Valeria and I first visited Beatrix restaurant on Valentine’s Day this year. The menu at Beatrix is largely built of fresh, healthy choices based on fresh juices, vegetables, lean protein and the like, but it also includes a few decadent choices, like the Prime Burger that I enjoyed on that first visit.
That first visit was to the River North location on Clark Street. Our second visit was with a friend from out of town. This time we went to the Streeterville location on Saint Clair. The menus at the two locations are, I believe, the same, though there may be some minor differences.
Beatrix offers a number of craft, fresh-squeezed juice drinks as well as craft cocktails, so there is an appropriate and delicious beverage for anyone: a child, a health enthusiast or someone who needs a good stiff drink at the end of the day. The three of us made quite different choices.
From the fresh juice selection, Valeria went with the Power Greens. I didn’t ask what combination of greens they use and I suspect it may vary with what is fresh and available on any given day. Valeria makes her own green smoothies and has become quite a connoisseur of them. She thought this one was delicious.
I went with my go-to pre-dinner cocktail, a Manhattan. They make it here with Bulleit Rye, an excellent choice, and their own marinated cherries, which earns bonus points in my book. I also like the fact that they are not huge. Cocktails big enough to float a rowboat in are impressive, but, unless you chug it, it will get too warm, if served up, and too dilute, if served on the rocks, before you can finish it. Bigger is not always better. This one was a good size to sip and finish before it got warm. I have written quite a bit about Manhattans in general and specifically about Bulleit Bourbon and Rye (here, for example) so feel free to learn more about this classic cocktail in that post. Don’t worry, this one will still be here when you come back!
Our guest ordered a Sangria made with EFFEN Black Cherry Vodka, red wine and citrus juice. EFFEN, they tell me, is a Dutch word that means “smooth, even, and balanced.” I’m sure the fact that it is also shorthand for an English profanity is purely coincidental. Premium vodkas have become very popular these days, but I have to admit I find it hard to tell the difference, especially when they are mixed in a cocktail. This one is made from French wheat and comes not only as a pure vodka, but also in several fruit flavors. The Black Cherry version was used in this sangria, which was nicely balanced and complex. I couldn’t tell exactly what wine was used, but it was not something awful that needed to be covered with citrus and fruit flavors. Similarly, the citrus juice was definitely fresh and did not come from a bottle. Beatrix is consistent in using fresh, high-quality ingredients across the menu from drinks to desserts.
We needed some appetizers to go with our drinks though. We ordered three to share because that’s what friends do at the table.
First up, Burrata with olive oil, almonds and figs.
Burrata is an Italian cheese that is stuffed with cheese and heavy cream. No, that’s not a typo, it’s cheese stuffed with cheese. Perhaps invented by a cardiologist to drum up business, it nevertheless feels and tastes much lighter than it sounds. The outer shell is fresh Mozzarella, just as you would find on, say, a nice Caprese salad. Inside the shell is a cheese that really just another form of Mozzarella called Stracciatella di bufala. Both Mozzarella and Stracciatella are soft cheeses made from buffalo milk. Fresh Mozzarella curds are dipped in hot whey or salt water and stretched multiple times before being formed into balls. Leftover bits are shredded to form Stracciatella (Stracciatella means “little shred”) and mixed with heavy cream to make the filling for the Mozzarella balls. Burrata means “butter,” and an alternative type of Burrata is stuffed with butter and sugar. Either form is very perishable and does not last long even when refrigerated, so it must be eaten quickly.
Because it is so perishable, it was rarely seen outside of Italy until fairly recently. It is now being produced and has become quite popular in both the United States and Argentina, where large Italian immigrant populations contribute significantly to local cuisine.
Burrata is creamy but not strongly flavored, so it needs to be served with something. Whole grain nut bread, figs, Marcona almonds, a drizzle of olive oil and some micro herbs did the trick for this dish.
Our other two appetizers were asian-inspired, specifically from Chinese and Japanese cuisine. I have had Kung Pao chicken, beef, shrimp, scallops, pork and probably other stuff I don’t remember, but this was my first shot at Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts.
Brussels sprouts are a vegetable that many love to hate, but that may well be because so many people were first introduced sprouts that had been badly cooked. If you dump them in boiling water and cook them to a grey-green mess, all sorts of compounds in the abused veggie—compounds that are not only nutritious but may help prevent cancer—break down into smelly, bad tasting, non-nutricious stuff. Properly cooked and seasoned (I like them sliced and pan fried or halved and roasted in a hot oven; bacon is a great addition to either technique) Brussels sprouts are delicious.
In a world filled with celebrity chefs, an old master, Jacques Pepin, is, in my view, the greatest living teacher for people who want to cook delicious food at home. He taught me my go-to technique for making Brussels sprouts in this episode of More Fast Food Cooking My Way. The Brussels sprouts recipe starts at about 12:30, but I have made every dish in this episode and they are all delicious.
If you love to cook, consider getting either the cookbook or DVDs of More Fast Food My Way. I have both and many of the recipes have become repeat visitors at a quick weeknight dinner or served at a fancy dinner party.
In this dish, the halved or quartered sprouts were roasted until just tender and browned and served with with roasted peanuts and hot chili peppers and a spicy-sweet soy-based sauce. We all loved them.
Like many Chinese dishes that are popular in the US, Kung Pao Chicken has origins back in China, specifically in the Sichuan (Szechuan) region where they tend to like their food spiced with chilis and Sichuan peppercorns (which are delicious if you haven’t used them in your cooking).
The original Kung Pao recipe was chicken that had been marinated in soy sauce and rice wine, then stir fried with garlic, ginger and lots of chilis and Sichuan peppercorns, along with peanuts and green onions, all coated in a soy and vinegar based sauce. The spicy, mouth numbing qualities of the Sichuan peppercorns characterized the dish. A recipe that claims to be authentic can be found here.
There are regional variation on the dish across China that omit the chilis and peppercorns which characterize the original dish, and there are even more variations found across the United States in Chinese-American restaurants. I have found many of these to be delicious (however authentic, or not, they may have been). The Beatrix version with Brussels sprouts hit all the right heat, sweet and flavor notes, although I didn’t get the tingle that would come from generous use of Sichuan peppercorns.
From China, we go to Japan for some Tsukune with chili-cilantro sauce.
If you enjoy Japanese food you may well know yakitori, chicken pieces that have been put on skewers and grilled with a sauce that includes mirin (a sweetened, usually low alcohol, rice wine), sake, soy sauce, and sugar. Tsukune is a variation in which the chicken is ground and formed into meatballs before being skewered and grilled. The Beatrix version is utterly delicious. The chicken is tender and juicy and the spicy, sweet, salty and complex sauce is addictive. Obviously this is an easy plate to share, but order one of your own. They are that good.
Moving on to our main courses, our guest ordered the Chili and Chocolate Glazed Salmon.
Salmon can be delicious with no more than some salt and pepper if it is fresh, high-quality and not overcooked. This dish met those basic requirements, but the addition of the chili-chocolate glaze put to over the top. The chocolate was no doubt cocoa as the the dish was not sweet. In a Mexican restaurant, this would be a taquiza, a platter of grilled meat, vegetables (the smoked almond slaw), a tomatillo salsa and corn tortillas to wrap it all up. Beautiful and delicious.
Valeria followed her green juice drink with a vegetarian entrée: Wild Mushroom Braise with Cauliflower Mash.
This was delicious, nutritious and well done, but, since we are not vegetarians, both Valeria and I found ourselves wishing for some nice slow-cooked beef in this dish. I know, mushrooms are a great substitute for beef in vegetarian dishes. We both love mushrooms and order or cook them all the time, but this looked and smelled so much like beef stew that our brains apparently could not wrap around the difference. Vegetarians (I’m not sure of this dish is vegan, but it could be) will really love this one.
If you haven’t tried mashed cauliflower as a low-carb, high-fiber alternative to mashed potatoes, by all means give them a shot. Here are two recipes. The first is a low fat (there is some butter, but you can adjust that to taste) herb and roast garlic version.
The second version not only has roasted garlic, but liberal amounts of butter and cheese.
There are dozens of other variation on the web. Just Google “cauliflower mash.” The only tip I will add is to steam your cauliflower in the microwave. After washing and cutting up your cauliflower, put it in any microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a microwave safe plate and zap for about 3-4 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave and the amount of cauliflower in your bowl. It is much faster than conventional steaming or boiling and no flavor or nutrition is washed away.
Since this was a crisp, late-October night in Chicago, another comfort food dish got my attention: slow-braised beef short ribs with a citrus-chili glaze.
This was the beef that Valeria’s mushroom braise was looking for. I am a sucker for braised short ribs of beef. Properly done, they are meltingly tender and full of flavor not only from the beef, but also from the braising liquid. These were all that, with some extra flavor kick from the citrus chili glaze that added a spicy kick, a touch of sweetness, and acidity and flavor from the citrus.. It was nestled on a bed of the cauliflower purée that we’ve already discussed.
On the side a very different treatment of Brussels sprouts from the Kung Pao appetizer. The leaves on this plate were sautéed in a similar manner to the method Jacques Pepin shows in the video. Yes, I had Brussels sprouts twice in one night. Yes, they can be that good and prepared in ways that are that different.
While all three of us agreed we should skip dessert, we didn’t, but we had only one, Chia Pudding.
Chia seeds are on the list of superfoods because they contain relatively high amounts of a number of vitamins and minerals, lots of fiber, all nine essential amino acids (the ones you have to eat because your body cannot produce them) as well as good (at least according to current research—could change any day!) fats. They come from a plant that is a member of the mint family originally found in parts of Mexico and Guatemala. It spread from there across much of Latin America and eventually around the world. The seeds have been used as an important source of nutrition since at least Mayan times, starting 2,000 years ago or more. Most pre-Columbian Latin American cultures used them extensively in food and beverages.
Once only found in health food stores, you’ll probably be able to find Chia seeds in your favorite supermarket these days. They can be eaten raw, incorporated into smoothies, sprinkled on or cooked into your oatmeal. Just Google “chia seed recipes” and you’ll find plenty of suggestions.
In addition to a plethora of magical nutrients, chia seeds have one other magical property: when you soak them in a liquid they soak it up and form a gel or, as it would be called in the kitchen, a pudding.
Chia pudding is trendy these days, partly, I suppose, because it is “healthy” and partly because, well, it tastes great. Also for those of you who (like me) have fond childhood memories of tapioca pudding, it’s a bit nostalgic. (If you have bad memories of tapioca pudding, it is probably because you remember the lousy commercial stuff from a school cafeteria served next to the canned spinach.) Chia pudding, however, is much easier to make than tapioca, which requires a bit of cooking and stirring and can burn if you’re not careful. For a single serving of chia pudding, start with a half cup of the liquid of your choice, usually milk. You can use fat free, 2%, full fat, organic, chocolate, almond, coconut or whatever you like, home made or from the store (I like coconut milk). Add a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds, and whatever flavoring agents you like. Most people add a little sweetener—honey, sugar, maple syrup, your choice—and some vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon or other flavorings. Whisk it all together very well, then just let it sit in the fridge for as little as a half hour, though most people prefer to leave it overnight. It will keep several days in the refrigerator. The longer the soaking time, the more the seeds soften up until about 12 hours; after that, the texture pretty much stays the same. If you like, top it with some fruit, nuts, whipped cream, shredded coconut, grated chocolate or nothing at all.
Here is a short video with instructions on how to make a lighter, healthier version.
If you’d like a more decadent version, try this one.
Once you get the basic technique, and it is very simple, the variations are endless. Beatrix used just the chia seeds, coconut milk and, I believe, a light touch of vanilla and sweetener. A little drizzle of passion fruit purée and a sprinkle of pomegranate ariels (seeds) and you have a beautiful presentation of a flavorful, nutritious dessert.
Beatrix is a casual, reasonably priced restaurant that offers choices for everyone from vegans to confirmed carnivores. Your selections can be a healthy as you like or more decadent, although they usually find a way to make even their less virtuous dishes at least a little less naughty than they could be. They do not skimp on flavor and portions are reasonable. Valeria and I will definitely be back.
Beatrix – River North
Address: 519 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: (312) 284-1377
Dress Code: Casual Elegant
Price Range: $30 and under
Hours: Lunch & Dinner
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Beatrix – Streeterville
Address: 671 N. Saint Clair, Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: (312) 642-0001
Dress Code: Casual Elegant
Price Range: $30 and under
Hours: Breakfast: Mon-Fri 7am-11am
Brunch: Sat-Sun 8am-3pm
Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-4pm
Dinner: Sun 4pm-9pm
AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
The author is a member of the Amazon Affiliate program but otherwise has no affiliation with any of the businesses or products described in this article.
All images were taken with a Sony Alpha a6300 camera and a Sony-Zeiss SEL1670Z Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm (24-105mm full frame equivalent) F/4 ZA OSS lens or Sony 35mm (52mm full frame equivalent) F/1.8 E-Mount Lens using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik/Google plugins.