Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba

2024 N Halsted, Chicago

I've been vaguely curious about this place for a long time. Better Half has been highly resistant, saying that he'd been there a few years back and it was terrible. But last night, we decided we'd give it a try.

Holy crap y'all. That was terrible. It was honestly atrocious. It might actually have been one of the worst meals I've ever had in a restaurant. It was cheap, service was good, it was a pleasant, lively atmosphere, but oh man - the food was gross. Now, to be completely fair, part of this might be because we arrived at 9:30 pm, and the place closes at 10. We generally try not to do that, and we actually might not have even gone in, except for the fact that the place was packed, so it didn't seem like it'd be that big of a deal. But that might explain some of the quality issues. I dunno though. It was pretty bad.

We started with the short rib stuffed piquillo pepper. It was just that, a lukewarm, meat-stuffed pepper with some cheese on top, sitting on a piece of toast. Perfectly ok, though not all that exciting. Then came some olive oil poached tuna on avocado toast. This again, was not bad I thought, though Better Half thought it was repulsive. The tuna was definitely maligned by its poaching, it was tough and leathery and basically flavorless. But the avocado toast paired well with it, particularly with the addition of red cabbage and a sprinkling of herbs. Next to arrive was a chicken and chorizo skewer. Not so good at all. The chicken was basically like the tuna, tough, leathery, flavorless, the chorizo was so-so, and it came with a pile of roasted veggies which were likewise more pummeled into submission than prepared. Also, the whole thing was lukewarm, on the cool end of the spectrum, which was pretty nasty. We then received one of the special, a steak with green garlic butter and roasted asparagus. The asparagus was revolting, overcooked, mushy, and just awful. The steak was... odd. The green garlic butter was indeed green, but you could easily consume it without ever really knowing there was garlic or butter in it, aside from occasional hints of something like flavor. The steak was cooked just about perfectly - rich, red, and juicy - but was gross. We deliberated for awhile as to why this was. I thought maybe poor quality meat, Better Half suggested it might have something to do with the way the meat was stored. Basically, the texture was just strange. There were occasional mouthfuls of tendon and gristle, which was really unpleasant, but overall there was just something off about it. Then came what was by far the best dish we had, and which would even be acceptable in another restaurant, though admittedly not stellar - the spanish caesar salad. As Better Half pointed out, it did use iceberg lettuce instead of romaine, and I thought the dressing was rather uninspired, but it wasn't terrible, and the serrano did add a nice little spice to it. It was followed, unfortunately, by a dish so bad that we couldn't eat it. I'd been dreading the arrival of this dish since we'd gotten our first few plates, realizing that it was likely to be disastrous, and indeed, it was. The dish was octopus and potato a la plancha, usually one of my favorite tapas dishes (the one at Mercat a la Planxa is incredible). It was a massive pile of stuff - surprising, given that everything else was fairly modest. You know those "breakfast potatoes" you get at IHOP? The brown cubes? So those were the potatoes that came with this dish. They were piled with hunks of octopus was was not only rubbery, but also had an overwhelming, toxic fishy taste. We sent it back in a hurry.

We concluded with a cup of coffee (mediocre) and the bananas dessert, which was to be caramelized banana with vanilla ice cream. Ok, not to be a dick here, but when you say caramelized banana, I envision a banana that gets cooked with some sugar until it, uh, caramelizes. I do not think of a banana dipped in a low quality caramel sauce. But whatevs. Honestly, at that point, I was pleased that it wasn't worse.

Overall - wow. Do not go to this place.