Holy hot damn, is Macarenas Tapas in Naperville good. Not just good for Naperville good, but possibly the best tapas I’ve eaten in the Chicago-land area good. It’s even more surprising when you realize that it’s stuck in a strip mall across from Westfield: Fox Valley, between a For Eyes and a Casual Male Big & Tall. I don’t know how long the place will last with it’s completely unfortunate space. They don’t even get good face time with the drivers on Route 59. They get the people stuck in traffic at the corner of R59 and New York.
And that’s why I’m trying to tell as many people as I can about Macarenas Tapas. Forget that it carries with it the burden of the horrible dance song of the same name. Forget that it’s in a strip mall across from a “Shopping Town.” Once you step into the restaurant itself, with the dimmed lighting, and richly colored woods, you’d think you found yourself at a long-operating secret treat.
Chef John Borras earned his culinary degree here in Chicago, and eventually found himself in Spain where he trained with Chef Ferran Adria. Known for being not only one of the best chefs in Spain, he is also considered to be the original mind behind the molecular gastronomy movement. While Chef Borras has his own styles and flavors, occasionally you can see Adria’s influence, especially in dishes like the Marshmallow a la Napoleon (pictured).
We started the evening with a couple simple dishes, Croquetas de pollo and Croquetas de Queso de Cabra. The dishes were light and crisp, neither overcooked nor greasy. The chicken croquettes were served with traditional beschamel and aioli sauces. The goat cheese croquettes, however, were served with a “splash of honey and balsamic reduction.” The bitter of the reduction cut with the slight sweet of the honey provided a perfect accompaniment to the goat cheese.
Up next was another traditional favorite, Patatas Bravas. The tomato sauce was incredibly fresh. I was convinced I could still taste the fact it was pureed mere minutes before the dish was offered up.
Our “third course” was what you see pictured: Marshmallows a la Napoleon. Now, when it comes to weird food concoctions, I’m more willing to dive in than Katie. I like weird. I *am* weird. She’s told me that eating with me has really opened her horizons, but she still wasn’t sold on the idea of marshmallows and cheese. Together. Living in edible harmony. That, and she hates marshmallows.
The Manchego cheese was shredded and served as a crisp. Layered on top of that were 10-12 raw marshmallows; followed by another Manchego crisp. The entire dish was topped with more of the Balsamic reduction.
Now peoples, I don’t lie to you here on my journal. It would be rude. So when I tell you that this dish was easily my favorite of the evening, know that I’m not being funny. What we thought would be a mix of sweet and savory turned out to be a mostly savory dish with only the chewy consistency of the marshmallow coming through. Apparently my facial expressions and continuous string of “Oh wow” and “Oh man” were enough to convince Katie to also give it a try.
Now folks. People. Katie hates the marshmallow. She hates the marshmallow almost has much as she hates the banana. So, when I tell you that the little sneak, who only wanted to try one, ended up eating at least 3 more of those marshmallow and cheese confections, you will know how good this dish truly was.
We should have stopped there, but I wanted more! More tapas for Mike! As a “fourth course” we ordered the Empanadas Liquidas and the Setas en Tostadas. While these were tasty in their own right, they paled in comparison to the Marshmallow a la Napoleon. The empanadas were another culinary mystery, promising to be a empanada filled with only vegetable liquid. The empanada was a multi-layered experience. The outside was slightly crispy, the middle firm, and the layer closest to the liquid was flavorful and moist. While they may not have been the tasting dish of the evening, they were the most fun to try and eat. I took my first bite and liquid sprayed everywhere like a OceanSpray commercial. It became a testament of skill trying to eat those pieces of doughy goodness.
The Setas en Tostadas were crustinis served under portabella mushrooms, spinach and a hint of Cabrales blue cheese. The portabella mushrooms were sauteed to perfection, and there was just enough blue cheese to provide that sour bite it’s so good at, without overpowering the dish itself.
We asked about the desserts, chocolate and apple tarts, pound cake, and a couple other dishes, but decided we should pass as we were already stuffed and satiated.
I can’t say enough good things about Macarena Tapas. The service was attentive and friendly, talking to us about the various tapas places we’ve eaten previously. We were seated right away, although the just starting snow storm could have helped that a bit. Everything seemed perfectly organized for a restaurant that just opened a small time ago.
Katie and I even left the chef a note on our paper tablecloth, thanking him for a delicious meal, and showing us that marshmallows and cheese CAN make a beautiful friendship.
If you live in the area, skip Meson Sabika this once. Yes. I know. It’s a beautiful place. But I can almost guarantee that the food experience you have at Macarena will convince you that appearances can be deceiving.
618 South Route 59
Naperville, IL 60540
P:630 420 8995
Su: 4pm-9pm / M-Th: 11am – 2pm & 4.30pm-9pm / F & Sat 11am-10pm