He swooned over the fleshy orange papaya, the rows of red tomatoes, the glistening jamón, the cockles, clams and scallops tumbling from their bins at Barcelona’s market La Boqueria. But it was the chiringuitos that finally got Chef Jose Garces.
“You’re sitting on the beach, looking out at the Mediterranean and having this delicious seafood,” he says about the Spanish beach shacks, where octopus, squid and shellfish are pulled from the ocean and simply grilled. “That was something I wanted to bring back.”
Chef Garces won a James Beard Award for his skill in upscaling traditional Latin flavors, and Mercat a la Planxa — “market on the grill” — is his tribute to this style of food, and the food of Catalonia. At the Michigan Avenue restaurant, head-on prawns and baby squid are doused with lemon and garlic and seared on the grill. For meat lovers, housemade butifarra, the iconic Catalan sausage, and thick cuts of Wagyu beef also hit the coals (this is Chicago, after all.)