Counterclockwise starting from the foreground: Pintxos de Ternera (beef skewers, piquillo vinaigrette), Champiñones Rellenos, Albóndigas de Cordero en Salsa and Patatas Bravas
One of my best friends from the Hotel School at Cornell is a foodie. She is so devout to her true trade that she recently left her private equity job in New York City to attend cooking school in a remote Italian village (at the heal of the boot, she says). As much as I want to be her, there is one thing I cannot stand about her table manners—her endearing yet unrestrained consumption of "my" portion of food at tapas. I've suffered from her encroachment so much that I rarely visit tapas restaurants for fear of leaving just as hungry as when I entered. After receiving a discount from a friend to try out Black Bull, however, I grudgingly agreed to visit the place.
Through Black Bull, the most recent concept of the team behind English and Hubbard Inn, Chef Luis Contreras pays "homage to the tapas and pintxos bars of Spain." A quick Google search explains that pintxo refers to a variety of snack eaten in northern Spain and the Basque region. The differentiating characteristic of pintxo over tapas is a skewer or toothpick that fixes the food item to a piece of bread. Principally, tapas and pintxo emphasize drinking, socializing and grazing on food. Chef Contreras's drink menu, in part, accomplishes this by offering a respectable selection of sangria, beer, cocktails and wine. The tapas menu however, with its inventive array of plates, kick starts the bacchanalia. From bacon-wrapped dates (no, not passé yet) to spiced shishito peppers, diners can sample dishes that span degrees of spice, quantity and ingenuity.
With the help of my cohort squad, I sampled more than 12 items on the menu and enjoyed nearly every one. Patatas Bravas made the first appearance. I was surprised by the dish's spiciness. As a South Indian, a home-cooked meal wasn't considered typical unless you sweat from the heat. These potatoes nearly brought me to tears. The next dish, Morcilla de Burgos, was a star. It's an uncomplicated but well-balanced and sophisticated assembly of black sausage, golden raisins and apricot jam. The Dátiles con Tocino (bacon-wrapped dates) were sweet, not oily and the Huevos Rotos mixed with chorizo topped with two brilliantly-bright, sunny-side up eggs. A lover of all things stuffed, I ordered the Champiñones Rellenos expecting very moist meat from the length of braising required for oxtail. The ham and bacon should have added rich flavor as well; however, the dish was largely bland, textureless and non-descriptive. Larger pieces of ham and bacon could have imparted noticeable texture and smoky flavor within the pasty oxtail. I made a similar assessment of the Croquetas de Cocido (oxtail, ham, bacon and chicken croquettes). Other noteworthy dishes included the Berenjenas Rellenas de Queso Fresco con Tomate (eggplant stuffed with sheep's milk cheese) and Albóndigas de Cordero en Salsa (lamb meatballs).
Black Bull is an unassuming bar with good tapas food. Alternatively, it's a tapas restaurant with way too many TV's. Either way, it's not much of a scene but promises to entertain you and your friends with food and drink. If you want the fun of tapas but have no time for the embarrassment of entering Tavernita without your entire party of five or the right garb, then Black Bull is a great spot for you.
Black Bull is located at 1721 W Division Street, Chicago (773-227-8600).