International tapas fuel La Merenda's tapas menu
Entering La Merenda, 125 E. National Ave., reminds me of the movie "Pleasantville," where upon entering a gray and somewhat lifeless part of Milwaukee, you walk into a brightly lit full-color panorama of reds and oranges, comfortable, vibrant pillowed couches and small mismatched tables deftly lighted by glass block windows. La Merenda has the type of bright, happy interior that immediately elevates your mood, and the tapas here are unique and satisfying.
A dinner visit to La Merenda was quelled only by a too-dry piece of Guinness Car Bomb chocolate cake ($5.50) and the extraordinary loudness of the space. The noise makes dining here unrelaxing, but like the décor, La Merenda is definitely fun, and the reasonable prices make it easy to sample multiple options without overspending.
Our dinner began with som tum salad ($5.50), a Thai compilation of shredded carrots, jicama and papaya that was refreshing and delicious. We followed with the artisanal cheese plate (United States, $7) and cured meat plate (Europe, $7.25), tostones (Colombia, $5.75), lumpia Shanghai (China, $4.50), savory crepes (France, $8), empanadas de pollo (Colombia, $5), and jerk-seasoned lamb chops (Jamaica, $9).
All the selections were good, but we liked some better than others. The tostones -- fried plantain chips with salsa verde and guacamole -- were outstanding, the crepes -- stuffed with mushroom ragout -- and empanadas (with a cornmeal crust) were not our favorites.
I appreciated both the portion sizes and the pricing. La Merenda beckons for you to bring in dining companions and order everything on the menu (there are just over 20 items), which would allow you to sample everything easily and pick and choose your favorites for later visits.
Lunch was an interesting proposition at La Merenda, too, because the sandwiches are served in half portions, which allow you to essentially have two or more different sandwiches for one lunch. Again, dining here is fun.
The soup of the day on our visit was ajiaco ($3.50), a Colombian potato and chicken soup flavored with guasco or oregano to give it an herby, aromatic flavor, with a drizzle of sour cream.
Our sandwich selections were a turkey and Asiago cheese melt on sourdough with a spicy aioli ($2.75) and an excellent mini meatball sandwich ($2.25) that was our favorite. Chicken salad ($2.75) came on toast with red onions, Kalamata olives, and lemon pepper seasoning and was a little too salty for my taste. Croque monsieur was good, but the béchamel and cheese were a little bland -- a little requested Dijon mustard made it excellent.
Other sandwich options include a grilled cheese with avocado and onions ($2.75) and a La Merenda club ($2.75). Lunches also offer a smaller version of the hot and cold tapas menu for your sampling pleasure.
Service here is friendly, the mood upbeat and the atmosphere fun and lively, making La Merenda a great stop for light-hearted, devil-may-care dining; if you need a little color in your life, put this restaurant on your short list of places to visit, and go with friends so you can sample more fun, ethnic offerings.
I cannot say enough wonderful things about La Merenda! Their tapas are amazing and the atmosphere is outstanding! You must try their Veal Osso Buco with Roasted Red Pepper Risotto...it is to die for! It is a great place for a quick bite, an intimate date, or a reasonable gourmet meal! I will be a regular!!!!!
downtown_worker | Oct. 23, 2007 at 3:40 p.m. (report)
I've found this to be a great spot for lunch. The food & service are excellent, and there is plenty of street parking. The lunch menu also includes tapas-sized sandwiches and soups which are very good. It's non-smoking, and I've always been in & out of there in under an hour for lunch. A great combination that will keep me coming back!
We will definitely go back to La Merenda. As many have already stated, the atmosphere is fun, the walls and furniture are vibrant colors, and the room is a little bit loud. I didn't think it was too loud, but I noticed that it may be quieter to sit in the bar area next time, especially on a weeknight when the bar isn't full. I also noticed that the lighting in the dining area was very low, so it was difficult to read the menu (we used a candle at our table to help see the menu). The portions were smaller than I expected, but very reasonably priced. I believe all the plates we ordered were between $4 - $7, so it gave us an opportunity to sample a lot of items without breaking the bank, and now we know how much to order next time. All the plates we tried were portioned for one or two people. It was just two of us for dinner ... my wife and I. Drinks - they have bottle and tap microbrews, as well as a wine list. We tried a couple "house" wines (Pinot Grigio and Chianti). Both were pretty tasty and a nice value for $4.75 per glass. A bottle of Spotted Cow was only $3.50. To start out, we split the balsamic strawberry gorgonzola salad and the fried plantain appetizer with guacomole and salsa verde. Both choices were excellent, but the appetizer could use a little side of tortilla chips to scoop out the last bits of guac or salsa. For entrees, we ordered chicken satay w/peanut sauce (came with 2 skewers of chicken), spinach ravioli (4 pieces), and mini deep-fried pork eggrolls (approx 4 or 5 bite size pieces). All the items were good enough to order again. However there are so many more things to try next time! The online menu is pretty descriptive - http://www.lamerenda125.com/dinner.html One thing I noticed is that other people had bread baskets at their table. We were hungry most of the time anticipating our next plate of food, but our waitress never offered one. I'm still not sure if bread only comes with certain entrees. We finished our evening with two desserts, a balsamic cheesecake (better than it sounds!) and a chocolate bomb(?) - it was a chocolate brownie with warm fudge inside and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. We will definitely go back. This is the kind of place I would take my parents for a fun laid-back dinner. My friends would probably complain about all the exotic choices, but my wife and I feel this place is right up our alley.
6 of us had dinner at La Merenda in early April and the presentation was nice, atmosphere fun and service prompt and helpful. Unfortunately, we were all really hungry when we left and felt like we ate a lot of bread. Everytime a dish came in was kind of awkward and we found ourselves cutting an already small spring roll in half. I would definitely suggest more than one plate of some of the items. Others like the green beans, kalamata olive plate were enough for a nice taste. Both the ravioli dishes were delicious, but for two people max. If you are used to the larger tapas plates in some of Chicago's restaurants make sure to ask how many servings per plate before ordering.
We agree with your statement that there are many reasonably priced portions. We have been back many times and some of our favorites are the totones, patatas bravas, la merenda house salad, mushroom crepes, osobuco, sweet patato & prochuito ravioli, mussels and argentinian beef. My favorite desert is the flan We also enjoy the upbeat ambiance.
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