Fresh Kitchen

This is a bowl assembly concept similar to Chipotle, but focused on healthy selections.

My choice was coconut rice and kale slaw topped with chickpeas and salmon. The ingredients worked well together. The sriracha-based sauce I selected was fairly bland, but my wife’s ginger sauce was excellent.

The counter setup at lunchtime is extremely efficient, so it took no time at all to order and pay.

There’s a nice outside seating area in addition to the indoor space.

Victoria & Albert’s

Victoria & Alberts continues to be one of the best restaurants in Central Florida, despite all of the new competition we have been blessed with. Part of the reason is that new chefs have brought new ideas from all over the world, including Copenhagen and South America.

The chef’s table continues to be the most exclusive experience in Florida fine dining, with great views of the kitchen, and personal interaction with the chefs and servers.

So why doesn’t Victoria and Alberts have Michelin stars? Orlando paid for Michelin to rate its restaurants, and Walt Disney World is not in the city of Orlando.

Benny’s Chop House

**** (4 stars)

There are so many steak houses in River North that it’s hard to find distinguishing characteristics. Some of the things I liked about Benny’s were:

1. It’s not a chain.
2. Very extensive (if pricey) winelist.
3. “Lyon” salad is an unusual offering for a steakhouse. It’s basically a French bistro-style salade Lyonaisse.
4. Meat is all prime.
5. Meat is available wet or dry aged. I actually prefer wet aged meat as I’m not a fan of the gamey aroma dry aged meat can develop.

One thing I didn’t like was the audio bleed between the live piano player in the bar and the background music in the restaurant. Both were excellent, but not at the same time!

Benny’s Chop House
444 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 626-2444

Beacon Tavern

***** (5 stars)

It’s hard to believe this restaurant had only been open a week or two when we visited, as it was running like a well-practiced operation indeed. In fact, the exterior of the building was not even finished! But certainy the staff training was.

The remodeled space is beautiful, with a boisterous bar area near the entry, and a more sedate dining area on the other side of the wall.

The short but very interesting menu focuses on small plates, mainly seafood, although heartier dishes such as fish and chips and even a burger are available.

We began with two crudos, one hamachi, the other fluke. Both combined sauces and other ingredients with exemplary slices of raw fish, but the fluke was the better of the two, because of the trout roe accompaniment and surprising combination of fruity flavors. The crudos are not cheap, and the serving size lives up to its “small plate” billing.

We also tried the king salmon entree, and while it was a delicious piece of salmon, the orange foam dotting the accompanying zucchini balls was the real standout, and would make a great vegetarian dish.

Ironically, the largest serving we had was the clam dish listed under small plates. A generous helping of clams was topped with a fried egg and bits of what were, essentially, lardons, plus some thin slices of peppers. The combination of the ingredients was surprising and superb. It was the best thing we tried.

The wine selections are limited, but there is an extensive list of interesting cocktails and spirits, tending towards bitter drinks like negronis and amaros, which suit my palate well, and go nicely with the various seafood offerings.

Our server, Layla, was extremely knowledgeable and engaging, and made our meal a delight. In all, a very auspicious start.

Beacon Tavern
405 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 955-4226