Pricey, alternative menus of Restaurant Week not worth it

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tacos

These tacos, part of Barcocina’s traditional menu, highlight the restaurant’s fusion in their Mexican-inspired food. (Photo courtesy of BARCOCINA)

To highlight the innumerable things a person can do and the food they can try in Chicago, the annual Chicago restaurant week returned Jan. 22. Visitors and residents alike could partake in special menus at select restaurants that highlight all that Chicago has to offer — the unique qualities that set each restaurant apart and make that $33 or $44 lunch or dinner worth it.

At 2901 N. Sheffield Ave., Barcocina offered decadence for those willing and able to pay $33 for a three course meal, but for the rest of us who are trying to hold on to meager college paychecks or money from parents, the regular menu doesn’t disappoint either.

The restaurant, which fuses traditional Mexican cuisine and “various multicultural cooking techniques into Mexican fare,” offered three distinct courses — though nothing for vegetarians — for Chicago Restaurant Week.

When I went on a busy Thursday night, I couldn’t help feeling a little pretentious or like someone in a higher tax bracket. Chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, seared tuna and a Oaxaca and pomegranate enhanced guacamole were part of the first course.

The second course consisted of options like lamb meatballs, with foie gras, sherry and pistachio gremolata — whatever that means — which were flavorful and creamy in a way I never expected from a meatball.

Dessert, which is not on the other menu, offered diners the option of blackberry bread pudding, Mexican chocolate mousse and date cake. All are probably winners

I’m sure, but the bread pudding made me reconsider my usual dislike of soggy bread.

But I’m still not convinced it was worth the price tag.

For participating restaurants — there are more than 350 total — the week seems to be an opportunity to show off the skills of those in the kitchen, as well as to bilk tourists.

Barcocina’s usual menu has similar items: the guacamole, though not blessed by Oaxacan cheese or pomegranate seeds, will still provide diners with something different because of the balsamic vinaigrette they drizzle on it. No one is missing out.

The regular menu also provides other options to share. Guacamole, jalapeno cornbread and Yucca tots, as well as lamb meatballs similar to those from Restaurant Week, graze the menu and all are good to share with friends (which keeps the cost down considerably).

The tacos, as part of the usual menu, are a real demonstration of the fusion that Barcocina talks about on their website. They offer traditional options: lamb barbacoa, steak and chicken tinga — which has a great mix of spicy and sweet thanks to the chipotle almond sauce and the cole slaw — as well as “fusion” items such as the “cheeseburger” taco, with smoked cheddar, cabbage and mango sauce. Other non-traditional items include Korean short rib tacos and pineapple pork.

Though the meal was enjoyable, I wouldn’t try a Restaurant Week menu again. The first time I went, with two friends who are also college-aged, we ended up splitting appetizers, tacos, and the bill which was considerably less than what restaurant week offered, though not more filling.

As an attempt to bring in tourists, the week of events and deals does well: it highlights restaurants and their chefs and helps bring in revenue. However, splitting a regular meal with friends — an unpretentious one devoid of foie gras cream sauces or pistachio crumbles called gremolata — is just as good.

For those not interested in fusion attempts, there are French, Italian and American contemporary style restaurants participating in the week, which ends Feb. 4.