When You Want Large and Loud

There are times after work when you just want a bit of loud fun in a large restaurant. My teeny brain can think of at least a dozen such places in Chicago without too much effort. Sometimes, when you’re in this mood, you want non-bar food, so that list peters down quite a bit. Then, you end up eating tapas at Café Iberico. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing… it merely fits the bill of what you need.

Café Iberico has been around forever (by that I mean as long as I’ve lived in Chicago there has been a Café Iberico). They have gotten larger over time—expanding into the adjoining space and creating an upstairs party room. I think maybe the service and food quality has suffered a bit since the expansion. The servers used to bring out dishes as they were ready, stretching out the tapas experience by leaving a menu at the table so you could order that one additional plate. The most recent time I went, we had to ask our server to better space out the items as we ran out of room on the table when he brought three dishes at once. After which, he seemed reluctant to take our order for hot tapas.

I seem to remember that the specials menu always included an odd assortment of dishes with at least three that you HAD to have. This time, there was only one that was kind of nagging at the table to order. I guess I just wasn’t blown away by the choices like before.

Having said that, this is still a fabulous place to share some plates, get some sangria, and watch some Spanish TV (no, not Spanish-language Telemundo or Univision, but Spanish from Spain TV… and those flat screens are in each dining room).

What We Ate

Tortilla Española: A cold Spanish omelet. It’s a tall wedge of potato and egg omelet served on a bed of lettuce and veggies in olive oil and vinegar. My only complaint is that there is never enough (drat these small plates!).

Jamon Iberico: Spanish-style cured ham with manchego cheese and tomato bread. Tomato bread, you ask? Bruschetta, I answer, but a bit more pureed. The slices of ham are laid out on the bottom with the cheese on top. You then make your own open face sandwiches. Salted meat: There’s nothing better.

Salmon Ahumado: Smoked salmon with capers and fresh dill cream sauce. A lox and cream cheese deconstructed, if you will. The platter is set up similarly to the jamon, but with salmon instead.

Champiñones a la plancha: Grilled mushrooms with garlic and olive oil. These are especially tasty when you put them on top of the bread from the table.

Croquetas de pollo: Chicken and ham puffs served with ali-oli sauce. These treats are about the size and consistency of a manufactured mozzarella stick, but with meat and dough inside.

Grilled pork tenderloin with ginger glaze: This was the special that was gnawing at us. It was just OK, and not really what I expected. The marinated pork loin that is on the regular menu comes with fries, so I’d say that is your better bet.

What We Drank

The wine list here is intense, but if you’re doing tapas on a summer evening, you have to go with red sangria. They have whole and half pitchers (which come in handy when you just want a touch more but don’t want to get nutty). Then, I had an espresso after dinner and my dining companions had capuccinos.

Location: 737 N. LaSalle (so pretty much LaSalle and Chicago). Near enough to the Red/Brown line stop. Valet parking is available (and I’d strongly encourage that route as parking is becoming increasingly miserable in this area).

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