INDUSTRY NEWS | FSR MAGAZINE
Back when Black Bull opened in 2012, those behind it weren’t sure how ‘Spanish’ it could be. They were eager and ambitious but feared diners’ palates had become consumed by the tapas trend and the media’s obsession with modern molecular gastronomy as the only two representations of Spanish cuisine.
“But as our guests’ knowledge of Spanish food and ingredients grew, we kept pace, challenging local palates with new ingredients and dishes along the way as we explored the rich regional history of a country close to our hearts,” says Bonhomme Group Founder Daniel Alonso. “We’ve continued to work with our purveyors in Spain — our friends, really — to ensure the products we use are the very best that each special corner of the country has to offer. Via our frequent trips to Spain each year, we have been able to experience first-hand all the culinary shifts this dynamic country has experienced and bring those innovations directly back to our guests."
After close to nine successful years, Alonso, Executive Chef Marcos Campos, who has been with the group since 2013, and the Bonhomme Hospitality team determined that a new concept and design for the former Black Bull space were necessary to fully share their vision for the next decade, to feed diners both nostalgia and wanderlust and to express the culinary teams’ ever-evolving passions, talents and influences.
“I’m immensely proud of what we achieved at Black Bull,” says Alonso. “We aim to build on that, channeling our growing aspirations and relationships into new and compelling directions.”
Enter Mama Delia, a Restaurant, Sherry Bar and Ultramarino (neighborhood gourmet market) located in Wicker Park that offers Chicago a contemporary Spanish culinary experience.
Created by Maison Bonhomme, Bonhomme Group’s concept and design studio, Mama Delia embraces an evolution in Spanish dining that showcases Campos’ favorite ingredients from Spain, his growing relationships with some of the country’s finest purveyors, and his passion for discovering new flavors and techniques from around the world and right here in Chicago.
Mama Delia also reflects the journey of Campos, who also oversees the kitchens at sister restaurants Porto, Beatnik, Beatnik On The River and Café Bonhomme, as an adventurer and a chef, providing him with a playground of sorts to continue his culinary exploration. Mama Delia also reflects the current culinary direction in Spain of embracing cultural diversity while respecting its roots.
Inspired by the ‘colmados antiguos de barrio’ (old neighborhood grocery stores) of Spain, a Sherry Bar and Ultramarino welcome guests. An antique pharmacy circa 1910 imported from Belgium — all original bookcases, glass cases and cabinets — finds new life inside Mama Delia displaying an abundance of rarely available small production wines and distinct gourmet goods from Spain. Further inside, Mama Delia’s elegantly appointed dining room — tailored with velvet, walnut and brass dining furniture, burgundy tweed banquettes, antique Persian Kirman rugs, and vintage brass and wrought iron chandeliers — provides a cozy ‘candlelit’ setting throughout.
Outside on Division Street’s extra-wide sidewalks, Mama Delia’s seasonal 60-seat patio features towering tropical plants providing a natural barrier between guests and street traffic. Wine barrels painted in the same rose hue of the façade have been repurposed as planters while also providing additional distancing measures. Overhead, string lights add to the romantic ambiance.
And then there’s Mama Delia’s enclosed rooftop garden (Botánico), a beautifully designed private dining space located two floors above, which begs one to organize a dinner party with friends after so many months of separation while still respecting the complicated times in which we are living.
Ultramarino & Sherry Bar
Throughout the front of Mama Delia, the aforementioned pharmacy’s (circa 1910) floor-to-ceiling cabinets with delicate wood carvings has been repurposed to display gourmet goods from Spain.
There is a variety of conservas (gourmet tinned seafood), some imported exclusively by Mama Delia and others housemade, but all crafted from the highest quality seafood, including cockles, razor clams, sardines with pimientos de padrón, zamburiñas and mussels in escabeche. Potato chips also earn a spot on the shelves. But these all-natural, fried-in-olive-oil Spanish varieties are truly unique — from the special yellow potato they’re made from to the unusual flavors such as jamón and pimentón (smoked paprika). A select group of specialty cold-pressed and smoked olive oils can also be found at Mama Delia, including many of limited production. Dried spices, such as saffron and pimentón, are also for sale.
Not sure how best to use, say, the fragrant picual olive oil from Jaen? Chefs are on hand to answer questions and offer tips and recommendations. And ask about our upcoming schedule of product tastings, cooking classes and wine tastings.
“These are the items that I as a chef would like to have in my home,” says Campos of Mama Delia’s product curation process.
At the Chef Counter, a monumental 30-foot-long ornate marble bar begins, where up to 20 guests can gather for glasses of fino en rama, charcuterie boards filled with artisanal cheese and cured meats from Spain, including hand-carved 100% acorn-fed Cinco Jotas jamón ibérico with whom Campos has an exclusive and privileged relationship.
Mama Delia provides Campos and Chef de Cuisine Antonio Capafons, both natives of Valencia, a vehicle to showcase the exquisite regional products of Spain with dishes that are ingredient-driven and nostalgic in addition to hyper-seasonal offerings that demonstrate their ongoing evolution as individuals and chefs, cooking in Spain and Chicago with constantly changing flavors, compositions and techniques.
The intimate dining room with its open kitchen and the nearby chef’s counter remove barriers between the guest and those preparing the food, fostering conversation as chefs craft, plate and present the ever-evolving dishes. Essentially, Spain’s current culinary movement isn't molecular and it's not tradition. It's a brilliant blend. Mama Delia provides an honest window into a cuisine full of inspiration, contradiction and joy.
Take, for instance, Campos’ riff on Huevos Rotos Shooter (“broken eggs”). For his version, Campos taps into the concepts of a shooter and a traditional Spanish dish. On the bottom is a traditional sofrito made untraditional with the addition of oysters to the mix of slowly cooked onions, red peppers, pimentón and garlic, which adds salinity and brininess. Next comes a confit egg yolk with truffles, fried potato and fried egg foam. The dish is finished with crispy potato chips.
For Foie & Jerez, Campos creates a dish that’s rooted in classic European culinary techniques but isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. Housemade foie gras terrine is paired with a jam made of membrillo, a quince paste that’s popular in Spain, and palo cortado sherry. An almond-and-orange flavored tuile replicates a taco shell in this elegant but playful finger food.
Even Mama Delia’s version of steak and potatoes — this is Chicago after all — offers a unique experience. Vaca Vieja (“old cow” in Spanish) features a “Spanish-style” 24oz boneless ribeye steak from a cow that’s 8 years at harvest, almost four times older than normal, wet-aged for 25 days and dry-aged for an additional 15 days. Renowned in Northern Spain, from Galicia to the Basque region, this meat inherently has a bolder, deeper flavor even before aging. Campos prepares it simply to let its exceptional flavor shine and pairs it with beef-fat fries and charcoal-cooked piquillo peppers, which add a touch of smokiness.
And with two chefs who hail from Valencia, the birthplace of paella, it’s a given that the classic Spanish dish features as well. Although expect their impeccable versions to forever alter your discernment of the rice-based dish.
“When I started at Black Bull, I was in my 20s and now I’m closer to my 30s,” says Campos. “I want to show the evolution of my cuisine from my travels and learning from other chefs in the process. Mama Delia gives me the opportunity to do that.”
Following Campos’ lead, the desserts at Mama Delia from Executive Pastry Chef Shannah Primiano find inspiration in classic Spanish sweet dishes before channeling more contemporary techniques and intriguing ingredient pairings. In her hands, Tarta De Santiago, a traditional Galician almond flour cake that has earned PGI (protected geographical indication) status, gets a red-wine glaze and is served with apple sorbet, sherry apple butter and almond nougatine. “I always hint back to nostalgia in my desserts to create something people can relate to,” says Primiano. “Then I like to throw in something people wouldn’t expect, so they can view a classic dessert or flavor with a whole new vision.”
Like the food, the cocktails aren’t afraid to utilize exotic ingredients and sometimes wander into savory territory. Beverage Director Ricardo Alvarado, a member of the Bonhomme team for nearly a decade, began as a barback and now heads up Mama Delia and Bordel’s dynamic beverage programs. Practices inspired by the anti-waste movement are incorporated by Alvarado, collaborating with the culinary team to cross-utilize and re-purpose perishables.
For those looking for a ‘healthier’ cocktail, the Mostly Good for You lives up to its name and then some with its mix of vodka, fresh carrot juice, ginger syrup, orange juice and a squeeze of lemon. And then there’s Alvarado’s version of an old-fashioned, An Old Fashioned Affair, which adds in two types of Spanish sherry, amontillado and Pedro Ximenez (here in the form of a nectar) with cherry bitters.
At the heart of Mama Delia's wine program is a focus on natural wines that comes, well, naturally. While natural and organic wines may be trendy right now that’s been business as usual for years at a number of vineyards in Spain and Portugal, many of which are represented at Mama Delia. Every year, members of Bonhomme’s culinary and beverage teams travel to Spain and Portugal to visit old friends and discover new farms, vineyards and winemakers, striving to bring back that magical ‘sense of place’ to Chicago. In addition to Alvarado’s unconventional wine list and seasonal cocktail program, the beverage menu features more than 35 selections of sherry, imported beers from across Spain, no-proof cocktails, Mama Delia sangrias (pomegranate or peach) and 20 wine-by-the-glass options.
Mama Delia's soundtrack equally reflects Spain’s progression in cuisine. “It pays homage to the country’s evolving musical tastes and styles through the decades, from the ’50s to the ’90s,” says Bonhomme Music Director Saam Hagshenas, “while still nodding respectfully to its classic roots in flamenco, bolero and pop with strong influences from its Mediterranean neighbors and kindred spirits across the Atlantic.”
“I feel that one of our greatest strengths as a team and as auteurs is our ability to constantly learn from — and find inspiration in — multiple cultures,” says Alonso. “At Mama Delia, we combine these individual and collective pursuits with folkloric Spanish traditions and culinary conventions to create a distinct aesthetic approach.”
While eating in large groups has become a conundrum these days, Botánico, Mama Delia’s enclosed private rooftop garden, provides the answers. Situated on the building’s top floor, Botánico is a stunning 2,500-square-foot dedicated private event space with two distinct rooms designed by Maison Bonhomme.
Decorated with Murano crystal wall lamps, gently worn Persian rugs, farmhouse dining tables, colorful large-scale paintings from local artists and lush tropical greenery, Botánico offers the signature exotic vibe and atmosphere for which Bonhomme Group is known. High ceilings coupled with a wall-to-wall skylight, rustic wood-paneled walls and a dramatic half-moon floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Division Street add to Botánico’s exceptional interior design.
Unique to Botánico is a beautiful open chef demo kitchen and bar, ideal for cooking classes, product launches, wine tastings, chef dinners and cocktail classes as well as informal culinary-focused parties and celebrations. A number of cozy seating areas, some decorated with velvet sofas, others with comfortable leather chairs, provide additional spaces for guests to gather and mingle. Nearby, a restroom adds to the private nature of the space. Botánico also features a premier sound system as well as DJ equipment. All audio-visual and specialty lighting needs can be accommodated upon request.
With its distinctive interior design, Botánico furthers the definition of what a private event space can be, with the capabilities to host a variety of events, ranging from birthday parties, weddings and baby showers to corporate and business presentations.
Located above Mama Delia, Bordel is a cocktail bar and cabaret that effortlessly channels the hospitality, revelry and sultry energy of Paris’ famed Belle Époque. Scheduled to also reopen on Friday June 26th, this Chicago institution’s candlelit interiors are appointed with red velvet sofas, tasseled chandeliers, Persian rugs and walls covered in custom wallpaper inspired by early 20th century pulp fiction imagery. A rotating roster of weekly entertainment featuring jazz musicians, burlesque performers, magicians and comedians adds to the sexy, throwback ambience of this Chicago speakeasy. Prohibition-influenced cocktails range from punches (served in Royal Albert tea sets, no less) to ones in fête-prêt porróns. Exotic garnishes follow a no-waste sensibility utilizing ingredients found in the cocktails they adorn. Guests are able to enjoy an abbreviated – yet sizeable – menu from Mama Delia. Its intimate size means reservations are highly suggested although walk-ins are welcome.