The Grill on the Alley


**** (4 stars)

This location is far from an alley, like the original in Beverly Hills! The building and it’s interior design is exceptional.

The menu is very similar to the original, although the preparations are slightly different.

My favorite item is actually the creamed spinach that comes with the steaks. It has the perfect balance.

Service is friendly and professional.

The Grill on the Alley
120 Promenade Way
Thousand Oaks, CA
(805) 418-1760

Bahama Breeze

Goat curry bowl (small)
Rum Raid
Rum Raid
Island hopper combo

**** (4 stars)

For a chain restaurant, there are some surprisingly authentic Carribean dishes in the Bahama Breeze menu. I visited the original location when they first opened and thought it was just okay, but a recent visit to this larger venue was more impressive.

There are standard sports bar-like items, of course, including an appetizer sampler that had some nicely fried coconut shrimp and onion rings. But there are also authentically seasoned items such as the goat curry bowl, which I thought was excellent. Best of all, unlike traditional goat curry, there were no bones!

My favorite item was a drink sampler that included 8 different tropical and tiki-style drinks. They were large enough that the assortment is intended for more than one person. Since I’ve recently been researching tiki drinks at some of the country’s top tiki bars, I wasn’t expecting them to be as good as they were. There were excellent examples of a Zombie, Painkiller, and Dark and Stormy, among others. At about $26 it was a good deal.

Service late at night seemed a bit harried, but was friendly. The restaurant is very large, nicely decorated, and there is a large outside dining area with live music.

Bahama Breeze
8735 Vineland Ave
Orlando, FL

Barley & Hops

Beef brat



Fried mushrooms


**** (4 stars)

By my count this is the fifth incarnation of this place, and definitely the best. The previous version, The Big Easy, was also good, but didn’t last long because of the narrow focus on Cajun food, I guess. This new sports bar menu should have broader appeal.

We tried the fried mushrooms and pan sauteed pork potstickers as appetizers, and both were very good. I particularly liked the cole slaw that came with the pot stickers.

For my main course I had the beef brat, which was nicely seared and served with sauteed peppers, onions, and sauerkraut.

My companion has a pepperoni flatbread. It wasn’t really a flatbread, it was a large rectangular pizza. And boy was it good! Lots of pepperoni, and most importantly lots of delicious pizza sauce, what I regard as west coast style. Ironically, this is the best pizza ever served in this building, a place that was three different Italian restaurants in the past!

Our server, Ashley, was terrific.

The space is mostly unchanged since the previous use, but this is the first time when the concept has truly matched the layout. It works as a sports bar, and I wish them much success.

Barley & Hops
7782 Winter Garden Vineland RdSte 140
Windermere, FL
(407) 347-3688

Lotus of Siam

Dining room


**** (4.5 stars)

As the awards attest, Lotus of Siam serves some of the best Thai food in the country. This new location is a gorgeous building, and allows them to serve many more people.

As is often the case, with the growth come issues. We’ve always had amazing service at the old location. To describe the service at this new location as disjointed would be giving it too much credit. The fundamental problem is that you don’t have a server. Instead, a whole team of people randomly drops by; two people took our orders, two others took orders for wine, the food was delivered by runners, water refilled by others, and wine… well, the wine was another matter all together.

Lotus of Siam has a great wine list. I didn’t see anyone else in the vast space having a bottle, so it may simply be they’ve forgotten how to serve it. We ordered two bottles and forty minutes later(!) finally were advised they were out of both. We ordered an alternate for one of them, and accepted a recommendation for the other. fifteen minutes later the recommendation finally showed up. The other bottle? Missing in action. We finally gave up and cancelled it after all the food had been served.

And the one bottle we did get ended up being self-serve. We had to get up and get it from the ice bucket every time we needed a refill.

I guess next time we’ll order cocktails.

Lotus of Siam
620 E Flamingo Rd
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 538-6135

Estiatorio Milos


Sea breem


Greek spreads




**** (4 stars)

This place offer classic and authentic Greek cuisine in a gorgeous room. The space is divided into several smaller areas, and we really liked our table on the patio. Lunch is a good deal for Vegas, since it is essentially a reduced price version of the dinner menu, with three courses for $29.

Charred octopus was the most tender I’ve encountered, and a delightful presentation. The Greek spreads appetizer is also a great way to explore different flavors.

I also enjoyed the bright light flavors of my main course, the whole sea breem.

Desserts are in the Greek style, which is to say very, very sweet.

A comprehensive wine list offers many hard to find Greek selections, but hundreds of other lovely choices from around the world.

Estiatorio Milos
3708 Las Vegas Blvd SLevel 3
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 698-7930

Michael’s Gourmet Room



Scampi fra Diavolo

Mixed green salad

Petite filet mignon

Bone in filet mignon

Bananas Foster for one

Fruit and chocolates parting gifts

**** (4.5 stars)

If you are over a certain age, you will remember what fine dining restaurants used to be like, before they were, bright, loud and trendy. Visiting Michael’s is like stepping back into that era. The decor and the menu are exactly what we would have encountered in the 60s or 70s at the finest places in town. Well, except for the prices, anyway.

That said, while the menu prices might seem high, it’s important to note that there is a LOT included that isn’t on the menu. You start a basket of parmesan toast, a basket of lavash, and a generous relish tray with everything from pickled vegetables to quail eggs. And the meal ends with an enormous fruit bowl and an array of hand-dipped chocolate fruit slices. Of course, no one can eat all that, so you end up with a five pound to-go bag–snacks for a week.

In between all that free stuff are some great starters and steaks. Mixed green salad was simple, fresh, and enough for two. Scampi fra Diavolo had perhaps the best marinara sauce I’ve tasted (although it wasn’t spicy at all).

My bone-in filet was a superb piece of meat, and came with a lovely mushroom and red wine reduction. My companion’s petit filet seemed a bit mealy and flavorless in comparison, but the accompanying Bernaise sauces was wonderful.

For dessert we shared Bananas Foster for one (not on the menu, but nice of them to suggest the smaller serving). There was also a very tempting array of pastries on the cart.

I would have finished with an espresso, but at $16 that just seemed over the top, price wise.

The wines list focuses on many well-chosen California selections at reasonable prices.

Service was friendly, but also offered with the high degree of professionalism one would expect in a restaurant that so perfectly recreates the golden age of fine dining.

Michael’s Gourmet Room
9777 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 796-7111

Urban Tide

*** (3.5 stars)

This is the third iteration of this space I’ve dined in, and is easily the least inspired. Considering it is in a Grand Hyatt, it’s shockingly mediocre.

Perhaps our experience was colored by our server, who was absent during most of a two-hour lunch, even after the restaurant cleared out. Ordering was problematical, refills were non-existent, and it tool 15 minutes just to order espressos at the end of the meal, then another 15 minutes to ask for a check.

As we were leaving, an entire duplicate set of entrees for our table arrived from the kitchen, so some inexperience was clearly evident here.

The food was only mediocre, too. The Asian salad was good, but the optional seared tuna had been coated in an overpowering seasoning that rendered the tuna completely flavorless.

This place fills up with business people during conventions at lunchtime, but you’d be far better off to walk up the street to Capital Grille.

Urban Tide
9801 International Dr
Orlando, FL
(407) 345-4570

Blue Fin


Salmon Burger

Chef Boo’s Chirashi Bowl

**** (4 stars)

Restaurants near Times Square don’t need to be particularly good to have a steady stream of customers, so I was pleasantly surprised by Blue Fin.

The narrow first floor space is pleasant and airy, and a broad staircase leads up almost two floors to an expansive and lovely upstairs dining room.

The restaurant offers a combination of cooked food and sushi, and we liked everything we tried. The standout was actually the Bang Bang Edamame, which had been tossed in a wonderful kung pao sauce. Chiriashi was also good, with a nice assortment of fish, although definitely Times Square priced at $33.

Service was friendly and profewssional.

Blue Fin
1567 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 918-1400

Blu 57 Seafood & Small Plates



Truffle tuna tar tar

Crab cake


Brussels sprouts

Squid ink pasta

Shrimp bombs

Red curry elotes


Mango mousse

**** (4 stars)

This is a charming small restaurant in a quiet section of Andersonville. It focuses on seafood, with a touch of Thai.

Appetizers are a good way to explore the menu here, and we tried most of them.

By far the best thing we had was the Truffle tuna tar tar. The scent of truffle was certainly there, but the thing that made it outstanding was the complex combination of spicy and citrus flavors and interesting tender and crunchy textures.

Seared scallops in curry were also good, and the crab cake was one of the best I’ve had, with a spicy kick and crusty outside.

Mussels were a disappointment. They seemed fishy, and we didn’t finish them.

Shrimp bombs were probably the most typically Thai dish, with a bite of minced shrimp mixture in a deep fried wanton purse. They were okay, but probably not worth the price for what was essentially three bites.

Squid ink pasta was a very substantial plate of dense, black pasta with rings of calamari. You will look like a goth after eating this dish!

Brussels sprouts was an okay side dish, nothing remarkable about them, and not much of the promised maple syrup flavoring.

Red curry elotes was definitely a Thai-spice-level take on this traditional street corn.

For dessert we finished with the mango mousse and tiramisu. The tiramisu was the better of the two, but wasn’t like what you’re picturing. Instead it is a dome with a chocolate crust encasing Thai iced tea flavored mousse.

Service was good, particularly considering that our server and her trainee were handling the entire restaurant.

Note that it is BYOB, and the liquor store across the street has incredibly poor taste in wine. Best to bring your own.

Blu 57 Seafood & Small Plates
5701 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 944-0575

Gibsons Italia




Chef’s Crudo Selection

Lettuce and herb salad with Meyer Lemon vinaigrette (off menu item)

New York Strip Bone-In

Grilled Romanesco

Grilled asparagus


Good view, rain or shine

***** (5 stars)

The original Gibson’s is a good restaurant, but this one is a great restaurant. Every element of my meal was about as close to perfection as I can expect from a steakhouse. Of the dozens of steakhouses I’ve tried in Chicago, it was clearly the best.

Of course, there is the view, perhaps the best in the city, looking out at the junction of the Chicago River. And the room itself is also gorgeous. It’s on the third floor, with a bar on the floor below.

The service was also impressive. Not only were the waiters professional and friendly, but they were genuine hosts, with several of them stopping by to chat.

The menu includes the full range of Gibson’s branded prime steaks, and they are just as good as you would expect. But it’s the other dishes that impressed me most. The chef’s selection crudo was a wonderful starter: three sashimi preparations of tuna, kanpachi and fluke, with amazing and surprising accompaniments.

An off-menu salad of lettuce and herbs dressed in Meyer Lime vinaigrette was a perfect break before tackling the steak. For sides I couldn’t decide between the grilled romanesco and grilled asparagus, finally ordering the asparagus. To my surprise, my waiter also brought the romanesco so I could try it. Both were excellent.

I finished off with the affogato, which was served deconstructed, so you could add your own coffee to the ice cream. The coffee was laced with Averna, which imparted a delightful bitterness to offset the sweet ice cream. The homemade cookies that came with it were also amazing.

The wine list is also top notch. There’s a great variety, and some reasonable prices. The Morey Saint Denis I had was a gem.

I can’t ask for much more than the meal I had at Gibson’s, and it’s perhaps the first Chicago steakhouse I’ve been to that will keep drawing me back rather than always trying new ones. Highly recommended.

Gibsons Italia
233 N Canal St
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 414-1100