excited to sample the extensive tapas menu. You’ll find what we had below, along with menu descriptions. As you might notice, all of the dishes have Catalan names – very Barcelona!

At the start of the meal we were presented with the house Pa amb tomàquet, a kind of riff on bruschetta. Typically,  Pa amb tomàquet is typically a lot lighter on  tomato, but we liked this non-traditional take as well. Next, we picked from the Spanish cheese selections, and tried La Peral, a Cow’s Milk Cheese with Apricot-Cider Mustard ($9) and Garrotxa, a Goat’s Milk cheese, roasted garlic dulce de leche ($8). Garrotxa is one of our favorite cheeses, and it paired perfectly with the dulce de leche, the Peral was good, but less memorable. Next, we had an order of Gambas al ajillo – Garlic Shrimp ($10) – a classic tapas dish, perfectly executed, though the portion was a little small.

Pintxos Muranos – Lamb brochettes wrapped in bacon with a lamb jus ($14). Another classic tapas dish, this one was M’s favorite, which was not surprising, given the wrapped in bacon. Since the brochettes were served on skewers, they were a little hard to share, so the two non-bacon lovers ceded their portions.

Next were the Pelotas de calabaza y cordero, Butternut squash dumplings, lamb ragout, beech mushroom escabeche and black truffle ($11). What looks like fried bacon in the photo above was in fact mushroom, which had an amazingly earthy flavor. The dumplings were more like squash-filled ravioli, and were tasty, though the lamb ragout definitely stole the show.

Black Angus Rib Eye – 12 oz. ($42). The steak was good, but probably nothing we would really get again at a tapas restaurant, good for the two major carnivores at the table, though. Looks like we forgot to get a photo…oops.

Mar i Muntanya (“Sea and mountain”)- Serrano-wrapped yellow fin tuna, potato croquette, foie gras torchon, pickled pearl onion. The yellowfin tuna was wonderful, but we’re not sure it needed the foie gras on top, maybe we aren’t just big foie fans though. The pickled pearl onions provided an unexpected tangy zip, and the potato croquettes were both substantial and flavorful. We also appreciated the beautiful presentation.

Gratin de Escalivada (“Grilled Gratin”) – Oven baked roasted red peppers, tomato, eggplant & cipolini onions with goat cheese and grilled sourdough ($10). There needed to be more goat cheese with this dish (as with any dish), the grilled veggies were fine, but nothing to write home about on their own.

Coliflor amb Xato – Roasted cauliflower with currants, padron peppers, truffled tarragon xato and shaved manchego cheese ($13). Despite never ordering cauliflower out on a regular basis, we found this take on caulifower was unexpectedly delicious, and perfectly complemented by the spicy xato sauce (Xató sauce is made with nuts, vinegar, garlic and nyora pepper). This was L’s pick out of the tapas we ordered.

Patatas Bravas – Spicy potatoes with spicy paprika aoili ($5). This is an item we always have to order at a tapas joint. As you can see from the presentation above, this is more of an avant-garde take than the usual haphazard potato cubes, with each potato being formed into a little fried cake, topped with a dollop of spicy sauce.

Plantain empanada – Spinach, Manchego & Piquillo artichoke escabeshe ($10). Though it arrived with our savory foods, the empanada provided a hint of plantain sweetness. The piquillo pepper was a nice contrast to the somewhat-rich empanada.

Horchata Bon Bon – Horchata ice cream, dark chocolate, cinnamon, puffed rice, coconut crema and marcona brittle ($3.50). The bon bon was filled with ice cream – and the combination of flavors was absolutely perfect! The Spanish horchata flavor (made from Tiger nuts)  was rich and almond-y, and worked perfectly with the cinnamon and coconut flavors. The marcona almond brittle was also a nice touch.

Our final dessert was the Pastissos d’Avellana (“Hazelnut Cake” – sounds better in catalan, no?) Hazelnut Mascarpone gateux, apricot, dulce de leche, salted hazelnuts, apricot sorbet ($12). This was a very successful take on cheesecake, with a rich hazelnut flavor. The apricot sorbet was also delicious, and tasted exactly like biting into a fresh apricot.

We enjoyed Mercat a la Planxa, and we were happy to try both the traditional and nouveau tapas dishes. We think the new takes on tapas were really Garces’ forte, and our favorite dishes were the more unusual ones. We were pleased with our choices – but there was one item we really were coveting – we noticed a party table next to us getting a suckling pig (cochinillo asado), which looked absolutely fantastic ($220 for half, $440 for a whole). However, you have to order the pig 72 hours in advance, so you can’t order it on the fly. Maybe next time… thanks also to our dining companions, who helped us sample this veritable feast!

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Tapas in Champaign: Cafe Luna [closed]

Cafe Luna
116 North Chestnut Street
Champaign, IL

M went to school in Champaign-Urbana and it’s the source of some of our first food memories – like M’s first Thai food experience. Despite our fond memories, then, as now, Chambana is not known for its range of fine dining options. However, despite a preponderance of pubs and burrito joints, there are always a few diamonds in the rough. Cafe Luna is one of those diamonds, and offers and upscale tapas experience in downtown Champaign.

We arrived at Cafe Luna at 5PM on a Wednesday, not exactly a hopping time, so we received quick and attentive service. Cafe Luna is housed in the former train station, which gives the restaurant an expansive space, which was dimly lit and well appointed with dark wood tables, purple walls.

Cafe Luna has a range of tapas items, for mostly under $10, but it also boasts a selection of larger-sized entrees including bouillabaisse ($18) and yellowfin tuna with an anchovy-caper beurre blanc ($24). In terms of entrees, Cafe Luna features a different risotto every day, when we went the particular variety of  risotto was asparagus and Parmesan ($16). The portion was quite large – big enough for both of us to share. While we are something of risotto snobs, Luna’s rendition was very good.

To start off, M and I ordered two tapas to split. First, we had Gruyere crostini ($5), which were four perfect rounds of bread smothered with sauteed mushrooms and melted Gruyère. We also got a tapas order of tuna tartare ($8). The tartare had a citrus dressing, and was almost ceviche-esque, though it is too bad the portion was extremely small.

We were impressed by Cafe Luna’s ambiance and menu, and it’s definitely a place to go when you are looking for something more than takeout pad thai (though there’s nothing wrong with that).

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