Chow Town

Republica brings new tapas concept to the Country Club Plaza

Pulpo (octopus)
Pulpo (octopus) Special to The Star

It’s called Republica (pronounced re-poob’-lee-kah), and it’s set to open Tuesday in the former Ingredient space at 4807 Jefferson St. on the Country Club Plaza.

I had the chance to nosh on a few of executive chef Bradley Gilmore’s creations off the Republica menu, and let me say this, I was impressed.

I’m no newcomer to Spanish tapas offerings. As a native of and frequent visitor to Chicago, I’ve been an avid fan of long-running tapas temple Café Ba Ba Reeba for almost 30 years. It takes something for tapas to move me, and though I sampled only four menu items — five if you count the few pieces of Jamon Serrano I quickly gobbled down — I think Gilmore and parent company Bread and Butter Concepts have a potential gem on their hands.

Gilmore, also executive chef at Bread and Butter hot spot Gram and Dunn, visited our table numerous times during our meal, so I was able to find out a little more about how the menu was created. Gilmore scoured dozens of Spanish cookbooks and made trips to several tapas restaurants in Washington, D.C., with Bread and Butter founder Alan Gaylin while crafting the dishes for the menu. From what I tried, it all works.

We had three tapas for the table. First was the gambas a la plancha — grilled shrimp spiced up nicely with Fresno peppers, chili oil, garlic oil, toasted garlic and rye garlic. The dish was presented in a sizzling skillet and accompanied by grilled bread.

Next was the pulpo or octopus. The pulpo was marinated and braised to create one of the moistest and most flavorful octopus dishes I’ve ever had.

The final tapas sample was lamb skewers seasoned with cardamon, which can be overwhelming, but here the spice was used to perfection. I could have had seconds of any or all of the dishes.

Toss in some seafood paella from a roving paella cart specially employed by the restaurant for the night and a few special slices of the aforementioned Jamon Serrano accompanied by more of the thick-sliced grilled break drizzled with olive oil, and I was one happy camper.

Gilmore said it was their intention to stay true to Spanish culinary traditions without being slavish to the preparations and presentations. The menu, which is extensive but not exhausting, features cold and hot tapas and two daily paella options that will change from day to day. Diners are encouraged to order the paella upon arrival, as this traditional rice dish takes 35 to 45 minutes to prepare and all of Republica’s paella will be prepared “a la minute.”

Republica’s beverage service and design deserve a few comments, too. As a wine lover, I was pleased by the nice, fairly priced, diverse selection of wines by the glass. Good choices by the glass are a must at a tapas restaurant with so many dishes and flavors crossing your palate.

I’m not a cocktail guy, but those of you who are will love the seven varieties of gin tonics poured tableside, signature cocktails made with house-made bitters, syrups and infusions.

Republica also features Kansas City’s only true sherry list. Having produced an entire half-hour episode of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert” on the history, styles and producers of sherry, I can personally attest to their flexibility with a wide range of cuisine, most notably tapas.

Lastly, there is the space, which does not resemble the former Ingredient design in any way, shape or form. Dark, sleek and loud, Republica pulses with energy. I would not recommend trying to hold a conversation, serious or otherwise, at Republica, but if you’re looking for a night of laughs, great drinks and superb food, this place hits the spot.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.