Too much distortion at Tavernita | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Too much distortion at Tavernita 

You can't hear the music over the noise at Ryan Poli's Spanish dream

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But enough of the larger plates are more straightforward, and they're at their best when they're this minimal: octopus and tapenade with fennel and orange salad. A tender grilled half chicken with tangy mushroom-vinegar sauce and green beans. Blistered shisito peppers with salt and vinegar. An egg, sunny-side up, on crispy fried potatoes with thick paprika sauce.

click to enlarge Tavernita - ANDREA BAUER

This crew is doing is a lot for lots of people. There's a dining lounge that will soon be offering bottle service, and there's Barcito, a pinxtos bar with a separate snack menu and beverage program. (My colleague Julia Thiel takes a look at it over on the Bleader.)

That brings me to another component to this sprawling project: the beverage program by Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay, aka the Tippling Brothers. It's multifaceted, yet puts a great many eggs in one basket. That would be the elaborate keg system that dispenses not just beer and wines, but sangria, house-made vermouths, and cocktails that are batched and pumped through a column of some 35 taps behind the bar in the main dining room.

Neato. But while I've had a few wonderful force-carbonated cocktails at Yusho, as far as barrels holding the mass-produced future of craft cocktail making, I'm not sold. In Tavernita's mobbed dining room you'll be served these drinks relatively fast, but you're trading individual attention for expediency—and it shows. The flavors are flat, muted, with little black pepper syrup or "BBQ" bitters coming through in the tequila-based Turista; hibiscus-infused rum, macadamia liqueur, and falernum in the Comandante Big Nose express themselves as sweet and somewhat nutty but ultimately homogenized. The nicest way to describe these would be "overbalanced." I'm certain that even if the technology allowed, Poli would not squirt ham croquetas out of a tap.

I'm also certain these kegs will make the restaurant lots of money. But the Tippling Brothers haven't abandoned carbon-based delivery systems to create the restaurant's better cocktails, such as a house cola and tempranillo mix. And the kegs can't deliver one of Spanish or French ciders poured—or "thrown"—from a three-foot distance out of bonglike glass decanters to stimulate the carbonation and bouquet.

That's one of the dramatic flourishes at Tavernita that feels natural and fun, simple and not overwrought. But for the most part I struggled to hear the music Poli was playing in his head. Was it because it's too loud, figuratively and literally, at Tavernita? Or is it distorted by the noise made by his partners? 

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