If you’re in search of a more authentic, vegetarian re-introduction to Spanish cuisine — one that will redefine your perception of Latin culture — Meson Sabika in Naperville is a worthy start. A delicate amalgam of robust, original Spanish flavors and an intimate atmosphere, it’s impossible not to savour any one of their vegetarian dishes.
The moment you take a step into Meson Sabika, it’s charm is undeniable. An old mansion that’s been renovated, the timeless, classical feel of the restaurant runs deeper than its roots — an ambitious feat in itself. Dark wood floors are immediately juxtaposed by the soft, cream-colored walls, a series of glossy chandeliers illuminating the restaurant in a golden hue. Engraved floral details and classic wood furniture encapsulate and eternalize the truly other-wordly ambiance of the restaurant. It’s like you’ve stepped back in time into a 1960’s fine-dining tapas bar in Barcelona.
The welcoming atmosphere is only amplified by the ever-so-slight smell of saffron and paprika that just hangs in the air, only disrupted by the low buzz of the typical dinner conversation. It’s almost as if the restaurant is haloed in this golden dust — each metal accent and wooden chair shining under the dimmed lighting.
Since the restaurant is actually a renovated mansion, the dining area spans a multitude of rooms across two floors. Each room is nearly identical to the last — velvet carpets, glass windows, and wooden cabinetry being particularly common details. Each and every detail down to the stain on the wood is beyond perfect, masterfully placed to create this illusion that you’ve stepped back in time.
With all this attention-to-detail on the furnishings and a meticulous eye for ambiance, you can only expect the food to live up to the same standard. Spoiler: it did.
If there’s one word to describe the menu of Meson Sabika, it would be humongous. There’s upwards of 100 dishes that they make, and although all of them aren’t vegetarian, there’s still an extremely large selection to choose from. This style of food — tapas or “small plates” in English — is actually a common spectacle of the Spanish dinner scene.
The first dish that was presented before us was the Crepe Rellena — a paper-thin crepe stuffed with pine nuts, goat cheese, spinach, and apples, all served on a bed of roasted red pepper sauce. The presentation is a little messy with raw bell peppers and parsley sprinkled about the plate with no real purpose, although the silky sheen of the sauce and the golden-brown caramelization of the crepe are quite visually inviting. The actual filling itself is super succulent with predominantly sweeter notes with lighter, saltier undertones. The apples are nicely caramelized which draws out this deeper, richer flavor that’s immediately contrasted with the cold, brightness of the goat cheese, making for a very dynamic flavor profile. The actual cheese itself tastes extremely fresh with that distinct briny, vibrant flavor you find in freshly-made cheeses.
The crepe itself has a slightly sweet flavor that perfectly compliments the filling and serves as the perfect segue from the filling to that ever-so-indulgent red pepper sauce. With a heat that tingles the back of your throat and a smooth consistency that is quite satisfying, the delicate, yet full-bodied flavor of the sauce is everything you could ever ask for. The texture of the Crepe Rellena might be a point of concern for first-time eaters, but as you make your way through the dish, it becomes of little acknowledgment. The entire combination of crunchy pine nuts, softened apples, and creamy sauce is nothing short of heavenly. Few dishes can invoke such a profound sense of satisfaction.
Another notable dish that truly makes you appreciate the Spanish cuisine is the Queso de Cabra — a baked tomato and goat cheese dip served with garlic-crusted herb bread. It comes as part of a very rustic presentation with ceramic crockery and minimal garnishing — an indicator that the charm and elegance of this restaurant doesn’t necessarily lie in their presentation, but rather their food. The actual bread is quite springy and moist on the inside with a medium crumb and caramelization on the outside. The garlic and parsley mix that’s been rubbed on the bread only amplifies that herbaceous pungency that adds a wonderful aroma to the bread. Having actually been to Spain this summer, I can confidently say that the bread itself is quite reminiscent of artisanal Spanish bread you might find as the base for many tapas dishes in cities like Barcelona.
The actual goat cheese tomato dip is a velvety sauce that’s lightly seasoned with basil and paprika, exuding this almost rich quality. It tastes exactly as you’d expect: spiced, savory, but with this deeper, more caramelized sweetness. Paired with the bread, it’s almost as if time just fades away and for a moment it’s just you and your bread dipped in a goat cheese tomato sauce. It’s perfection. The crunchiness of the bread makes for the perfect compliment to the creamy sauce and the flavors of both components lend themselves naturally to meld into this super flavorful dish.
Other order-worthy dishes include the Vegetable Paella (saffron and paprika seasoned rice that is slow-cooked with a variety of vegetables), Patatas con Alioli (a robust garlic potato salad), Pimientos del Pequillo (cheese and spinach stuffed peppers baked in a roasted tomato sauce), Pasta Vegetariana (linguine served with grilled asparagus and snap peas in a roasted red pepper sauce), and their seasonal Mushroom Special (grilled mushrooms with mashed potatoes and a lemon beurre blanc sauce).
Between the captivating ambiance of a Victorian-style mansion and plates upon plates of authentic Spansih tapas, Meson Sabika accomplishes what it sets out to do: bring a little taste of Barcelona to Naperville. With no other restaurant that combines the upscale ambiance and sheer appreciation for traditional Spanish cuisine in the area, it stands to reason that Meson Sabika should be a must-visit for many.
Meson Sabika is located at 1025 Aurora Avenue in Naperville. Learn more by calling 630-983-3000 or by visiting mesonsabika.com.