When you’re stuck in a traffic jam on Lakeshore Drive, a small part of you probably hopes that whatever’s causing it is at least a little bit interesting. So when it turns out to be a stalled car instead of a troupe of escaped penguins from the Lincoln Park Zoo, it’s a letdown. You can expect to feel a similar frustration at Bar Biscay, a busy West Town restaurant specializing in Basque food. You’ll hope it’s crowded because the food is great, but you’ll soon find out that’s not the case.
The menu here is long, and the first thing you encounter on it is a section of “Mano A Boca,” or very small bites that come in orders of three. These are a perfect example of what tends to go wrong here - namely, disjointed flavors and seasonings. The deviled eggs are overfilled with a flavorless yolk and aioli mixture, and each one is topped with an anchovy fillet that overwhelms the whole bite. The salt cod brandade is bland and dry, and served on a tough piece of baguette. Then there’s the anchovy toast, topped with way too much of a highly concentrated but ultimately flat tomato sauce that does nothing to balance out the salty fish.
The rest of the menu has a broad selection of everything from cheese and cured meats to vegetables and seafood, but these things are mediocre at best. The charred carrots are undercooked, and they sit on some labneh and a lentil puree, both of which taste like they’ve worn out their welcome in the prepared foods section at the grocery store. The spring peas with crumbled pieces of squid sausage are underwhelming, with “vaguely fishy” being the main flavor takeaway. And the steak frites is much too salty: the meat itself is oversalted, it’s topped with sauce gribiche (a cold egg salad that involves a bunch of capers), and there are salty french fries on the side. In other words, consider getting a Gatorade on your way home.
On top of all that, the whole place - half of which is bathed in pink neon light - seems unbelievably loud no matter where you sit. The high volume creates a vicious cycle, with people talking more and more loudly to compete with the noise, so by the end everyone is practically screaming at their tables. If you’re going to need your voice for an extended period of time in the near future, you probably shouldn’t come here - unless you’re hoping to do a really convincing Christian Bale-as-Batman impression.
Bar Biscay is a restaurant with a lively atmosphere and an extensive menu. So it’s understandable that you’d expect to have a fun and interesting time here. Unfortunately, the not-very-good food and relentlessly loud environment make for a highly disappointing experience. You’re better off going to another restaurant instead. Hopefully the traffic won’t be too bad on the way there.
Mano A Boca
We’re not fans of any of these. The salt cod brandade is dry and lacks flavor, the tomato-anchovy toast is overwhelmed by a concentrated-yet-flat sauce, and the huevos diablos have too much of a bland lemon aioli mixed with the yolk. The fried manchego gougeres are light and fluffy, but the garlic aioli they’re served with is under-seasoned and makes the whole bite too heavy. There’s jamon, too, which comes on skewers with pickled mushrooms and manchego. It tastes OK, but it’s not worth the $9 (for three skewers) it costs. We could go on, but you get the picture.
Little Neck Clams
Out of everything, this is the dish we like the most. It consists of clams, gigante beans, and jamon served in a small amount of broth. The broth is very salty, but the salt isn’t as overwhelming as it is in some of the other dishes here, and it works with the shellfish and beans. So if you like clams and find yourself at Bar Biscay, this is what you should order.
These are mixed with a squid sausage that tastes fishy and has an unpleasantly springy texture. On the side, there’s bread topped with an unmemorable piperade (tomatoes, onion, and peppers).
On the surface, this sounds complicated - the potatoes come with manchego, leeks, hazelnuts, and fried sage. But the potato in the puree dominates all the other ingredients, to the point that it’s all you can taste.
These are undercooked, and served with labneh and a lentil puree that tastes like it has absorbed everything in a fridge.
Pieces of romanesco tossed with a caesar dressing. If you’ve ever eaten a cold vegetable salad that someone brought to a party (and definitely bought from the store on the way over), you know what this tastes like.
Sausage Stuffed Piquillos
Whole piquillo peppers stuffed with sausage and served in a manchego mornay sauce. The heavy mornay makes this dish overly rich.
This is cooked to a nice medium rare, but the meat itself is over-salted, and the gribiche tastes like a mediocre egg salad.
Loup De Mer
Like the clams with gigante beans, this is a safe order. It’s not very interesting - a simple piece of fish with a thin tomato broth - but at this point, uninteresting is fine.