I’m quite the lucky gal. Why? You ask? Moving to Chicago has helped me reconnect with some fantastic family and friends from my growing-up years in El Paso and college at UT (Texas, ya’ll). One such friend, Shannon with a track record of taking me to delicious Chicago restaurants like this Italian delight, invited me to a girls’ night out with some fabulous ladies that I got to meet and dine with. When I discovered the dinner destination of choice was Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, known as “Chicago’s Original Tapas Bar”, in Lincoln Park, I couldn’t wait to try it. And, when I walked up to the front door, I immediately felt a wave of nostalgia and comfort when setting my eyes on the neon-lit “Tapas Bar” sign jutting from the exterior. I began to reminisce about my semester abroad 7 years ago in Sevilla, Spain, where those signs graced every corner. Then I walked in…
Despite the fact that I don’t eat jamon, swine-y, dried meats hanging from the ceiling surrounding the bar bring back those feelings and memories of fresh-from-the-farm meats and cheeses and un-processed, seemingly pure ingredients, poured with love into the tapas that became a part of my regular diet when living in Espana. (Clearly, I just got lost in the memories again with that run-on sentence.)
While I waited at the bar for my company to arrive, I signed up for a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants Frequent Diner Club card, especially since I had recently dined at a Lettuce restaurant that I knew I’d be returning to soon (ahem, last night) – Restaurant Beatrix. For a one-time $25 fee, you receive 10 credits on your card for your first three participating restaurant visits that will already pay for the card fee, then accumulate 1 point per dollar you spend at participating restaurants. Members receive $10 dining rewards for every 140 points earned. Seems like a great way to save as I dine around Chicago!
The ladies arrived, and we of course started with a pitcher of The Classic red sangria, and another of the seasonal white peach. The classic pitcher was downed first – and quickly. And, we all know that a big stack of plates means…you better have a big appetite for trying lots of different dishes…okay, it’s really just a sure sign that you’re at a tapas restaurant. And, you’ll use them all.
The sangria mimic’d that of the authentic Spanish refresher I’d sipped on in its originating country – strong, not too sweet, sans carbonation (true Sangria should not have soda in it, ladies, and gents!), infused citrus fruit flavors and likely brandy (I have to confirm this). Other menu beverages included Black Raspberry Sangria, Passion Fruit Sangria, and Cava Sangria.
We gobbled up many of our plates before I could take a snapshot of them (I was chatting with new friends, after all), but this simple, yet flavorful shrimp with olive oil, lemon, generous pieces of garlic, and red pepper flakes, was the perfect summer dish.
One of my favorite things about the menu is the selection of pintxos (as the sign so kindly points out are pronounced as “peen-chos”) that are like single-serving bites. (Think sashimi at sushi restaurants – ordered and served by the piece.) Hopefully by the end of this post, I can spell pintxos (‘t’ before ‘x’) like a champ and auto-correct with catch on.
Many of these options were served with one or two servings – like the crostinis I shared with pistachio and goat cheese spread atop them. I love this option to try many different dishes, keep the bill affordable, and avoid over-eating. These lil’ plates are $1,50 each (that was a subconscious typo – prices are even written this way in Spain, with a comma instead of a period!), or order a sampling of all 6 offerings for $9. The pintxos on the menu may change, but that keeps new flavors on our tongues, ehh, I mean, keeps us on our toes! (Potato, pot-ah-to.)
Looking for an affordable happy hour with tasty bites? Try their limited bar menu of pintxos, offering $1 bites from 4-6pm Monday-Sunday, or classy late night bites Saturday and Sunday from 10pm-12am! (Come on, for the love of good food, SUCH a better option than that impulsive piece of Wrigleyville pizza).
When you’re in the mood to feel like a Spaniard and enjoy a leisurely dinner with sangria and an array of fresh, flavorful, and vibrant small plates to share, get up (arriba!) and go to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. You might just see me there sippin’ on sangria…