Fig & Olive

Exterior

Bar

Interior

Assorted crostini

Olive oil tasting

Hamachi crudo

Roasted cauliflower

Lamb

Cafe Gourmand with pot de creme

**** (4 stars)

Pros and cons, but my experience was at least three and a half stars.

First, this is a gorgeous room. It’s much nicer than the website photos suggest. It has a great central bar and some cozy corners.

When I arrived there was a DJ playing loud rap. Uh oh, I thought, not my style. But then a foursome sat near me and asked them to turn it down. Bless them! The DJ must have been about to go off shift (it was before 5pm on a Saturday), so they just put on some chill music and left. What an improvement in the place’s ambiance!

The wine list has some very well thought out selections, by the bottle and the glass. They even have Dom Perignon by the glass at a reasonable price! I haven’t seen that before.

I started with three crostini, and all were excellent I also tried them on different “platforms” to compare, and those were good, too. My favorite was the salmon on traditional toast.

The complimentary olive oil tasting was also nice. I loved the blood orange olive oil and bought a bottle to go.

Hamachi crudo was disappointing. There was nothing wrong with the hamachi, but it had been so thoroughly buried in a variety of sauce that the fish was lost.

Roasted cauliflower was a delicate preparation that works best as a starter, because it would be too subtle as a side dish.

The highlight of my meal was the rack of lamb. It was perfectly cooked medium rare with a great char on the bones, and served with a wonderful rosemary and garlic oil.

I finished with the cafe gourmand, a nice idea that combines a cup of coffee with your choice of mini dessert (I chose the pot de creme) and a bit of praline.

Excellent professional service was provided by Danilo.

Fig & Olive –
104 East Oak St
Chicago, IL
60611
(312) 445-0060
https://www.yelp.com/biz/fig-and-olive-chicago-chicago-5

Taza Cafe

Gyro Plate

Falafel Sandwich

Interior

Exterior

***** (5 stars)

Extremely friendly staff in this counter service restaurant make it special.

I tried the gyro platter, which came with lentil rice, hummus, a falafel, salad, and pitas. It was very good, especially the gyro meat coated in tzatziki and spicy sauce.

Even better was the falafel sandwich, a generous serving of falafel, lettuce, tahini, spicy and a very fresh pita pocket to hold it all.

Definitely one of the best choices for fast Middle Eastern food in Chicago.

Taza Cafe
176 N Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 201-9885
https://www.yelp.com/biz/taza-cafe-chicago

Honey’s

Exterior

Bar

Dining Room

Cauliflower

Caesar salad

Squid ink cavatelli

Satsuma mandarin

*** (3 stars)

While this meal had its ups and downs, let me start by saying that the service was superb. It seemed as if everyone in the restaurant, from the hostess to the bussing staff, the kitchen staff, my waiter Alexis and the manager all personally greeted me and wished me a good meal. And this was before it became evident that I’d been “outed” (the manager stopped by to compliment me on my photos, and I hadn’t yet posted and from Honey’s.)

And it was a good meal, just not a great one. The restaurant certainly is aspiring to greatness, and the classy dining room and chic bar are a good start. The food is just a bit uneven.

The meal begins with complimentary bread service, and the bread was hot, crusty and excellent.

I started with the spit roasted cauliflower, which was an interesting consistency because of the accompanying puree and bread crumbs.

The Caesar salad is a bizarre take on a classic. Grilled romaine is chopped, and tossed with a good Caesar dressing. I’ve enjoyed grilled romaine before, but this seemed more like it was wilted rather than charred. But it was the additional ingredients that went off the rails. Sliced cheese is a trend I can live with, but the pickled shallots and crackers took it too far afield to be called a Caesar. and three large dollops of egg yolk sabayon were about as appetizing as if someone had dumped a jar of mayonnaise on it. In short, don’t order this.

Things got back on track with the squid ink cavatelli. Although the pasta was a bit overcooked, the braised octopus, calamari and shrimp were tender and flavorful, and the mint pesto had a wonderful acidity that elevated the whole dish.

I finished with the satsuma mandarin, a nice light dessert with earl grey cake and mandarin orange sorbet. The double decaf espresso I had was noteworthy only in that it was the single most bitter espresso I’ve every been served!

Prices are okay, but be aware that portions are on the small side, so you will want several courses.

There is an extensive list of eclectic wines, including some thoughtful by-the-glass selections. The rosés go particularly well with most of this menu.

Honey’s
1111 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 877-5929
http://www.yelp.com/biz/honeys-chicago

Ema

***** (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.

Ema
74 W Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60654

http://www.yelp.com/biz/%C4%93ma-chicago-2

Zoës Kitchen

***** (5 stars)

This might be my new favorite quick serve restaurant. It’s amazing that this store has only been open a short time, because they really have their act together. Both the service and the food are exemplary.

I had the salmon kebabs, which were extremely high quality, and served with a large Greek salad, some hummus and a few pita wedges. Everything was freshly prepared and delicious.

Each member of our party tried something different, and we all enjoyed our food, but I think I made the best choice–although slightly more expensive, it was a lot of very high quality food for the money.

The interior decor is quite pleasant, and the staff is really engaged with their guests. My only negative comment is that parking is extremely difficult; it was a problem even before they built this new building, so I’m not sure what the plan was, but I suggest you arrive before lunch time.

Zoës Kitchen
7341 W Sand Lake Rd
Ste 1081
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 730-5022
http://www.yelp.com/biz/zo%C3%ABs-kitchen-orlando-2

ABA Turkish Restaurant

**** (4 stars)

This Turkish restaurant is bustling with locals, so it’s definitely got the stamp of authenticity.

We tried the cold appetizer sample, which was a great assortment. Favorites were the eggplant and the tomato and vegetable mixture. Interestingly, they were served with crusty bread rather than the traditional puffy Lava? Turkish bread.

The hot appetizers we tried included falafel, which was crispier and a different shape that we were used to, and some excellent zucchini pancakes.

We also shared one entree that was an assortment of all the meats, and thought each was very well prepared. The lamb chop was my favorite, as it had a nice char.

Service was friendly and efficient, especially considering the restaurant was completely full.

ABA Turkish Restaurant
325 W 57th St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 655-9368
http://www.yelp.com/biz/aba-turkish-restaurant-new-york

Tapa Toro

***** (5 stars)

This may be Orlando’s best tapas restaurant. Its diverse menu offers all the standards, plus a lot of dishes with a unique twist, and unlike some tapas places there are a lot of lighter selections and many vegetarian offerings.

My favorite dish by far was the roasted cauliflower, which was perfectly seasoned and sauced, and topped with sultanas and capers. Yum! Grilled asparagus served with grated manchego was also very good.

More conventional were the salmon crudo and the grilled garlic shrimp plates. The assorted cold meat platter was also conventional except for the inclusion of a delicious house-made pate and house-made pickles.

There’s an extensive list of wines by the glass or bottle, plus a very intriguing cocktail list. I tried the Feliz Boca, an inspired mixture of rosemary, lavender, blood orange and bitters. Delicious, and an amazing match to the pate.

There’s a nice dessert menu, but note that there’s also a Ben and Jerry’s about ten feet away! Hmm. Decisions.

Service was very friendly and attentive, and the outdoor dining area is great–mostly shaded, with a view of the Orlando Eye, which is nearby.

Tapa Toro
8441 International Dr
Ste 260
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 226-2929
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tapa-toro-orlando

Paramount Fine Foods

**** (4 stars)

This bright, airy space near the Orlando Eye offers Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in a fast casual atmosphere. It’s part of a rapidly expanding Canadian chain.

The extensive menu includes pitas, falafel and pizza-like manakeesh. I had a lunch combo veggie wrap consisting of a Zaatar manakeesh (think of a flatbread brushed with Thyme & Sesame olive oil) wrapped around cucumbers, black olives and mint leaves. It was tasty, but the wrapper was pretty sturdy for a wrap. A companion had a falafel sandwich and it was wrapped in conventional pita.

The meal included complementary pita, which was made in the puffed up Turkish style. You’ll probably want an order of hummus or the dip assortment to accompany it.

That brings us to the absolute highlight of the meal: THE FRIES! These have to be the best fries in Orlando. Crispy–almost crackly–on the outside, and light as air in the middle, served hot and perfectly seasoned. Wow!

During our visit the restaurant was a quick serve concept where you order at a counter, but a hostess seated us and gave us menus. I understand it is transitioning to a full service concept, which will work very well in this space. Our server was very attentive about asking if we wanted refills.

It remains to be seen whether there is going to be enough traffic near the Orlando Eye to justify the large size of this and the many other restaurants in the area, but we certainly enjoyed our meal and would go back. Parking is free in the adjacent structure.

Paramount Fine Foods
8371 International Dr
Ste 60
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 930-8645
http://www.yelp.com/biz/paramount-fine-foods-orlando

Cuvee Destin

**** (4 stars)

Cuvee, as you might expect, offers an excellent wine list. The list is oddly divided into two parts, essentially the cheap part and the expensive part. Pricing varies, but seems to be about double retail. For me the highlight was the two pages of half bottles, something you don’t see a lot of anymore.

I thought the food was good, but there weren’t really any home runs. We tried the portobello mushroom, fried green tomatoes (which were more about crawfish), and the pecan crusted grouper (be sure to get the very sweet sauce on the side).

Our server was excellent, and we liked the quiet back corner of the back room, as the bar can get quite boisterous.

Cuvee Destin
36120 Emerald Coast Pkwy
Destin, FL 32541
(850) 650-8900
http://www.yelp.com/biz/cuvee-destin-destin-2

LaBinnah Bistro

**** (4 stars)

This is clearly the best (and only) fine dining restaurant in Hannibal. It’s located in a quaint old house, and decorated in a pleasant amalgam of Victorian and eclectic.

The menu is extremely diverse, and it’s hard to define the cuisine. A few things about the restaurant are unusual. First, nearly every thing comes on bread. We had an artichoke and spinach appetizer served with bread, a sort of pesto appetizer served on bread, a lamb chop (weirdly served on top of bread) and one of four different salmon preparations (weirdly served on bread). I admit the bread does sop up the juices, so it can be tasty, if a bit soggy. But I’ve not seen entrees served this way before. Perhaps it’s a Turkish twist, since there is a Turkish element to some of the dishes.

And speaking of Turkish, the homemade baklava was a superb dessert, lighter than most baklava, and not overly sweet, but perfectly flakey.

Another somewhat odd thing about the restaurant is that you pay at a register counter in the back, which is completely at odds with the elegant atmosphere of the dining area.

Anyway, service was very friendly, and we enjoyed the meal in what is definitely Hannibal’s best restaurant.

LaBinnah Bistro
207 N 5th St
Hannibal, MO 63401
(573) 221-8207
http://www.yelp.com/biz/labinnah-bistro-hannibal