Tapa Thursday: Meson Sabika in Naperville, Illinois

 Growing up, I didn’t even know Spanish food existed. My mother is not an adventurous eater, and even our tacos were devoid of spice, onions and garlic powder.

When I began studying Spanish at age 13, I was exposed to an entirely different culinary world – Spanish cuisine. Tapas were discussed extensively in my textbook, but it seemed like a foreign concept that I’d never get to try. That is, until Señor Selleck took us to Mesón Sabika – one of the few Spanish restaurants in the Chicagoland area at the time – senior year for a field trip.

Recently, Kaley of Kaley Y Mucho Más published a post on why she thought American tapas restaurants get it all wrong. She’s definitely got a point – tapas portions at raciones prices and a more crowd-pleasing “take” on Spanish cuisine is not for me – but since I had to be at Meson Sabika for a lunchtime meeting, I figured I could have a beer and a few dishes.

Arriving at a Spanish meal time of nearly 2pm, the frazzled but friendly waitress led us immediately to the bar, where we figured we’d get away from the lull of chatter of the other patrons. Built in 1847 as a family home, the mansion that houses Meson Sabika has various dining rooms named after Spanish cities, landmarks and foods with accented ceramic bowls and bullfighting posters. Not as sleek as Café Ba-ba-reeba or Mercat a la Planxa, but definitely more intimate than Café Ibérico.

The Spanish wine list is extensive, with even lesser-known DOs like Jumilla and Toro represented. Margaret chose a fruity Rueda, but I stuck with a beer and ordered a 1906 (Spanish restaurants may not know Spanish food, but Meson Sabika had my two favorite Spanish beer brands, Estrella Galicia and Alhambra!).

While safe, the menu plays up Spanish favorites by making them a bit more American-palate friendly. Many of the meat dishes had cheese or roasted vegetables with them, bocaditos came with garden salads and not one dish contained a weird animal part. We settled on papas bravas to share, which came covered with shredded manchego cheese and chopped parsley. Not the most Spanish dish, but definitely tasty.

We each decided on an individual entrée – skirt steak with roasted potatoes and cabrales cheese for my sister, eggplant and roasted red peppers sliders for me. After so many brats and beers and processed food, it tasted like home.

While Spanish restaurants stateside might not embrace the eat-as-many-small-plates-as-you-like and we’re-family-let’s-share mentality that I love about Spanish food traditions, the menu does have a lot of different choices for even the most wary about Spanish food (let’s put it this way – my mother thinks it’s an appropriate for a big party venue) and makes it pretty easy to share a few things and still get your own plate. 

But, ouch, the bill! A meal like this back in Spain might have run us 20€ without a tip, but I ponied up $50 after tax and tip for the two of us. And no free olives?!

Have you been to any tapas bars or Spanish restaurants in your home country? What it your opinion on their food, prices and portions?

In case you go: Mesón Sabika is located on Aurora Avenue in downtown Naperville. Open daily for lunch and dinner; Saturdays, dinner only. Their menu is available on their website.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention!

    Yep, I think a lot of the food is good, but the price is what really irks me! After years of living in Spain, stuff here just seems so expensive (food especially)! In Zamora we might even only pay €10–€12/person for four drinks and four pinchos.

    BTW, my favorite non-craft brew is Estrella Galicia.
    Kaley recently posted..Old West Style—My 2014 Summer VacationMy Profile

  2. I’d heard of this place before but never bothered going all the way out there when we lived in Chicago. I was never impressed with the joints in the city, but also not surprised by them.

    And however non-traditional it may be, you can never hate on cheese over potatoes. It’s a sin not to love, period. :)
    Ryan from Jets Like Taxis recently posted..Day Trip: A Visit to Linz, AustriaMy Profile

  3. There for a while hubs and I were really into trying tapas restaurants (aka, before baby came along)! Cafe Iberico was our favorite, but we also really enjoyed La Tasca in Arlington Heights. Oh, and we tried Valencia Tapas a couple years ago, owned by the same people as Meson Sabika.
    Loved this post, Cat! I shouldn’t be surprised that what I thought was traditional Spanish food is really anything but, but I actually was! I guess it’s the fancy Spanish names on the menus that thew me off :)
    Lindsey recently posted..Taste of Roselle 2014My Profile

    • Ooh, I haven’t tried La Tasca! We have done Emilio’s downtown and there was a short-lived Galician tapas place in downtown Wheaton, but it came and went in one summer! My boyfriend did really like that one, though.

      Great to hear from you, too!!

  4. I’m not a fan of Estrella Galicia (although their Red Vintage is pretty good) but OMG you found it in America!!! That’s so cool :D

    And you (and Kaley) hit the nail on the head with the problem with “Spanish” food in the States: “tapas portions at raciones prices.” Until these pricey Spanish restaurants lower their prices, it seems like the concept of tapeando won’t ever really catch on here. But that’s where the big $$$ is, so it’s probably a lost cause :(
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..My 5 Favorite Places to Eat in Santiago de Compostela, SpainMy Profile

    • I do think tapas sounds de rigeur to an American, but it’s not an idea with a longevity factor for us.

  5. There’s a pretty good tapas restaurant in Grand Rapids, michigan. It’s called San Chez and their paella is worth the 45 minute wait! But like you said, everything is more expensive in the states. Wish it was cheaper; I would go more often :)

    • Definitely, Melissa. I had considered Meson Sabika for my wedding reception, but decided the Spaniards would really dislike it! You know how they are with their food…

  6. i do not understand the “tapas portions at raciones prices”, do you mean that you are served a tapa of, say, octopus, and they charge you as if it were a whole plato? anyways it is true that Spanish food in the USA is more expensive than here.

    back in 2010 while i was in Pensylvania i went to a Spanish restaurant in Philadelphia, called Ferdinand or Ferdinand’s, i was served some slices of pork products, olives, a tapa of octopus and little more…i don’t remember the bill, but it seemed to me quite expensive, for in Spain and with that same money i get lots of different things so my stomach gets totally full, even “para reventar”…i left that restaurant not satisfied nor did i feel as home.

    by the way Cat, thanks for mentioning my wines from Jumilla, i mean, my region Murcia! those bloody Riojas everyone talks of are rubbish, better to mix them with coke! haha

    i also need to say that Alhambra is one of my favourite beers together with San Miguel when it comes to tins, whereas Estrella Levante and Mahou are my favourite when it comes to bottles, you know, a bottle does not taste similar to a tin.

    • Exactly, Pedro. A small plate of food here will be closer to $8-10! The whole appeal of tapas is lost on Americans. We like big portions, lots of side dishes with them, and not sharing!

  7. When I was at Bloghouse in June, we had a lunch catered by Cafe Ba-ba-reeba and it was amazing! Definitely a different twist on the Spanish classics. I feel like people shouldn’t expect Spanish food in the U.S. to be the exact same as Spanish food in Spain—just like Mexican or Chinese or Indian food isn’t the exact same here. Each country adapts the food, and to get the real deal, you gotta travel. Almost refreshing that globalization hasn’t made everything exactly the same down to the very last spice.
    That being said, if only the prices would stay the same. . . .
    Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds recently posted..Let’s Talk MalagasyMy Profile

    • I liked Ba-Ba-Ree-Ba when I had a birthday party there a few years ago, but my snobbiness for food really got in the way of enjoying it! And you make a great point – I went to China and recognized NOTHING on the menus, and this is when I realized that, no, the food we eat back home is not authentic.

  8. Where does the name Sabika come from?

    Glad you are getting some tapas…maybe you guys can cook tortilla at home next time to show family and friends where it’s really at!
    Cassandra recently posted..The Most Bizarre ESL ‘Class’ I’ve Ever HadMy Profile

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