Untoppable Tapas

While the logo above may contradict the following, this isn’t so much a restaurant review as a review of tapas in general. The picture I really wanted to start with would have been something that could capture both the diversity and the amount of food we piled onto our table and into our stomachs the night we went to Cafe Iberico. But since I had no such luck at capturing this perfect picture, I’ll run through our feast of feasts dish by dish.

Cafe Iberico greeted us with massive crowds and a 1 hour and 30 minute wait. Granted it was a Saturday night, but if that doesn’t indicate a restaurant’s popularity, I don’t know what would. And let me tell you, people weren’t turning away either. They just kept on piling in.

So piled ourselves we did, cozying up in the crannies of the waiting area with a couple of pitchers of red sangria (did I say a couple? er…) Any drink with pieces of fruit in it can keep me occupied for hours, because I still have yet to master using straws as chopsticks.

But the wait really didn’t seem long, especially when we were able to snatch a table in the bar area and order an appetizer to begin our glorious meal:

Baked goat cheese with fresh tomato basil sauce.

(Recipe suggestion: Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese)

Granted it came with more pieces of pesto-covered bread, but much like Maxine and her chocolate cake, I couldn’t help dive in before taking a picture. I, personally, think it looks better half eaten :o)

Now, I have a confession to make. This was the second time I’ve ever had tapas. The first was only last November, so needless to say, I’m new to the tapas realm (hence why this is not an official review). But last time I had a similar goat cheese dish and it’s fast becoming one of my favorite tapas staples. Whoever decided to bake goat cheese and cover it in tomato sauce was a genius.

It was the perfect appetizer to pass the time before the perfect meal. Since there were four of us, the expert among us advised we each pick two dishes and share all eight. So here is what we came up with:

Grilled sea scallops with saffron sauce.

(Recipe suggestion: Sauteed Scallops with Saffron Lemon Sauce)

Part of my top two, this dish was bliss. Scallops are so great as is, but this dish provided the perfect accompaniment. It had, what I presume to be saffron-infused rice topped with a sort of yogurt sauce and almonds. This was the first dish I tried (minus the goat cheese appetizer) and

Steamed mussels with marinara sauce.

(Recipe suggestion: Mussels Mariniere)

I hate to begin with my two favorites but I figure if I saved them for last, you might not scroll all the way down :o). This was the second dish I picked out, and hands down, my favorite. Pulling my food out of the casing of a mussel always intrigued me but I never had the pleasure before this meal. I LOVED them! The flavor of the marinara was light and perfect coupled with the steamy soft texture of the mussel. And it wasn’t just delicious, it was fun! It made me highly regret not trying the mussels in Belgium where they’re quite infamous. If I could only hop back on a plane…

Fresh artichokes marinated with sherry balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

(Recipe suggestion: Artichokes in Garlic and Olive Oil Sauce)

I think I was the only one that liked this dish for all of its parts. I had one piece of artichoke and some of the red and yellow peppers and I thought it was fantastic. But I should point out that most of my company couldn’t even bear to have the artichoke in their mouth. If table manners were less of a priority, I’m pretty sure they would have spit it out on the table for being way too tart. But me, I don’t mind a tart artichoke every now and then.

Slow roasted lamb shank simmered with red wine.

(Recipe suggestion: Slow Cooked Leg of Lamb)

After an almost immediate surge of dishes, we had to wait awhile for this one but I guess the description makes that fair. But, I have to say, I’ve had better lamb. I had a lamb dish at the first tapas restaurant I went to and it was far superior. Maybe by the time it came out, I was full but I’ve been more impressed. I did enjoy the potatoes though!

Grilled octopus with potatoes and olive oil.

(Recipe suggestion: Unfortunately we do not have any octopus recipes, feel free to submit one!)

Another first for me, I was quite happy someone chose this dish. Served on a wooden plate of sorts (I’m still not sure why), I’d call it more of an “octopus and fries.” The texture of the octopus was somewhat reminiscent of squid (which you’ll see too), chewy but not too chewy. I was sort of more indifferent to the taste than I thought I would be, but it made for a more adventurous experience.

Large salad topped with chicken tenderloins, asparagus, tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette.

(Recipe suggestion: Asparagus Orange and Endive Salad)

For every 4 plates of adventurous food, I guess you need a semi-normal plate, right? Since they have an entire page of the menu dedicated to salads, one of us went with this salad that definitely delivered on its promise of being large (the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Grilled squid with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice.

(Recipe suggestion: Italian Style Squid)

I’ve had calamari before, but it still freaks me out a bit. I guess it’s something about the shape or the texture but regardless, I really enjoyed the flavors and presentation of this dish. It made our seafood frenzy that much more seafood, and frenzy.

Grilled shrimp with olive oil, garlic and wine.

(Recipe suggestion: Grilled Shrimp Scampi)

A shrimp scampi of sorts, this dish was just alright. It wasn’t highly impressive or anything but ifit was enough to satisfy a shrimp craving at our table. And hey, why not get some shrimp with our mussels, squid, scallops and octopus?

Needless to say, we were too full for dessert. After 3 pitchers of sangria, 9 plates of food (not including a spicy potato hors d’eurve they passed out in the waiting area) we were in enough of a heavenly stupor to last us days.

And the best part about it all was that the prices were fabulous. An 8 or 9 course meal anywhere else would have cost as much per person as the amount we spent altogether.

And this is why I love tapas! Why can’t every restaurant let you try smaller portions of any dish on their menu? If you like to try anything once, tapas lets you do it all in one meal! And if you aren’t that adventurous, there is still plenty of tasty food around. It’s perfect I tell you! So perfect that I’ll be back there this weekend.

Cafe Iberico
739 N. Lasalle Dr.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 573-1510 – No reservations

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  • awsome

    who goes to Belgium and doesn’t get Muscles?

  • http://www.getheirloomtomatoes.com Anna

    Good morning Hillary, Sounds like you and your party had a great time. I agree there should be more Tapas reaturants. This is a good way of sharing with friends foods you might never order.I my self have done this and found a lot of wonderful food that I probably would never have tried. Thanks for sharing. Anna

  • http://www.recipe4living.com Maxine

    When I was traveling in Portugal, my friend and I perfected what I like to call the “stab and grab” method of using your straw to stab the fruit at the bottom of the sangria glass. After a pitcher of sangria, let me tell you, this can be pretty entertaining! :)

  • http://alosha7777.blogspot.com melissa

    everything looks really good! of course, an almost all seafood meal would be great with me any time. I’ve never done tapas before but have definitely wanted to.

    cool that you finally got to have mussels. I really enjoy the baked ones when I go for sushi (as long as the place doesn’t drown them in thick mayo sauce).

  • http://www.teczcape.blogspot.com tigerfish

    I’m fickle when it comes to deciding what to order – so I like to try smaller portions of any dish too!
    But a 1.5 hr wait???? I think the longest time I waited in a food queue is 30mins, and that’s stretching to the max!

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