Haro Tapas y Pintxos is a jewel on the 2700 block of S. Oakley Street, an area in Chicago that’s devoted to Italian eateries. Although the Basque-centric Spanish restaurant has been alive and thriving for a few years now, I put off a visit until recently. My friends and I were fortunate to arrive just as Earth Hour began, which meant all lights were turned off. The wood-paneled restaurant sparkled with candlelight, creating an almost holy effect. The serenity was soon interrupted by the happy, clonking feet of a flamenco dancer, who was accompanied by a smiling guitarist. The clonking eventually gave rise to singing, and soon the small space was resonating with the yodeling of Spanish songs and thunderous hand claps.
Haro’s menu highlights both tapas and pinxtos, which are bite-sized, open sandwiches. In Spain, pintxos are served during lunch or evening hours and are laid across a bar, where people can pick and choose from their favorites. Our server suggested we try the crabmeat and anchovy pinxto, one of the lightest offerings. I wasn’t crazy about the egg and anchovy combination, but it was refreshing to experience authentic Spanish cuisine, unmarred by Americanization. (I’m looking at you, Ba Ba Reeba!)
We ordered an assortment of tapas to share and sipped “Sangria with a Kick,” a potent concoction with a mystery ingredient. The Queso Manchego Flambeado (“flaming” breaded Manchego cheese in honey and brandy de Jerez) stunned us out of our sangria stupor; the bubbling hot, sweet cheese could have doubled as dessert.
Vieiras con Jamon Serrano (jumbo sea scallops wrapped in with saffron aioli and lemon oil) were nothing but amazing. Lemon zest punctuated the salty ham and my friends and I swooned with pleasure. The adventure seekers ordered Angulas al Ajillo (Basque baby eels sauteed with olive oil, red chili, garlic and lemon). To convince a dining companion to try the eels, I told her to ignore the fact that they resembled worms and to instead pretend she was eating spaghetti with garlic sauce. Unfortunately, in the battle of imagination versus reality, reality conquered and the eels were the only dish left unfinished.
The most visually appealing tapa of the evening was Las Ramblas (shrimp sauteed in olive oil, glazed with balsamic reduction and honey). Although the dish was simple, the flavors were sophisticated. Balsamic reduction flowed into a honey barrier, creating a stained-glass effect on the plate.
We also sampled one of the evening’s specials: grilled calamari served in a pool of lime green olive oil and fresh parsley. The calamari was the perfect consistency and hints of the smoky grill were detected in its taste.
Our attentive and charming server, Rolando, asked us what we were celebrating. When we replied “We’re always celebrating, we don’t need a reason,” he seemed to understand. Haro Tapas y Pinxtos is one of those places that causes celebration, whether or not an occasion exists.
Haro Tapas y Pintxos
2436 S. Oakley St.
Chicago, IL 60608