***** (5 stars)

We couldn’t believe how well run this place was on its opening night. The space is open, attractive, not too noisy, and has a great soundtrack. There’s a bar at the front and the rear.

Food is served tapas style, and is mostly Middle Eastern influenced.

We started with the avocado and sweet pea spread, which had wonderful flavors of cilantro and mint, and came with some nicely warmed pitas. It seemed a small portion for $9.

We loved the lamb kefta kebabs and the crispy potatoes.

The pan roasted romanesco was also excellent.

We were slightly less impressed by the crispy broccoli, which were served with a dashi that didn’t have a lot of added flavor. I personally liked the tuna crudo (which was more like hamachi sashimi), but my companion didn’t; it was very lemony and the crispy lentils added a nice texture, but the avocado and tomato didn’t add much.

For dessert we had the honey pie and the frozen greek yogurt. The former was quite sweet, the later fairly tart, but combined they were heaven.

Service was amazing, not just from our server, but everyone who delivered food, cleared the food, welcomed us at the front desk–all incredibly friendly and organized for a restaurant on its first day.

The wine list is also excellent with most wines available by the glass, and nearly all selections from Mediterranean producers. Usually this means lots of mediocre wines, but the selections here are absolutely stellar, and the waiters have been carefully trained in the nuances of the list.

Although some portions seems a bit small and pricey, when the final bill came we thought it was excellent value for the quality received.

Really an impressive debut, and we’ll be back soon.

A picture from lunch, a year later:

Spread sampler

At lunch we had the spicy hummus, garlic almond, and avocado pea spreads, and all were excellent. The salmon tartare was unique, with rhubarb and lemon, and also very good. The green falafel sandwich was the best falafel I’ve had, with a subtle cinnamon flavor and the pita nicely charred.

74 W Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60654


Restaurant BT

***** (5 stars)

Based upon the reviews I was expecting some fairly extraordinary food, and I was not disappointed. Everything we had was top notch. The complexity of the recipes and quality of the ingredients is definitely far above most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to.

At a recent lunch we worked our way through many appetizer courses, beginning with the fresh shrimp rolls and the mini crispy spring rolls. Both were elevated by the inclusion of very flavorful and fresh herbs.

Tuna Tai Chanh was a wonderful tuna tartare that was mixed with an unusually large amount of chopped fresh herbs that gave it a complex flavor, elevating it far about the tuna and sesame oil base.

We also tried two special. Pheasant pate was an excellent rough country style pate served with traditional French accompaniments of mustard, gherkins and chopped onions. Truffled burrata cheese was also nicely done, with a sort of pesto or chimichurri accompaniment.

For an entree I had the grilled pork banh mi. I’m a particular fan of that sandwich, and this one was as good as any I’ve had, with lots of fresh herbs, a savory soy marinade, and just the right amount of creamy mayonnaise.

I’m not sure I’d describe anything I had as “fusion” cuisine. Most of the dishes are gourmet Vietnamese, and the two specials we had were French, but I didn’t detect any fusing going on.

The wine list is reasonably priced and offers some nice choices. The Puligny Montrachet went well with the food, although not as well as the Chateau Carbonneau that we brought. The $30 corkage seemed a bit steep, but otherwise I thought the food pricing was very reasonable. I can only assume those complaining about the prices were expecting Vietnamese sandwich shop and the ingredients here mark this as a very fine dining restaurant that happens to serve lunch, too.

Restaurant BT
2507 S MacDill Ave
Tampa, FL 33629
(813) 258-1916

Keke’s Breakfast Cafe

**** (4 stars)

This is one of the better Keke’s locations, with a nice interior and excellent staff. While I usually go to Keke’s for breakfast, they have a fair variety of lunch items as well.

The Carolina Chicken wrap I tried on this visit combined fried chicken chunks, pecans, bacon, tomato, and lettuce. It was good with the accompanying spicy remoulade, which was really intended for the rather flavorless onion rings.

Keke’s Breakfast Cafe
2433 S Hiawassee Rd
Ste 130
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 298-3684

Butler Winery

***** (5 stars)

It’s hard to make great dry wines from unusual grapes in difficult growing areas, so Butler winery is to be commended for their excellent results. Lots of wineries in the area produce drinkable sweet wines from local grapes, but Butler is the only one we visited that is making outstanding dry wines using those varietals. Everything we tried was a terrific example of meticulous winemaking.

There’s small attached shop at the entrance, and then a tasting counter staffed by very personable and knowledgeable folks who are justifiably proud of their award winning wines. We purchased a mixed half case of dry whites and reds.

Butler Winery
401 Broadway
Chesterton, IN 46304
(219) 929-1400

Anderson’s Orchards & Winery

** (2 stars)

Anderson’s has a nice gift shop and sells local honey and hobby winemaking supplies. The staff is personable, and they have cool beverages to go. Unfortunately none of the wines we tried were of commercial quality, so it’s best to stick with their other offerings.

Anderson’s Orchards & Winery
430 E US Hwy 6
Valparaiso, IN 46383
(219) 464-4936

Shady Creek Winery

***** (5 stars)

This is one of the best wineries in the area for visitors, because they have good wines, a nice ambiance and an extensive food menu. The staff is friendly, and on the day we were there they had live entertainment.

One of the reasons their wines are good is because they are making their dry wines from California grapes, not local ones (which are better suited to making sweet wines).

Everything we sampled was well made. Note that there is a fee ($5) for five samples.

Shady Creek Winery
2030 Tryon Rd
Michigan City, IN 46360
(219) 874-9463

Bridges Waterside Grille

**** (4 stars)

This place is right on the canal, and offers a nice view of the boats passing by, as well as having slips for boaters who want to eat. There are quite a lot of tables, but the staff did a good job of keeping up with them, even though they were full.

The food is fairly standard sports bar/fish camp stuff, with lots of sandwiches and fried offerings. They also serve alcoholic beverages.

Bridges Waterside Grille
508 E 2nd St
Michigan City, IN 46360
(219) 878-0227

The Kitchen Chicago

*** (3 stars)

We tried this place for brunch on a Saturday, and it was fine. It’s an unusual cross between coffee shop and seafood bar. As a result the mussels were the best dish. They were tender and had an excellent broth and were served with nicely grilled bread.

The poached salmon salad was just so-so. The salmon what rather sturdy, as were the stems of the accompanying greens.

Service was friendly and efficient.

The Kitchen Chicago
316 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 836-1300


***** (5 stars)

I’m pleased to say that the 2016 reinvention of Alinea has been a phenomenal improvement. So much so, in fact, that it now is again a serious contender for best restaurant in the US.

First of, the complete redesign of the space has resulted in a comfortable, sedate environment where the food and wine are the focus. The new furnishings are cozy and the ambiance is quiet, with no loud soundtrack. As a result, conversations tend to be muted and the communication with the servers is enhanced.

And certainly there are no better servers around than those at Alinea, where everyone is well trained on the components of each complex dish, and the accompanying wine pairings.

Best of all, the new menu has placed the focus squarely on the food. While each course is presented in meticulously chosen dinnerware–from gorgeous dishes fashioned of hand crafted ceramic to ephemeral bowls of ice–the spotlight is on the food in those bowls, not gimmicky utensils or serving platforms.

The didactic instructions of exactly how to eat each course are gone, and now you are invited to experiment and explore with the flavors on your plate.

In this new incarnation, feedback is actively solicited as they find their way to the favorite dishes. Certainly the first five courses were absolute knockouts, and the wine pairings that accompanied them pure genius. It’s a bit hard to count the courses, because the menus is an avant-garde map, and many courses consist of multiple dishes, but trust me, you won’t leave hungry, whether you chose the upstairs salon experience or the more elaborate downstairs experiences.  I felt the salon offered more than enough fine dining, and ten great wine pairings, all at a very fair price.

If you haven’t been to Alinea for a while, or you are looking for a stellar dining experience in Chicago, there can be no better place to start.

1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 867-0110

Cantina Laredo

**** (4 stars)

I’d been to a Cantina Laredo in another city quite a few times, and always thought it was just okay, but this location is exceptional.

First, the interior decor is impressive, with a dramatic open stairway and nice use of woods throughout.

I’ve learned from my other visits to the chain that it’s best to stay with the appetizers, so we shared the tableside guacamole, chili con queso, and ahi tuna tacos. All were excellent, in fact about as good as I’ve had. I particularly liked the tender raw tuna and thin, crisp shells of the tacos.

The ceviche was okay, but not as good as others we’ve had.

The hot and mild salsas are just adequate, but the complementary chips are wonderfully fresh and crisp.

I also want to give a shout out to the 3 Amigos margarita, which is served deconstructed with an upside down mini-bottle of Corona in it, and the tequila on the side. Very interesting and tasty, and I would definitely order it again.

Service was friendly and efficient, and noise levels at lunch time were low, although it looks like it could get loud at night.

Cantina Laredo
508 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 955-0014