Mercat a la Planxa Debuts Revamped Tapas With New Exec. Chef

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Since opening in 2008, Mercat a la Planxa, the stylish Catalan-inspired tapas restaurant within the legendary Blackstone Hotel, has delighted diners with its elevated Spanish delicacies and spirited, convivial atmosphere. Now, the South Loop favorite is bringing fresh energy into the kitchen with revamped dinner and brunch menus, and the addition of Chef Gee Cuyugan as executive chef.

chef Gee Cuyugan
Image Credit: Kristen Mendiola

Cuyugan, who previously oversaw the culinary programs at The Drake’s iconic concepts including The Cape Cod Room and Coq d’Or; The Ritz Carlton’s Italian steakhouse, Torali; and more, showcases his creativity and artistic flare in inventive new evening and weekend dishes that range from street food-styled starters to grilled specialties from the signature planxa grill.

“I’m excited to take the next step in my career journey at Mercat a la Planxa, and to have the opportunity to put my own personal touch on its culinary program,” says Cuyugan. “I was born in the Philippines, and I drew a lot of inspiration for these updated dishes from traditional ‘pulutan,’ which is the Filipino version of tapas, as well as other Spanish influences found in Filipino cooking. The menu still has a strong emphasis on ingredients and techniques from the Catalan region of Spain, but I’ve enjoyed bringing in elements of other cultures that I’ve learned during my career.” 

Mercat A La Planxa
Image Credit: Kristen Mendiola

For dinner, Cuyugan uses the traditional Spanish technique of cooking ‘a la plancha,’ or searing food on a metal plate, to enhance the flavor and add a touch of char in a variety of creative new Spanish-style delicacies including: 

  • Seafood and vegetable tapas like Salmon Escabeche with shallots, bell pepper, Jerez sherry vinegar and coriander; Blistered Padron Peppers with lemon zest, paprika and garlic chips, Pulpo de la Planxa with grilled octopus, cauliflower puree, lemon, and scallion chermoula sauce; and Spanish Beer Steamed Mussels with fennel, garlic, paprika, parsley and pan de cristal.
  • Proteins grilled to perfection including a beef strip loin in Mercat marinade served with sherry reduction, truffle potato and black garlic butter; grilled Australian lamb chop with French beans, toasted almonds and tomato-based romesco sauce; flanken-style cut short rib with blistered padron pepper and citrus cava reduction; and more.
  • Traditional Spanish paellas such as Paella Catalana with shrimp, chicken, mussels, squid, peas, artichokes and saffron or the vegetarian-friendly Paella de l’Horta with Catalan root vegetables, pea, asparagus, green bean and artichoke.
Image Credit: Kristen Mendiola

Alongside the new additions to the menu, diners can also enjoy classic Spanish favorites including patatas bravas with garlic aioli and chili oil; bacon-wrapped dates with Marcona almonds and romesco sauce; spinach croquettes with tomato jam and saffron aioli; and more, as well as several salads and a chef’s board featuring selections of gourmet charcuterie and cheeses. Mercat a la Planxa offers an extensive, finely curated selection of Spanish sherries, cava, sangria, wine and cocktail creations, including its renowned gin and tonic.

During the restaurant’s recently launched Barcelona Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, patrons can also savor new iterations of daytime dishes such as the Escalivada Omelette filled with smokey grilled eggplant, spinach, piquillo pepper, red onion, patatas and ensalada; Torrijas (Spanish-style French Toast) with battered brioche, cinnamon sugar, Chantilly cream, banana and chocolate; grilled Vaca Vieja (robust beef striploin from a mature cow) with two eggs, patatas and ensalada; and the Mercat Burger a la Planxa topped with bacon, onion jam, Manchego on brioche and served with fries.

Mercat a la Planxa interior
Image Credit: Jason Little

About Mercat A La Planxa

Situated along Chicago’s bustling Michigan Avenue within the iconic Blackstone hotel, Mercat a la Planxa is a modern interpretation of timeless Catalan traditions in the heart of the city. At the helm of the stylish tapas restaurant’s kitchen, Executive Chef Gee Cuyugan presents an ambitious menu of authentic, elevated Spanish delicacies with an emphasis on the Catalonia region, ranging from street food-styled starters to classic paellas and grilled specialties from the signature planxa grill.

Complementing the rich culinary experience is an extensive, yet finely curated selection of Spanish sherries, cava, sangria, wine and cocktail creations. The vibrant interior embodies the energetic spirit of a Barcelona market, boasting bright, rich fabrics and weathered mosaic tiles accented by dynamic sculptural furniture and distinctive art murals. Accommodating 200 seated guests within the main dining, private dining and bar areas, Mercat a la Planxa serves as a convivial, energetic setting for occasions ranging from date nights out on the town, to group celebrations, after-work happy hours and more.

Featured Image: Kristen Mendiola

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