1023 W. Lake St. 312-243-9770
Rating: !!!! (out of four) Already hot
The scene: Under the shadow of the Green Line tracks on Lake Street in the West Loop, a little slice of Spain is waiting. Vera is a regional Spanish restaurant and wine bar that, thanks to former Carnivale chef Mark Mendez and his sommelier wife Elizabeth, is breathing life into a space that’s sat vacant for years since the short-lived sports bar Addiction closed.
The food: Any restaurant that has a dedicated cheese bar automatically earns a spot on my favorites list; rather than sitting at the main bar or the dining room, you can sit at this little ledge and soak up cheesy sights and factoids all night. Seafood shines through simple preparations in dishes such as deliciously salty anchovies with celery leaves and pickled garlic ($9) and shrimp seasoned with lemon and chili ($12, pictured). Though I was disappointed to not see a dessert menu, my server suggested a cheese course for dessert ($9 for three cheeses, $15 for five), and I found a new favorite in the Carboncino, a gooey sheep-cow-goat combo from Piedmont, Italy.
The drinks: I’ve been waiting for someplace in town to get serious about making sherry accessible, and props to co-owner Elizabeth for showing Chicago that this fortified wine from the Jerez region of Spain is not all sweet and syrupy. The “Sherry & Friends” section of the menu offers a dozen or so choices, and the staff can help you sort out the manzanillas from the olorosos. A fino, like the one from Toro Albala ($9) my server recommended, can be the perfect bone-dry foil to croquettes filled with smoky ham and cheese ($5). I’ll be back to show support for the wine on tap (a riesling and rosé for now), an eco-friendly trend that’s gaining speed locally.
Bottom line: I didn’t mean to give the couple seated next to me a dirty look, but when I overheard that they walked over from their condo down the street, I couldn’t suppress my jealousy. Te amo, Vera!Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun