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Northwest Side Review: Azucar Tapas

By Amelia Levin in Food on May 8, 2007 8:15PM

Just a quick disclaimer before we get started here. If you’re going to Azucar Tapas on a weekend night and or even on some week nights, don’t go if you’re in a rush, and expect to wait, both for a table and food, at least for the next few months. We popped in for dinner last Saturday at 8:30 p.m. when we had pre-purchased tickets for the 10 p.m. Spidey 3 show. Bad idea. No, not buying the Spidey ticket, going to dinner then…oh, never mind.

That said, Azucar (Spanish for “sugar”), although a small place with only 34 seats, is a cute and comfortable, later or late-night dinner spot in the increasingly trendy and hip heart of Logan Square. Inside, reds and other warm colors set the mood with low-hanging, painted glass light fixtures, a couple of glittery, no glitz, chandeliers overhanging the two “romantic tables” at the front windows of the restaurant, and a crowd of 20 to 40-something, friendly, well-dressed people from the neighborhood or a little beyond. Although we had to fight over the crowd for first-come-first-serve seats at the bar in order to make our movie, we actually had a better time seated at the sleek, wooden counter facing a mirrored wall to the front and a large, hand-painted wall mural to the left featuring a bull fighter getting gored in the you-know-what by the friendly animal. Our bartender was super cool, poured some stiff white and red sangrias topped with--you betcha--champagne, and we met some really nice people from the neighborhood. For having champagne in it, the sangria price was reasonable at $8 for a large goblet, and other prices were not completely outrageous for the portions--$6 to $8 for appetizers and $10 to $14 for larger plates with meat or fish, good for sharing.2007_05_Azucar2.jpg

Next: food. Some was great, some was--sorry, folks--not so good. Yes, believe it or not this is one of the first major negatives from this Chicagoist writer since starting a couple months ago. We started with the ground beef empanadas and chicken and pork croquettes—two staples of tapas spots or, at least, of Spanish/Central/South American cuisine. We’ve had better. Both dishes were fried to the bone, the croquettes moreso, resulting in a dried out puff lacking flavor and depth. The empanadas were bready and boring, and the croquettes tasted like a poor rendition of chicken nuggets.

However. The manchego cheese plate, with generous triangles of the nutty and earthy, Spanish, semi-firm cheese paired alongside a sweet and tangy fig spread with roasted almonds, was fabulous. Really can’t go wrong there. Pair that dish with small soft baguette slices and top-of-the-line, imported extra virgin olive oil studded with raw garlic gloves, and you’re set.

The garlic-olive oil also makes an appearance in the skirt steak dish, which was also excellent. A thicker cut of skirt steak came perfectly grilled, between medium-rare and medium, with a juicy and buttery, pink interior and garlicky-olivey coating thanks to the oil. Tasty little white beans surrounded the plate with more garlicky coating. Delicious.

2007_05_Azucar.jpgProblems arose. We wanted more, but of course, we planned terribly that night, so we will absolutely go back for a second try—this time with three hours to spare. We should have ordered the pan-seared sea bass with radicchio and a blood orange vinaigrette or the cheese- and mushroom-stuffed red pepper over a bed of pureed chickpeas in a roasted garlic sauce, a house specialty and suggested favorite of our friendly bartender. We also should have ordered the roasted rack of lamb with vanilla and port wine or the pork tenderloin with cinnamon-apples and pistachios, which our friends, the regulars, like. We might also grab some of those homemade doughnuts with rich chocolate sauce they were eating, and we will definitely come back, of course, for more stiff sangria and tasty, minty mojitos. Yes, we had those too. We were seeing Spiderman that night, after all.

Azucar Tapas Restaurant and Cocktail Bar, located at 2647 N. Kedzie Av., is open from 4:30 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday through Thursday and Sunday, and 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. P.S., the restaurant sits directly across from Blue Line station, and street parking is easy, which is nice.