Spanish cuisine has been quietly surging in Chicago over the past few years, with great restaurants like Salero, mfk. and Vera opening, tonic-heavy Spanish gin and tonics appearing on cocktail lists around the city, and a sherry revolution under way across the country. The latest entrant is Bom Bolla, a bar from the Pops for Champagne team that focuses mostly on cava, sherry and other Spanish wines and serves a tapas menu.
Bom Bolla opens at 2pm each day, and it’s a lovely spot for spending an afternoon sipping wines and snacking on simple dishes, like bitter black olives soaking in fino sherry, crumbly slices of aged manchego with a pat of quince paste, and the fried squid bocadillo, a sandwich packed with tender squid, saffron aioli and a squeeze of lemon on top. These are all salty snacks, ideal with a glass of sherry, like the Inocente, a fino sherry that’s a little bitter and briny, or Gran Gesta, a clean cava rose with berry notes.
It’s also easy to build a satisfying meal with more substantial dishes like manila clams, which come basking in a broth of vermouth with garlicky salsa verde—ask for extra bread to sop up every bit. There were a few missteps, including a cold, hard-to-spread hunk of ‘nduja sausage and a burned piece of toast topped with pepper relish and salt cod. But the single dessert closes the night on a high note—it’s an ethereal slice of manchego cheesecake that I’m already dreaming about eating again.
Atmosphere: It’s a funky, lively space, with pop-art mosaics of rockers like Debbie Harry, a mishmash of pendant lights and huge windows that let in tons of light and offer prime people-watching views of Milwaukee Ave and Xoco across the street.
What to eat: Fried squid bocadillo, manila clams, manchego cheesecake.
What to drink: Where to start? A bubbly pour of cava (the bar’s specialty, with more than two dozen available) is a good place, while the gin and tonics, made with your choice of two housemade tonics, are a bit more bracing. Sherry and vermouth, one of which is served on tap, make a nice pairing for the food, and your bartender can steer you toward one you’ll like. There are so many good things to drink, you’ll want to return over and over to try it all.
Where to sit: There are a handful of booths with old wooden church pews right up front and some tables tucked in back, but I like the three-sided long wooden bar, where friendly, knowledgeable bartenders will pour you tastes of different wines.