This week took me to a swankier spot than usual! I found myself at Lena Brava, one of Rick Bayless’s restaurants. Rick Bayless is an American chef who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine with a modern flair. We booked our reservation months ago, but had a coveted 7:30 pm slot on Saturday evening. The restaurant was bustling when we walked in. A gorgeous wood bar lines the far left wall, surrounded by small groups of tables. We were seated at a table right next to the open kitchen- one of my favorite places to sit in a restaurant. The menu is divided into three sections: Ice, Fire, and Bonfire. Things in the Ice section are served cold, from the Fire section are served hot, and from the Bonfire section are hot and designed to serve 2 people. My mouth was watering the minute I looked at the menu. Our waitress suggested that we each order an entree and then share appetizers and sides among the table. I decided on the Scallops, Sunchoke, Peanut: fire-seared Hudson Canyon sea scallops, served with peanut mole sauce (ancho & guajillo chiles, toasted peanuts, sunflower seeds), creamy sunchoke, bonito flakes, and peashoots. This was absolutely fantastic. The scallops were so simply seasoned and the flavor was marvelous. I loved the unique peanut mole sauce- I’ve never had anything like it before. The sunchoke was delicious as well! It had a light and bright flavor that really complimented the richness of the scallops and sauce. My friend ordered the Braised Short Rib: braised Creekstone short rib, served over cauliflower mash with a smoky-spicy Oaxacan pasilla salsa. Even after just one bite, I loved this. The meat was melt in your mouth tender and the smoky salsa was wonderful. We shared three vegetable sides between us. First came the Shishitos: grilled shishito chiles & knob onions, lime & güero chile kosho, topped with savory crunch (hazelnut, black sesame, pumpkin seed). I loved these! Some of the peppers were super spicy and the crunchy topping of the hazelnut and pumpkin seed was so texturally pleasing. We also ordered the Sweet Potatoes: wood oven-roasted tri-color sweet potatoes, topped with ancho chile-piloncillo glaze, Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese, and a walnut crunch. I absolutely love sweet potatoes and these were no exception. The buttery potato combined with the creamy goat cheese was delicious! Finally, we had the Butter-Roasted Plantains: ripe plantains wood oven-roasted with butter, thick cream, homemade fresh cheese. These were my absolutely favorite! I can hardly describe how delicious they were. The plantains were rich and sweet and the homemade fresh cheese was fantastic. I would order these again in a heartbeat!
Lena Brava is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5-10 pm, Fridays-Saturdays from 5 to 11 pm, and Sundays from 5-9 pm. They take reservations for up to 8 people. Find more information here.
RACHEL HOOVLER & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO