Disappointed in Benito's Chicago Eatery (Ballard) - a review
As a Chicago ex-patriate living in Seattle, I wanted to post a scathing review but decided to sit on it first and make sure my review was balanced and offered suggestions for improvement where it counts because Chicago-style food is difficult to find in Seattle. It is my deep hope that Benito's will change that.
To sum it up, Benito's was a disappointment. You will NOT get authentic Chicago food as it is now. The prices for the sandwiches were way too much. ($9.00 for a chicago hot dog!)
I took my son with me for dinner Saturday night, and ordered the hotdog, beef combo, and pizza because I wanted to quickly decide at one time if this was a place worth returning to.
Ordered a sausage and pepperoni deep dish pizza. It arrived wet and undercooked and the toppings were also in the wrong order. The sausage was basically pre-cooked diced cubes (arguably the same used for the beef/sausage Combo sandwich) instead of sausage balls. The pizza needs to be cooked more and the crust needs to be flakier and more golden-brown. Try a thicker tomato sauce that isn't as wet. Use real pepperoni, not the artisanal salumi-style sliced pepperoni. The meats should be on top of the bottom layer cheese, not the sauce.
Try the Delfino's pizza to get an idea of how the crust should be. It isn't perfect but is the closest example of how it should be.
The hot dog wasn't true to Chicago style. It used a brioche bun (uhhh okay) and the vegetables weren't laid out in how Chicago style hot dogs would be. There needs to be more mustard too. The lime-green relish was probably the most authentic part of this expensive sandwich. An important part of the Chicago hot dog is the bun - don't use sandwich rolls. Keep it simple with a basic potato-like bun. Lower the price and use a different bun and you've got a winner.
The combo italian beef was anything but italian. It was basically deli-sliced beef boiled in au-jus. Pretty flavorless, and put on a french baguette instead of a sandwich roll which made it hard to chew. I ended up eating the meat slices off with a fork instead of biting into the sandwich.
It would be a good move for Benito's to add some italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic, and oil to the juice base, and you'll have a more flavorful sandwich that's close to Portillo's italian beef (or even Johnnie's/Al's/Carm's beefs.) The giardiniera isn't really giardiniera. It really was more like an italian mix with cauliflower, carrots and celery. There were no peppers in it. I suggest revisiting the giardiniera recipe and add peppers. Giardiniera is supposed to be spicy.
Admittedly, this is a soft opening and they are learning as they go, but they need to work out the little details in their recipes and cooking process which is the most critical part of making this place succeed. The small things matter, especially if it is supposed to be "Chicago." The important thing to understand about Chicago-style comfort food like hot dogs, italian beefs, deep dish or stuffed crust pizza is that it is *unpretentious.* Many of these popular places in Chicago are actually low-brow. Keep it simple, don't try to get all-gourmet on it with brioche buns for rubbery hotdogs or french baguette for beefs, etc. That's where you will fail. The magic is in its simplicity.
Right now, I don't think its worth going back to. I'll keep my eye on the reviews around the web and if the recipes get revised enough to be more authentic and also get positive reviews, I'd consider trying it again.
This review is more than one star but there isn't the ability to vote in half-star increments. I gave the extra half star because the service was good despite several flubs. The waitresses were making the best of the situation and really made an effort to give friendly service. There were no high chairs for my son, but luckily, I had my own portable one. They forgot the diet coke and I had to ask them to take it off the bill. Other than that, the service is the brightest spot this place has going for it.
I hope they make changes. When enough changes make it worth going back to, I should post a re-rate as well.
(1.5 stars out of 5)
There is supposed to be a place over in Kirkland called Tavolino's but it gets mixed reviews on Yelp. The reviews are focused on the pizza and the only mention of italian beef I could find in the reviews was one person complaining that they were sold out. I've resorted to cooking italian beef at home. The only place I've been able to find authentic giardiniera is at DiLaurenti's at Pike Market. All the other grocery stores sell that weird italian mix blend that's NOT giardiniera.
Tavolino's (report back to us how it is!) http://www.yelp.com/biz/tavolinos-kirkland
Home-cooked italian beef recipe (a clone of Johnnie's Beef recipe, I swear by it!)
Homemade Giardiniera recipe (ignore the beef recipe, scroll down the page.)
We bought a slicer from Amazon that helps us slice the meat correctly. We also use it to slice cheese and veggies and other things for other times, so its paid itself back over. (blocks of cheese are 1/2 the price of sliced cheeses, etc...)
SO (a native Chicagoan) and I went to Benitos on Sat for lunch. We live in the hood and have been waiting for them to open for a very long time...
SO wanted a Chicago dog ($9) but opted instead for the 1/4lb all beef with mustard, celery salt, tomatoes and onions ($7.75 and comes with 4 toppings). The hotdog was good, but just boiled so no snap. The brioche bun was not great - it split completely before the first bite and just wasn't what we were hoping for. $9 for a Chicago dog and a bag of chips is just too much...
I had a Sears Tower (Italian beef) with side salad for like $11.50. As a roast beef sandwich, it was ok, but bland. I liked the "giardinara" but the pieces were really large and it was very mild. The meat itself was good quality, but they slice it and keep it separate from the jus rather than letting it soak up all the jus flavor. The roll was too tough to eat. I got garlic dressing with my salad, which I really liked. I ended up putting the dressing on my sandwich for more flavor. I'd have the sandwich again as a roast beef sandwich, but it would be better with horseradish and/or roasted garlic or provolone for more flavor.
The owner and the staff were all very very nice, although the staff is training and was pretty ill informed (whatever, it's a soft opening). The seating was really uncomfortable - it looks like the owner built-in custom benches that look like they took a TON of effort, but are unfortunately really really uncomfortable. The are too high off the ground, and the inidividual slats are really uncomfortable to sit on. The tables are too low for the benches, and too large for the booths (average sized people have a tough time fitting into the booths at this point).
I think it's too early to call this one but I urge anyone who goes not to expect "authentic" Chicago favorites, but more of a NW take on Chicago inspired grub.
I wish them the best and we'll be back to try a pizza!
I am happy to report that The Red Hot in Tacoma makes a great Chicago-style hotdog! I also ordered the Italian Beef. It's about 80-85% there. The rolls were soft almost like a Challah roll, but it didn't fall apart. The giardiniera is the right kind (not the heat-less "italian mix blend with no peppers that many places mistake giardiniera for.) Be sure to ask for extra giardiniera if you want enough slathered on top of your beef.
Tacoma is a bit of drive for me just for a sandwich, but I'd happily eat there again if I was in the near vicinity. If you're really in the mood for an italian beef that's "very close" or a spot-on Chicago dog, definitely check out The Red Hot!