When I think of Spanish food and seafood, the first thing that comes to my mind is paella, one of the most globally recognized national dish of Spain. While Mfk. is a Spanish seaside inspired restaurant, the move beyond the well known paella into the creative mix of modern take and old renditions of the greater spanish recipe was an interesting concept that I couldn't resist. This is a place where you explore the nonconformist flavors that gently incorporate traces of the authentic spanish traditions. Approach it with an open mind and let the fireworks play out in your mouth.
Arrival & First Impression
Mfk. is situated on Diversey between Clark and the north end of Lincoln Park. Tucked away in the less impressive rows of shops, the restaurant's front could easily be missed without the bright yellow "Mfk." sign. Tons of succulent could be seen through the narrow window and only a glimpse of the dining space hinted that this was a restaurant. Entering the front door, a white stair case leads you down into the small but cute seating area that fits roughly 10 tables and an open bar which took almost half of the dining space.
The white stair case and the white chairs were a good fit with the seaside theme but the succulents got me at a question mark. The table setting with short drinking glasses, colorful napkins, and an open kitchen view reminded me of a so-cal kind of restaurant. Nevertheless, the eclectic decor was adding a different kind of charm, reminding you to leave aside the bias of a traditional Spanish tapas restaurant. I would say the overall ambiance had the feeling of "coziness" and "intimacy", perfect for a date night or a night out with close friends rather than for a business meal.
Since the restaurant has limited seating, I would highly recommend making a reservation on Opentable. You are required to provide a credit card to guarantee the reservation but there is a leeway to cancel without penalty up to 2 days prior. Walk ins would be subject to the bar seating's availability and hours of waiting.
The menu is divided into three simple sections. The first section is composed of small dishes with a focus on lightly prepared seafood. The second section appears to have a bit more of the fresh vegetable component. Third section is the heavy hitters, entre size dishes meant to end the degustation experience and fill your happy tummy. The server will inform you off the menu items and we actually order one of them and truly enjoyed it. For a party of two, the server recommended us to order 4-5 dishes from across the sections to share. A quote decorated the menu, "First we eat. Then we do everything else" by M.F.K. Fisher was cute and alluded to the origin of the restaurants' namesake.
If you don't really know what to order, leave it to the Chef. The tasting menu with a 7 course meal at $50 per person is a steal. You also get the basque cake at the end which is one of the highlights here at Mfk.
Bread is not complimentary. The bread service is $2 per person and they're lightly toasted before serving. I personally loved the bread but sadly they took forever to come out.
Mfk. has a decent list of libations including a creative cocktail list. Gus hada Spanish beer and I had an egg-white cocktail which turned out to be delicious.
The wait staff were nice and friendly, nothing to write home about. The restaurant got quite busy so there were times that we had to wait a while before we receive the dishes. Drinks and bread orders were extra long waits, however, we were patient.
This is our second time coming to the restaurant and dining as a couple rather than with a group of friends demonstrated a different side to the service level at this restaurant. Our first time here we were dining with a party of 8 which didn't end well. The food was superb (that is why we're back), but we were unnecessary rushed to order and rushed to eat. We didn't order drinks so I guess that made the servers reluctant to give us any further attention. Plates were dished out at us with somewhat of an attitude. It wasn't a pleasant service experience despite the wonderful food served. Our second time around dining as a couple was a completely different experience and service was fine. On a side note, I had noted on Opentable reservation that we were celebrating a birthday and it was never acknowledged. A bit disappointed on the personalization of the dining experience aspect but food again triumphs the shortcomings from the service.
Crunchy Prawn Heads | xato, lemon, paprika
Lake Superior Smelt | pickled red pepper
Spicy P.E.I. Mussels | chorizo, potato, chili garlic broth
Cataplana | saffron rice, shelfish, tomato
Flavor, texture, balance, everything was on point. Every single dish had a creative flair yet a touch of tradition can be observed. Mfk. boasts of not have a freezer so ingredients are purchased fresh and inventory are kept at a minimal to optimally utilize seasonal and local ingredients.
The orange sauce that came with the crunchy prawn heads and fried smelt reminded me of the patata bravas sauce. The pickled red peppers were a surprising pop of sweet and sour which balanced the fried seafood and refreshes the palate. The cataplana had flavors similar to paellas except for the consistency similar to a rice porridge. The seasoned broth had the seafood flavor extracted which blended well with the garlic and chili. Soaking rice in the broth was a good technique to really have us savor the rich broth. On the other hand, P.E.I. mussels had an interesting note with the smokiness of the chorizo. Who would've thought cooking mussels and pork together could produce a harmonious result.
Mfk. has expanded our perception of what is Spanish food beyond the typical tapas dishes that we're all too familiar with. The thought and the creativity to enlighten diners' palate with unexpected tastes and textures were truly exemplified through all the dishes that we've tasted. Even though our first time dining here garnered a negative opinion due to the service, the food was outstanding which lead us back to give the place another chance and we weren't disappointed. What really matters is that they have won us over and this is a restaurant to be taken seriously.
"I believe in tradition and innovation, authenticity and passion." - Spanish Chef José Andrés
Two home cooks creating and tasting dishes from our lovely city of Chicago. Follow our world wide adventure as we discover ingredients, dishes, recipes, and the foodie way of life.
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