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Feb 22, 2011 01:12 PM

All Spanish or Small Plate restaurant/bar!!!

2 of us will be in Chicago early april.

The focus will be on busy, small plate restaurants and wine bars. Spanish food would be great... We'll probably be doing 3 places every day, one for lunch and two for dinner...

I've been in Chicago last year and just loved AVEC! I really enjoyed Mercat a la Planxa and Mado as well. What I am looking for is a place similar to Avec for the ambiance and food. Other places like Mercat were fun for the bar feeling...

What do you think of Café Ba Ba Reeba?

What do you think of The Publican?

What do you think of Blackbird?

Avec Restaurant
615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

Mado Restaurant
1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

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  1. Ba Ba Reba - I like it and it's owned by Lettuce Entertain You, so it is 100% consistent and I find it to always be very good. All the usual tapas, plus they have nice grilled (a la plancha) items. It's in Lincoln Park so often a younger crowd and it's always fun. That being said, my bubbie (jewish grandmother) liked the place a lot too.

    The Publican -- I also really like it, but others here do not. The beer list is very nice (be careful, mostly high alcohol belgian). The house-made pork rinds are a great bar side. The menu does change, but some of the dishes I like are the charcuterie plate, country ribs (boneless), roasted chicken (it smells so good walking by), and brussel sprouts.

    Blackbird - it's been at least 5 years since I was there. I remember it as very good, but also feeling like i was in A Clockwork Orange. Stark white and just not comfortable.

    For small plates that all of us on this board agree with, try Sable Kitchen for New American small and large plates and Davanti Enoteca for italian small plates in Little Italy.
    That being said, any of these will make you happy.

    Blackbird Restaurant
    619 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60606

    The Publican
    837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

    Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba
    2024 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614

    Sable Kitchen & Bar
    505 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

    1. I agree with jbontario.

      I like Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. It's very good and very consistent. The food is not quite as creative and unusual as Mercat a la Planxa, but that's okay, it's great at what it does. Two other small plates places are what you're looking for and worth considering: Cafe Iberico, which does Spanish tapas, and Quartino, which does Italian small plates. Both are downtown in River North.

      I'm not all that fond of the Publican, but if you loved Avec, you'll probably love the Publican too. Especially if you've looked at the menu on their website and you find it compelling. Another place you'll probably like is the Purple Pig, which, like the Publican, features pork, charcuterie, and cheese. Note that, like Avec, the Purple Pig doesn't take reservations and you can expect long waits to be seated for dinner. You can avoid the long waits by going at lunchtime; they serve the same menu all day long.

      Blackbird is not really like the other places being discussed here - not as bar-like (more upscale ambience), does not feature small plates, the food is contemporary American rather than Mediterranean-focused, etc. Their food is excellent, but (like Avec and Publican) it's very noisy and if you're stuck in the banquette tables along the wall, you'll be thisclose to those on either side of you. There are a lot of other places that, like Blackbird, serve contemporary American food; my favorite in the city is the one jbontario mentioned, Sable. Sable has small plates and large (two portion sizes available for many of their dishes), features food by Heather Terhune (she rocks), food prices are surprisingly reasonable, and also features amazing artisanal cocktails. If you go there, don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!

      If you like the festive ambience of these places and you'd be interested in trying other kinds of food, I'd recommend Carnivale and Nacional 27 for Latin fusion cuisine, and Red Light and Sunda for pan-Asian food. They're not small plates places but the food is very good and, again, they offer a similar atmosphere.

      Sable is my absolute personal favorite of all of these places.

      7 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thanks a lot for your help and tips

        1. re: QcBoy

          In the category of small plates, I would strongly suggest Gilt Bar. We went recently and were surprised at how good the food was, including fresh made pasta, among other things we loved. We actually liked it overall more than Sable, although I am a fan of Sable and Purple Pig, which were mentioned as well.

        2. re: nsxtasy

          Please explain to me why a 18% gratuity is automatically added? Where does that come from? Is it because people didn't pay before so restaurants had to adjust? Why not add automatically to everyone, not only to 6 and more? Is 18% normal and what expected in Chicago? Here in Québec, people tip 15% I remember paying more than 18% last time in Chicago but I have to admit that for me a bad service means less money for the server and I am a server and sommelier and I work hard to offer the best so... Do some people add more than the 18% included?

          1. re: QcBoy

            You have several questions here, so let's take them one by one.

            >> Please explain to me why a [xx%] gratuity is automatically added? Where does that come from? Is it because people didn't pay before so restaurants had to adjust? Why not add automatically to everyone, not only to 6 and more?

            Automatic tipping policies vary from restaurant to restaurant. Most only apply it for large groups - sometimes 6 or more, sometimes 8 or more. (It's also standard for private parties.) Why? I'm sure there are various reasons, but they are likely to come down to a concern that without an automatic charge, tips may tend to be inadequate with a larger group. I strongly support the places that add automatic gratuities for larger parties. Here's why.

            I've been out with large groups of people many times in my life. Sometimes it's an intimate gathering of three couples who know each other well, but other times it's just a big group, such as when a work group goes out for lunch or dinner. Too often, what happens in the latter case is that the check is passed around, and everyone puts in what he/she thinks is his/her portion of the check. And in my experience, over half the time, the total comes up significantly short of what would be a fair tip. (My best guess as to why is not that people deliberately chip in less than they should, but rather, they think of their entree but they forget about the glass of wine or cup of coffee, or they forget about or miscalculate the tax or tip.) And when I've seen that happen, there is then a choice between several unpleasant and unfair or embarrassing options: adding in more than my own share to keep the staff from being shortchanged, trying to check back on a bunch of people's orders to see who shorted their contribution, or letting it go with a tip that's inadequate. I'm sure that many times, the staff gets shorted as a result. When there's an automatic tip on the check, that doesn't happen. So I'm sorry if you don't like the policy of automatic tips for larger parties, but I think it's the fairest and best way of avoiding such situations.

            There is one place I know that applies tips uniformly for all party sizes: Ria and Balsan, the restaurants in the new Elysian Hotel. The hotel has a "no tipping" policy, and their doormen, bellhops, and coat check people all politely refuse tips. An 18 percent service charge is automatically applied to bills for food and drink at the two restaurants.

            >> Is 18% normal and what expected in Chicago?

            There are lots of websites and write-ups about tipping. There is no single number that is widely accepted, either in Chicago or in the United States. Most websites tell you that 15 to 20 percent is standard throughout the United States, often noting that 15 percent is common in small towns, and up to 20 percent in big cities. Most places will also tell you that 20 percent is often appropriate in the fanciest, most expensive restaurants (I know, it's applied to higher prices, so there is a "double whammy" there) and that it's appropriate to go higher than "standard" for exceptional service.

            I'm sure if you asked ten different people in Chicago you'll get ten different answers, but that all ten will fall somewhere in the 15 to 20 percent range. My opinion is that 18 percent, applied to the amount before tax, is considered a fair and reasonable tip anywhere in Chicago (and that 15 percent is considered low here). Also, I'm not in the restaurant business, but I can only guess that those that are, might be slightly disappointed by a 15 percent tip, but the real outrage is reserved for those that tip less than 15 percent. Again, I'm just guessing on this last sentence.

            A couple of exceptions to the above: I occasionally dine solo. When I do, I almost always tip considerably above any "standard", under the philosophy that a server does almost as much work serving one person as two, but the base amount to which the tip is applied is much lower. Depending on how much food I order, I commonly tip 25 percent or more when dining solo.

            Also, when a restaurant offers some sort of "special" - a Groupon special, or a Restaurant Week special, etc - I apply any tip percentage to the higher amount that the bill would otherwise total without benefit of the special.

            It's also worth noting that tipping customs vary around the world, and it's appropriate to tip according to local custom. For example, at most restaurants in Japan, tipping is considered not appropriate under any circumstances (in fact, it's considered an insult).

            >> Do some people add more than the 18% included?

            I'm sure some people do, and you can do so if you want to. My general philosophy is, when a fair and reasonable tip (e.g. 18 percent) is already included in the bill, I don't go out of my way to add anything on. So most of the time, I don't add anything when there's a service charge on the bill (and yes, the restaurant's policy sometimes results in a lower amount than I would otherwise pay as a result). OTOH if the service is absolutely exceptional, above and beyond what I would consider good service, then yes, I would add something on to a standard tip charge.

            I'm sure we could go on and on about tipping, including questions like "Why should there be a higher tip for serving a $250 bottle of wine than for a $50 bottle of wine?" (to which there is no good answer, IMHO, other than the fact that a tip is considered appropriate based on a percentage of the total and that's just the way it is). And I'm also sure that others may disagree with at least some of what I've said here - many in the foodcentric community (here at Chowhound and elsewhere) are more likely to consider a higher percentage (e.g. 20%) as "standard" in Chicago than the general population does - but this is how I see it. Hope this helps!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Thanks for all that.

              It's not that I don't agree with including tips to a bill but it is something that is never done here. I'm not even sure it would be legal... I do understand that a group trying to split a bill and letting everyone chip in on how much they think is unrealistic.

              Don't you think that if tips would always be included, servers would have no reason to do a great job just like in Europe where in most places (not in upscale restaurants) the service is awful, lack sincerity... actually they just don't give a shit about you since you will pay them tips anyways.

              1. re: QcBoy

                I'm with nxstasy on tipping more when dining solo and tipping appropriate to the bill, ignoring any coupons you got. Also, I've visited Australia and New Zealand a great deal and tipping is very rare there. The service is fairly similar to that in the US where tipping is expected: generally quite good. I have not eaten a lot in Europe where the tipping is included. I guess one answer to why the service is generally good in Australia/New Zealand (besides the fact that the general population seems to just be friendly) is that if you don't attract the customers the restaurant could go out of business and you'll be out of a job. I have tipped a little bit at some restaurants and they REALLY remember me.

                1. re: QcBoy

                  I've never experienced bad or even indifferent service in other parts of the world where tipping is not a major part of a server's salary. What I've experienced is servers taking pride in doing a good job. Perhaps that's changed, but that's how it was for me, both in Europe and Asia.

          2. I just ate at Cafe' Ba Ba Reeba last night, and had a great time! The staff was excellent, with great suggestions and very good service. They were unobtrusive, yet at hand any time we needed something and empty plates were cleared promptly. My friends and I shared a pitcher of white sangria (we should have had 2), and it was delicious.

            The paella was a little dry I thought (we had the seafood), but the shrimps and scallops were perfectly cooked, just the rice was dry.

            If you go, please make sure you order the spicy potatoes. They were excellent, and my friends and I spent the entire ride home not discussing the opera we saw after dinner, but instead trying to deconstruct the sauce served with the potatoes!

            Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba
            2024 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614

            1 Reply
            1. re: tzurriz

              My husband and I recently dined at Cafe BaBaReeba (Valentine's weekend) and really enjoyed our experience and food. We ordered two servings of bacon wrapped dates, an endive salad, seafood paella and a 1/2 pitcher of red sangria. We were very happy with service and everything tasted very good. I know it's part of a larger restaurant group but it's well done and consistent (as previously noted). I much prefer this place than Cafe Iberico where we were very disappointed with both food and service.

            2. I am a huge fan of the current small plates trend, I also fall into the Avec fan but not Publican fan category.

              I think your best bets are Purple Pig, Gilt Bar, Girl and the Goat, Maude's (second restaurant from the owners of Gilt Bar) and Cafe Iberico.

              Avec Restaurant
              615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

              Cafe Iberico
              N Lasalle St Chicago IL, N Lasalle St Chicago, IL

              Girl and the Goat
              809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661