Tapas restaurants aren’t my favorite restaurants in the world, but I do enjoy their atmosphere and the fact that everyone is sharing and interacting during the meal. I also like the fact that you get to try a bunch of different things because it’s small plates made to share. So if there’s something you order that you don’t care for, you didn’t waste an entire entree on it. Oh, and I also enjoy sangria, which usually helps me get a little more adventurous with the food.
This past Saturday we joined a few friends over at Bulerias Tapas in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. We wanted a place that wasn’t too crowded or too loud, and was a bit more intimate that we could all talk and have a good time. The restaurant itself was very nice. At first I was curious as to where we were going to sit, because there’s not much actual seating outside the bar when you first walk in. Thankfully there’s a lower level which opened up a bit more. It was still kind of small, so if you plan to go with more than 2 people I would suggest making a reservation. I will say though, I was impressed with how they utilized their space. The table behind us was set for 8-10 people, but it was actually the DJ table, but the put a plexiglass enclosure over the DJ equipment so that it doubled as a table. Although I’m honestly not sure why they would have a DJ; maybe private events are held in the basement area… I guess it would make sense, it did have it’s own bar.
As far as the food goes, I’m obviously a very picky eater and I usually have a hard time finding something to eat at tapas places. Most of the time I get away with a random steak or some meatballs or something, but I always end up leaving hungry and drunk. So to prevent myself from leaving hungry (the drunk part was part of the plan), I decided to force myself to try everything that was ordered for the table, and the people I was with are not picky eaters at all. And I did end up eating one of everything except for the bacon wrapped scallops, but I have had them before and there were only 4 on the plate, so I figured I’d let the other 4 people have them since they’d enjoy them more than I would.
The first thing that I tried was the Esparragos al Vapor (pictured above) which is steamed Asparagus topped with Manchego cheese shavings, diced roasted red pepper & baked portobello mushrooms, dressed with a balsamic reduction. I’m not a fan of asparagus to begin with, hell I don’t even eat it at weddings, but I made a promise that I would try it, so I did. The asparagus itself doesn’t really taste like much to me, the flavor came from the balsamic reduction, which looked like chocolate sauce, but was most definitely not, and the manchego cheese. I’m a simple cheese guy, american, swiss, cheddar, provolone, mozzarella, you know, the basics, so the cheese was a little off putting to me. I only had one, didn’t eat the pepper or mushroom side, I know what those taste like, and I didn’t need to have another one. We actually left one on the plate, it was probably everyone’s least favorite thing.
Next up was my favorite dish of the evening, the Empanadas de Queso which is an empanada filled with mozzarella cheese served with two canary island vinaigrettes (avocado and red pepper). It would be nearly impossible to not like this one. Mozzarella cheese inside a flaky empanada… sauce or no sauce, I was sold. And yes, they were as good as I imagined them to be. I did try the red pepper sauce, but nobody really felt it added anything to the empanadas themselves, so we just at them plain. We should have ordered more of these.
It’s hard to go to a tapas place and not get Datiles, or bacon wrapped dates. These dates were pretty damn large compared to what I’ve had in the past, and were stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with a balsamic reduction and roasted red pepper white wine sauce. The sauces were actually underneath them on the plate, so if you didn’t want a ton of it, you didn’t have to; I didn’t. I’m not sure if it was the goat cheese within the dates, or the dates themselves, but once you got past the bacon, there was a weird consistency to the whole thing. I know dates have that kinda feel to them, but it may have been amplified by the goat cheese. Overall not terrible, but not something I would eat on a regular basis.
The Carne Casera was my safe dish. If I wasn’t going to try anything else I knew that I would be ok with pan seared steak and homemade fried potatoes topped with their special red wine herb reduction. Basic thin slices of meat with potatoes, can’t go wrong here. Not as flavorful as I would have liked, but a solid choice.
On a whim we decided to try out one of the specials, and unfortunately I don’t know exactly what it was because they don’t have it on their normal menu online, but I do know that it was a pork skewer and rice. This was by far the best thing we ordered. It was the most flavorful, it was the most filling, it was just down right delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we ordered three plates of it and finished all of them. So my suggestion would be skip the asparagus and just order more of the pork skewer, if it’s on the menu.
I think all of us would probably go back to Bulerias Tapas Bar, but with the caliber of other tapas places, it may not always be the first choice. The food was solid, the smaller space was nice, and the sangria was flowing, so I was happy. Celeste tends to lean towards Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, but that place can get super crowded and hectic. Probably better for a larger party (if you have a reservation), but it’s loud and hard to hear if you just want to talk.