My sister Calli had her eye on visiting Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba long before moving to Chicago. The widely popular Spanish Tapas restaurant is owned by Lettuce Entertain You (LEY) Restaurant Group, whose roster includes restaurants in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas (Mon Ami Gabi), Joe’s Seafood in Miami, and the newly opened RPM in Chicago. LEY has been such a successful restaurant group because going to any of their restaurants is an experience, not just a meal. The ambiance in each restaurant is scrutinized down to the last detail; despite the Vegas craziness you feel like you are dining actually in Paris at Mon Ami Gabi.
My family went to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba twice that is how much we loved it- once for dinner and once for Father’s Day Brunch. The restaurant specializes in pitxos (pronounced peenchos) which are bite-sized appetizers. You can enjoy them as a start to your meal or order quite a few and make a dinner out of it! I love the experience because you get to try a variety of unusual flavors without having to commit to a single dish. I suggest the chorizo-wrapped medjool date & cheese pitxos for dinner and the potato and egg bite and the waffle-batter dipped chicken stick for brunch. Yes, I just said chicken fried in waffle batter… it’s served with maple glaze if you really want to fall over.
For dinner, you can’t visit without ordering the house special: paella. My grandmother loves paella and could not stop talking about how amazing it was here. We ordered the seafood paella with shrimp, scallops, green beans and cherry tomatoes and it was incredible. I also loved the grilled squid served with a simple garlic and lemon oil and the summer salad with yellow beets and asparagus. Wash it all down something from the sangria menu for a cool and refreshing cleanse on your palate. We thought the white peach sangria with peach schnapps and fresh fruit was best for a hot Chicago day.
With international restaurants taking a turn towards trendy, it is a pleasant surprise to see a large, successful company incorporate many traditional elements of Spanish cuisine into the menu. Try something new and daring that you’ve never had before. Exploit the pitxos as an opportunity to sample cultural flavors. The restaurant has a beautiful, covered patio where you can enjoy a cool cocktail and the warmth of familiar faces. For a rowdy, louder atmosphere make a reservation for a weekend night or happy hour later in the week; just like the Spaniards are doing across the water.