BY SOPHIE BROSS
What better place for four ladies to dine on a chilly Wednesday night on the dark streets of Chicago than a restaurant in an alley behind Clark Street? Enter the ultra hip basement space of Bar Sótano.
Bar Sótano (pronounced SO-tunno) is the newest concept by Rick and Lanie Bayless. Lanie is Rick’s daughter and is in charge of the cocktail program in this modern bar situated beneath Frontera Grill. The focus is on Mexican street food with influences from Spain, Asia, and France, and cocktails based on Mexican fruits, medicinal herbs, spices alongside dozens and dozens of mezcals and tequilas.
On our visit, we started with a round of various cocktails and the Oaxacan drinking snacks of peanuts, avocado dip, roasted grasshoppers, and crispy crackers. This included a bowl of hot sauce-laced popcorn that instantly disappeared. I was the only taker for the grasshoppers—they did not taste like chicken, but they were interesting and allegedly high in protein.
The menu is divided by small plates and large plates—we decided to order multiple plates to share so we could try more things. The first “smaller” plate that came was the short rib barbacoa tacos topped with a salsa of hand crushed tomatoes and jalapenos with crispy onions on top. Delicious! We all wanted a second taco, but there was so much more to come.
We followed with the tender pork carnitas taquitos with spicy tomato broth and the fried chicken nuggets with a mango-habanero glaze. These are not your children’s chicken nuggets and definitely the favorite of the picky eater in our group.
Finally, the Mexican paella arrived. It is cooked to order and you need to allow 25 minutes for it to be prepared. It’s one of the larger plates on the menu and is made with shrimp, chicken, avocado, red chile adobos, roasted poblanos, tomatoes, and peas. The paella is probably worth the visit alone—you will be amazed. I’m not sure if it’s the tequila talking, but I may have asked the paella on a date.
For dessert we ordered the chocolate fritters with hot fudge and Mezcal whipped cream and the tequila-infused custard with Mexican vanilla ice cream. Definitely worth the extra session at the gym.
I’d like to thank my fellow lady dining companions Susu Block, Chrissy Jones, and Melissa McNally for joining me on this adventure. This is probably the best meal we have ever had in an alley!
443 N. Clark Street