I believe I've found the worst restaurant in Chicago: Bravo Tapas and Lounge.
This is a new-ish Spanish tapas restaurant on Division that doubles as a restaurant and lounge. We began eating in the outdoor seating area in front until a little rain forced us to move inside.
Two clues foreshadowed our disappointment: first, the menu proudly declared that the restaurant was in the heart of the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. How hip can it be if they have to tell us the neighborhood is trendy? Then, we're looking at the food and drink menus when the waiter tells us about their great sangria. But the sangria isn't on the menu. An oversight, perhaps? A way to conceal the price? In any case, we go ahead and order a pitcher, which turns out to be utterly flavorless.
We decide to order two dishes to start. First is a tortilla espanola. For the unfamiliar, this is basically a potato omelette, typically served slightly chilled or at room temperature. In the hands of Bravo Tapas , it was very cold, had no flavor, and had the consistency of a three-day-old leftover omelette.
The second dish was scallops with cured ham and asparagus. Slices of ham were wrapped around two or three thin pieces of asparagus and then cooked. A skilled chef can make cooked cured ham (such as proscuitto or serrano ham) taste wonderful. Bravo Tapas managed to render the ham completely dry and bring out every last granule of salt added during the curing process.
At this point we could see that this meal wasn't going to get any better and we would be best served by cutting our losses. We asked for the check. The two dishes and pitcher of sangria came to about $40.
Then we headed to Fonda del Mar
for an excellent second half of our meal (a little guacamole to start, followed by the trio of ceviche, and shrimp in a vanilla sauce). This meal, including two excellent cocktails was also about $40, coincidentally (and probably too much food for us, after eating two dishes at Bravo).
So why did I call this the worst restaurant in Chicago, a perhaps overly strong critique? I'm sure it's possible to buy prepared food in Chicago that tastes worse than what we had at Bravo Tapas. (And to Bravo's credit, we haven't gotten sick, at least so far.) But what I'm reacting to is the combination at Bravo of terribly executed food with the feeling of a desperate attempt to push an ultra hip experience down our throat. There's clearly such a big difference between what the owners want us to experience and what I actually experienced.
Bravo Tapas and Lounge
2047 W. Division St.
Fonda del Mar
3749 W. Fullerton Ave.