Chicago-area Tapas lovers have probably already discovered Twist, a sharp looking tapas bar near the intersection of Sheffield and Clark in Chicago. I've had the pleasure of dining there twice in the last week, and through a quirk of fate I haven't paid either time (which makes the food taste all that much better).
The space is intimate - or rather - small. Much of the restaurant is taken up by the open cooking area behind the actual tapas bar where you can see the tapas being prepared by the chefs as you order. A single long row of tables takes up most of the rest of the space, with an elevated lounge with seating for about eight to ten providing a little more room.
The mural behind the bar is an original done by the two owners of Twist. Wooden artist's drawing figures posed in various dance steps adorn the tops of the walls in the space. It's a nice space, but it could certaily get crowded and noisy on a game day or a Saturday night. In warm weather Twist fits a few more people on sidewalk seating in front of the door.
The food here is a style I'm beginning to think of as "New American tapas". The dishes aren't as out there as Jose Andres' Nuevo Latino cuisine in DC, but there is a mix of flavors and ingredients that are not exactly Spanish in origin.
That's not to say Twist doesn't offer authentic Spanish tapas as part of the menu. Spanish Tortilla, an olive plate, quesadillas, and crabcakes are all on offer here and they're perfectly fine. At other tapas places these would be mainstays. At Twist, they're merely there to satisfy the traditionalists.
Twist offers a wide variety of tapas. I'm not a meat eater, but my companions the first trip indicated the tenderloins were both succulent and delicious. They apaprently know how to cook both pork and beef, but where I think Twist shines is in its treatment of seafood.
There are two must-haves. First, there's the grilled calamari which picks up the char taste of the grill in the sear marks, and is accompanied by a dice of sweet mixed bell peppers (red, yellow, and orange only) and a light lemon butter sauce. If you don't mind squid's texture, this is the best dish in the place.
The best except, perhaps, for the smoked salmon tartar, served finely flaked on a bed of greens in a martini glass with two flaky won-ton-like wedges. The presentation is ceviche-like but the flavor is all lightly dressed smoky salmon. This contrasts very well with the seared tuna tapas, which is served sliced paper thin (well, cheap cardboard thin), crusted with sesame seeds, a bit of shredded ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping.
A third candidate for must-have is the pistachio crusted tilapia. We were all finally slowing down by the time we got this dish but everyone had a bit and then despite filling bellies, everyone had a bit more.
Getting full took some work. Because we don't order red meat, I find tapas often don't fill you up right away. I recommend adding one substantial dish like the delicious jalapeno gnocchi to the mix. The perfectly browned butter in the gnocchi's cheese sauce adds a roasted nut note to a lighter than expected but hearty dish.
For dessert, make sure someone gets the profiteroles and shares. It's the one true dessert star. The bread pudding is sliced thin, and served in a great creamy sauce with raspberry, and the flourless chocolate cake is executed nicely, but trust me, the profiteroles are where it's at. The flan, in an orange infused syrup would be a good accompaniment.
The wine list is small, but has some good riojas and other Spanish wines. When I go back, however, I think I'll probably stick to the delicious sweet sangria.
I like this place. We had the same server both trips - Sarah - and she was attentive without being smothering. If you can get her as your waitress, you're in luck. Even if you can't, I recommend taking a few friends and trying out Twist.
3412 N. Sheffield Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Tab with a few drinks - $25-40/person.
Jetsetting took a look at Twist when it was first opening and liked it, but found some of the problems you'd expect in a new place.
Centerstage has a confusing but positive review. I'm not sure we were at the same restaurant.
Finally, the Chicago Tribune gave Twist 3 forks and a picture of an attractive couple in its review.