Tapas Gitana Review - A Chicago Restaurant You Should Know

Entering Tapas Gitana


When I visited Spain recently, it surprised me to discover that I liked Tapas.  At least I liked it in Spain.  Here the small dishes with tastes of many foods were large enough to share and the varied choices and flavors were pleasing.  At home, this was not my experience.  But one evening, taking a friends’ suggestion, we stopped for a snack at Tapas Gitana.  Here, the food was very much like that we experienced in Spain. In addition, I was impressed by the special designation for “gluten free”, and “vegetarian” foods on the menu.  A visit from the Chicago Splash Magazine reviewers Pat, Herb, Barbara and Leon seemed a good idea in order to further explore the range of menu offerings.

Courtyard mural


This “destination” restaurant is not easily visible from the street, located toward the back of a shopping center, but it is easy to reach; near the Willow East exit on Edens Expressway.  We had no idea when we arranged to go, that an evening at Tapas Gitana would be our antidote to winter.  Braving one of the coldest nights of the year and snow to boot, we were rewarded with a delightful evening in an environment that made us feel as though we were in Spain on a warm evening.  The murals on the wall give you the feeling of being in a courtyard overlooking tile-roofed buildings.  The unusual light fixtures are painted pottery with the bulbs painted on the bottom to deflect the light upward, bathing the room with a warm, soft light.  Thoughtful attention to details resulted in special touches that amused us and made us the welcome.  The menu has pictures that mirror the mural, food that is easy to find, coffee cups that balance a spoon, the perfect temperature of the room, food served hot bringing out all the flavors, and Juan Carlos Aguilera, singer and guitar player sharing romantic songs on Wednesday and Thursday.

Chef/Proprietor, Andrew Novak


Andrew Novak, Chef/Proprietor, opened Tapas Gitana (Gitana means Gypsy Girl) in August of 2007.  Ironically, he ended up purchasing the property from his first boss.  Chef Andrew has been involved in Tapas restaurants going back about fifteen years. He was a sous chef at Emilio’s and was sent to Spain to learn about Tapas there.  He opened Emilio’s Granada in Geneva, La Tasca in Arlington Heights.  He was away from restaurants for many years and then developed a plan to open a restaurant.  His plan became a reality when this property, which had been a tapas restaurant for fifteen years, became his tapas restaurant.  Asked about the V (vegetarian) and GF (gluten free) designations, he explained that he did this to meet the expressed needs of his patrons.  He uses flour for bread and desserts only, while sauces are natural.

Mural, looking at the village


The menu is extensive and varied in categories that include:  Cold Tapas, Soups & Salads, Paellas, Hot Tapas, Especialidades De La Casa, Desserts, Specialty coffees, and wines – sparkling, rose, white and red mostly by the bottle.

Alex Negrde, our waiter


A plate with a variety of delicious olives and bread with buttery butter was waiting for us to enjoy with the pitcher of Sangria we ordered.   The Sangria was a lovely color, very fruity and delicious.  Our server,  Alex Negrde,  took over,  offering attentive and sensitive service.


Cold Tapas:

Tomate Y Queso Con Aceitunas


Pat selected the “Tomate Y Queso Con Aceitunas (“V,GF”)”
Vine ripened tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese topped with black olive and roasted red pepper vinaigrette.

The flavors delighted the whole group; soft cheese, flavorful tomatoes, chopped olives and red pepper.  It was visually attractive and decorated with shredded basil that gave it a fresh, healthy taste.

Tostadas Espanolas


Leon was liked the “Tostadas Espanolas”
Garlic toast points, topped with Serrango Ham, Manchego Cheese and Piquillo pepper drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Pat found the ham a bit salty but loved red pepper and cheese and liked the way it was layered.  Leon enjoyed this dish, and liked the saltiness in the ham in contrast to the mild red pepper.

Hot Tapas:   

Crepe Rellena


Herb ordered the “Crepe Rellena (“V”)”
Crepe filled with goat cheese, pine nuts, spinach and apple, accompanied by a pimento sauce.

The smell was captivating and the flavors did not disappoint.  Herb commented on the crunchy exterior, which was carried through in the filling with the crunch of the pine nuts and chopped apples.  

Patatas Bravas


Barbara decided on the “Patatas Bravas (“V,GF”)”
Fried diced new potatoes served with a spicy red pepper sauce.  The smell of this was irresistible.
 
When we tasted it, Pat noted it was crispy but not greasy in the way that French fries are.  Leon liked the cheese sauce.  Barbara thought the it was spicy enough to wake up your taste buds but not too spicy and Herb said they were warm and crunchy, which he liked.

Paellas: (35-45 minutes to prepare)

Vegetariana Paella


Herb chose the “Vegetariana (“V,GF”)”,
Vegetarian paella made with bell pepper, onions, and assorted seasonal vegetables, baked in saffron rice.

Actually, Herb ordered but everyone helped him because one size served many.  The wonderful saffron rice flavors were delectable, better still, because it arrived at the table hot.  The large variety of vegetables included artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and squash.  Herb commented that this dish felt healthy, and Barbara could not stop eating it; one bite followed the next with each bite tasting better than  the one before.

Valenciana Paella


Pat picked the “Valenciana (“GF”)”,
Chicken, shrimp, mussels and clams baked in saffron rice with vegetables.

Pat thought the spices in this dish were just right; enough to notice but not so much as to offend.  Leon loved the variety of seafood and Herb found it substantial and flavorful.  The group declared this dish the best. The portion was so large that almost half of it went home for another day.

Desserts:

Flan De La Jefe Delicia De Chocolate Crema Catalana De Chocolate Great desserts


Leon and Barbara shared the “Flan De La Jefe (“GF”)
Chef’s choice featured flan of the day (Caramel).  

We all tried it and concluded that it was exceptionally light and served in an unusual shape.  It wasn’t long before it vanished

Pat was intrigued by the “Delicia De Chocolate (“V,GF”)
Chocolate Terrine with honey roasted pecans and fresh raspberry sauce.

Pat said it was her favorite blend of flavors with a remarkable consistency.  Barbara liked the bittersweet flavor. It was a cross between a brownie and fudge, very rich and absolutely delicious.  This was the dessert winner.

Herb tried the “Crema Catalana De Chocolate (“V,GF”)”
Creamy vanilla custard, with bittersweet chocolate, and caramelized sugar topping.

This description did not seem to match the wonderful blend of flavors and textures that Herb described and all of us experienced.  This was the runner up.

Coffee was the perfect complement to each dessert.

Juan Carlos Aguilera, singer & guitar player


The music complemented the food so effectively that Herb pointed out it could have almost been an added meal because it matched the surroundings and blended so well with the food.  The stacks of small dishes made sharing easy and pleasant.  The portions were so generous that there were leftovers to take home. Pat concluded that the food was well balanced, colorful with a variety of textures, healthy and delicious.  And prices are reasonable.  We expect to return soon.

Tapas Gitana
310 Happ Rd.
Northfield, IL 60093
847.784.9300

Juan Carlos Aguilera
Singer/Guitar Player
847.291.0957

Photos: Leon Keer



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