Tapas-style menu is the rock of La Roca
By TOM WITOM Dining
Lomo de cerdo thinly sliced Iberian pork loin on toasted bread and topped with a rich blue cheese is plated. La Roca Tapas in Arlington Heights, photographed on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, is the subject of a dining review. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
LA ROCA TAPAS ★ ★
6 S. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights (847) 483-9903;
Prices: Tapas, $5-$9; entrees, $15-$18; desserts, $5-$6.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; noon-11 p.m. Saturday, and noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Try: Tapas versions of grilled calamari; Serrano ham, chorizo and potato salad; flan.
Tips: Reservations accepted. Daily specials. Full bar. Street parking.
In a bite: The lively dining scene in Arlington Heights got livelier with the recent addition of La Roca Tapas. Its menu includes a full complement of classic entrees and traditional shareable tapas dishes.
KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good;
★ Good; Zero stars: Poor
We owe a culinary debt to Spain for paella, its delectable Valencian rice dish, and fideua de gambas y mejillones, a traditional Catalonian specialty made with pasta, shrimp and mussels.
Both classic entrees and others can be had at La Roca Tapas, an agreeable restaurant Tim Trujillo opened in late December in downtown Arlington Heights.
But what makes the 55-seat establishment especially appealing to me is its tapas-style menu that opens up the dining experience, allowing one to easily graze on a number of different dishes, free from strictures that a single entree can impose.
Selecting from among a wide variety of hot and cold small plates adds mealtime fun and requires some discipline, given the tempting options. Shareable tapas are priced from $4.95 to $8.95, and two diners can easily expect to spend about $50.
Wine, mostly Spanish, beer and cocktails, as well as La Roca’s self-proclaimed “world’s best sangria,” will push the tab a little higher. We enjoyed Tochuelo Tempranillo-Garnacha, a full-bodied red from Madrid.
Starting on the “frias,” or cold, side of the menu, two smart choices included a tasty salad of lightly wilted baby spinach with sesame seeds, tomato, red onions and julienne carrots in a balsamic vinegar dressing and a salad of diced Serrano ham, chorizo and potatoes. Among other options were Manchego from the La Mancha region of Spain; tortilla espaniola, a classic potato and onion omelette, and cold mussels topped with mixed vegetables.
La Roca also performs well with hot tapas. The lomo de cerdo, thinly sliced Iberian pork loin on toasted bread and topped with a rich blue cheese is dandy. Another smart choice, a recent special, included shrimp sauteed in olive oil and garlic. Best of all were the tender grilled calamari marinated in an assertive olive oil-garlic-paprika-cayenne sauce.
Dedicated eaters also will find deep-fried eggplant with sauteed chorizo, baked goat cheese with tomato basil sauce, scallops in a mint-garlic sauce, citrus-flavored olives, bacon-wrapped figs in a brandy-cream sauce and other Mediterranean fare.
Those opting for a single entree instead of multiple small-plate courses will find more than paella. The lineup includes filet de pescado San Sebastian, a Basque-style dish that features tilapia sauteed in olive oil with garlic, parsley, paprika and potatoes; chicken breast with blue cheese and fines herbes and a mixed-grill meat platter, among others.
The choices narrow when it comes to dessert. But it’s no hardship as long as the kitchen doesn’t run out of its well-made flan, a silky smooth, caramel-scented custard that’s hard to beat.
At La Roca, the atmosphere is casual, its decor unpretentious. Service is attentive and the wait staff informed. The recorded Spanish music was a plus. Only one notable miscue occurred during the evening of our visit: the bread brought to our table apparently was left uncovered too long and had started to dry out.
Interestingly, when it comes to tapas, local diners find their plates runneth over. A second venue, nearby La Tasca, has served similar reliable fare since 1996.
Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.