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Monday, February 18

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Airbags

Whenever my friends suggest dinner at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba or Café Iberico on a Friday or Saturday night, I can be expected to cringe, groan, make fake vomiting noises -- whatever it takes, really -- to convince them to change their minds.

My abhorrence to weekend dining at either of these two tapas restaurants has nothing to do with the food or the service; actually, I think they do both quite well. Rather, it's the excruciating two-hour wait for a table in a noisy, claustrophobic front bar while trying to spread goat cheese on garlic toast and balance a glass of sangria on my knee that entirely ruins the experience for me. Ba-Ba-Reeba and Iberico are just too popular for their own good. (Insert fake vomiting noise here.)

And so, I had resigned myself to a life of tapas dining on weekdays until, as fate would have it, I was introduced to Twist. This dimly-lit lounge, though tiny and located along that well-traveled strip of Sheffield in Wrigleyville, is able to accommodate a weekend crowd with grace, speed, and a congenial attitude. Sure, there is a wait (anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, I have found), but the staff does its best to make this experience as painless as possible. Even last Friday at 8:30 pm, despite heavy Cubs traffic and an unexpected downpour that sent pedestrians scurrying for cover, Twist kept customers moving along; within 30 minutes, we were happily seated at a table.

Although Twist gets its name from its non-traditional, global-inspired ("twisted") small plates, fans of the standard tapas offerings -- baked goat cheese, grilled calamari, garlic potato salad -- will not be disappointed. After all, Roberto Duran, the man behind Ba-ba-reeba and Emilio's (although, these days, I would be less inclined to brag about the Emilio's part of the resume) is calling the shots in the kitchen; therefore, you know the traditional items will be good.

Grilled beef tenderloin was a definite favorite: the tender meat was perfectly cooked and topped with melted blue cheese and served alongside thick slices of tasty grilled zucchini. Roasted mushrooms filled with spinach, cheese, and tomato sauce were also remarkable as were artichoke hearts (a cold tapas plate) stuffed with fresh crabmeat and drizzled with a brandy-tomato sauce. Although the spicy shrimp in olive oil was recommended to me, I found this dish unsatisfying and unappetizing: the five tiny shrimp were overcooked and tough, and although I could see red pepper flakes, all I could taste was oil.

The twisted tapas, hailing from Italy, China, Morocco and Mexico, were the stand-out items on the menu. These creations, though small, had a lot of depth; the chef involved multiple ingredients but still managed to pull together the many flavors into well-executed dishes. Grilled Atlantic salmon was fantastic: A dainty piece of fish was sprinkled with goat cheese and sat atop a pile of diced sautéed vegetables in a wonderfully aromatic garlic-butter sauce. Two mini crabcakes, albeit a bit greasy, proved excellent vehicles for the flavorful roasted red pepper alioli. And a pile of grilled asparagus coated with a tangy vinaigrette and sprinkled with sesame seeds was also tasty. By far, though, our favorite dish was the jalapeno gnocchi -- tiny pillows of pasta filled with ricotta cheese (they reminded me more of ravioli than gnocchi) and covered in a zesty red sauce. This dish was so amazing that I feared a fight would break out at our table when only one piece remained.

Thankfully, dessert had us speaking to one another again. Puff pastry stacked to the ceiling with vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce was delicious but difficult to eat without making a huge mess. A better choice was the flourless chocolate cake drizzled with raspberry sauce -- I have yet to hear anyone complain about this sweet masterpiece. Other offerings include poached pear with red wine and ice cream, caramelized banana with caramel, and flan.

After all my gushing about this delightful place, I'm sure you will know where to find me come Friday or Saturday night. Hopefully, my tales of reasonable wait times, a pleasant staff, and tasty food will be enough to convince you to try this place at least once. And the next time someone suggests a Friday night get-together at Iberico, instead of whining or making gross vomiting noises, you can simply say, "How about Twist instead?"

Twist is located at 3412 N. Sheffield Ave. There is a tiny outdoor patio, ideal for sipping sangria and making fun of drunken Cubs fans. Tapas cost $2.95-$8.95, with the majority in the $5.95-$6.95 range. I have yet to encounter a wait on weekdays.

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Comments

Gordon / May 24, 2004 10:35 AM

I love Twist! I was just there on Friday, actually, which -- post-Cubs game -- meant I had to stand and wait a while, but the sangria made it more than tolerable.

Naz / May 24, 2004 12:38 PM

Yet another restaurant in my immediate vicinity that I have yet to go to. Damn Kim, what is this? It's a conspiracy. For some reason I've always avoided most of the restaurants around me, mostly because I lump them into a sports bar/crappy bar food category. I've passed Twist many a time on the way to Penny's or the Pick Me Up and have always been curious. Now that you've given it the official thumbs up, I'll have to add that to my list.

Kim / May 26, 2004 5:02 PM

A conspiracy, huh? Ha ha. Either that or I'm stalking you. : ) Just kidding, of course. For real, though, I had sworn off eating in Wrigleyville for the exact same reason, until I started asking around and discovered that there really are some great places. You just have to look real hard.

lacey / May 27, 2004 8:15 AM

I always see Twist from the el and I'm glad to read such an encouraging review. I've been looking for good tapas on the north(ish) side that isn't expensive, and this sounds perfect.

 

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