Can Benjamin’s survive? Should it? 2 very good questions. Unfortunately, my answer to both questions is “No”.
Why so harsh you might ask? After all, the restaurant is in a great location, opposite the Renaissance Theatre in downtown Highland Park, and it looks quite elegant in dark woods and silver walls. The music in the background was just that, background music. In part, my lack of approbation is in response to the haughty attitude of the host. We came on the last night of Highland Park’s restaurant week, a Downtown Highland Park Alliance effort designed to promote new patrons to Highland Park’s restaurants. One would think if a restaurant participates, that it would be a good thing to put the best face forward, and try to please new customers. In specific, Benjamin’s was listed as offering a $33.00 3 course menu for Restaurant Week. However, when we were seated, no Restaurant Week menu was offered or mentioned, and when I asked about Restaurant Week, the menus were provided with the following “Of course, if you want the Restaurant Week menu, all of you at the table must do it and no coupons are to be used.” Well, I had not mentioned any coupons, and I thought that this displayed an attitude that is counter-productive to try to woo new clients. Our waiter came with soft pretzels and a small amount (about 2 ½ teaspoons) of flavored butter. He told us of the specials of the night, but failed to mention that the veal chop special cost in the high $40s and the surf and turf was even more expensive. No thank you.
My wife and son did not want the Restaurant Week menu, so we ordered off the regular menu. I had the mussels, cooked in a cream and coconut milk broth with muted Thai flavors, served with 2 pieces of grilled baguette. The mussels were excellent, plump and perfectly cooked, and the broth was excellent as well. However, no spoon was offered to eat this lovely broth! My wife and son split the beets “cubed” salad, five 1 inch squares of ¼ inch thick roasted beets, 3 thin beet chips, and a 1½ inch square by 3/8 inch thick piece of chevre flash fried, with a spoon full of beet puree and a small mache salad. Tasty, but not to my mind, brilliant, even with the little sprinkle of watermelon “fizz” candy adjacent to the beet squares.
I couldn’t help but overhear the couple at the next table complaining about the long wait for their food. Now, to be fair, the waiter told us that each order is cooked “to order” and the restaurant uses local farmers and sustainable practices. However, the restaurant was not crowded, and it took more than 50 minutes from the time we ordered entrees to the time of service, and then the server did not know who had which entrée.
Let’s talk entrée: I had the cedar roasted wild salmon, my son had the pan roasted duck breast, and my wife had the Wagyu beef burger. My salmon was perfectly cooked, with a very mild hint of yuzu flavoring on a bed of slaw, but the roasted potato and crème fraiche were barely noted, with no hint of cedar wood. I cannot say I enjoyed the salmon, as it had no taste highlights. D***’s duck breast was very rubbery, even though it cooked a little bit longer than the medium rare I prefer for duck breast, and the accompanying sides were bland. J***’s $17.00 Wagyu burger, ordered medium, came to table without a hint of pink even in the middle, and I find that inexcusable in a restaurant of this supposed caliber. The burgers at Inovasi or Abigail’s are far better, come cooked to the correct degree, and are much less expensive ($11 to $12).
So, to sum up, the chef and his staff have some talent. The wait staff was knowledgeable about the menu offerings. Prices of the entrées have dropped since the restaurant first opened, and that was one of the reasons I decided to try it. My friends had come here, and reported a good meal, so that was another reason to try it. Having said all that, I can not recommend this restaurant. It does not offer value to the money, it takes way too long to get served, and the food is not memorable. Highland Park has many other better and less expensive options nearby.