Some places are about ambience more than food. Beatnik, a restaurant and cocktail lounge in West Town, is a good example. It’s like your friend who’s a lot of fun and has great style, but is also a little bit unreliable. (Remember when he agreed to pick you up from O’Hare, went to Midway by mistake, and then somehow ended up in Vegas?) The good news is that if you come here knowing this, and don’t take the whole experience too seriously, you can still have a great time.
The atmosphere really is the main draw, and it’s obvious that a lot of work has gone into putting it together. There are elaborate crystal chandeliers, antique carved wooden facades, Persian rugs all over the place, and candelabras that look like they belong in a haunted Victorian mansion. You might find yourself sitting on an ornate daybed from Bali, or having a drink in a plant-filled atrium with a tropical feel. In the background, a DJ is spinning loud reggae, French pop, and Afrobeat. There’s nothing understated about this place - embrace this fact, and don’t plan on having a low-key time while you’re here.
Like the environment, the food is eclectic. The menu has mainly small plates, plus a few large-format options (called “feasts”) that serve three to four. These larger dishes are inconsistent - for example, the lamb will turn out differently depending on what part of the animal is available when you order it. (It’s always slow-roasted, but the quality of the cooking varies.) Other dishes are also disappointing, like the too-heavy seared mushrooms and the crispy eggplant that’s fried well, but ultimately overwhelmed by a vinegary mustard sauce.
Still, some of the small plates are pretty good, so you should focus your attention on those. Try the baba ghanoush - it has a lot going on (yogurt, balsamic vinegar, and pomegranate seeds, to name a few ingredients), but overall it’s a nice surprise. Like when your friend got tickets to the Bulls game and they turned out to be box seats. We also like the complex but well-balanced rabbit arepa, with braised meat, olives, and a liver crema. Whatever you’re eating, you’ll definitely want to try the cocktails, which are interesting and tasty (for example, a slushie with rye whiskey, sherry, and hazelnut, and a drink made with yerba mate gin). The winning strategy here is to stick with alcohol and the stronger small plates while you take in the scene.
Beatnik feels like it was designed to entertain you, not to feed you stunningly good food, and if that’s the goal, it definitely succeeds. Don’t come starving, but do come ready to have a good time. And definitely bring that friend of yours whenever he gets back from Vegas. It’s right up his alley.
Smoked Baba Ghanoush
This baba ghanoush has a lot going on - there’s black garlic, yogurt, pine nuts, a fig balsamic drizzle, and pomegranate seeds. It all works, except for the dry pita that comes on the side, which tastes like something from the grocery store. You’re better off just eating this with a fork.
Crispy eggplant served with date syrup and a vinegary mustard sauce. Unfortunately, the sauce overwhelms everything else, making the whole thing too acidic. But the eggplant is fine on its own.
Roasted Butternut Squash
One of the better small plates. We really like the jalapeno/cilantro yogurt in this dish - it has a nice amount of spice that balances out the sweetness of the roasted squash.
You want this. The rabbit is braised in a tamarind sauce, served on a masa cake, and topped with a liver crema that complements the lean meat. The whole thing tastes great.
Pan Seared Wild Mushrooms
These mushrooms come with fried shallots and a tahini labneh. The first bite tastes good, but after that, this dish feels very rich and heavy.
There is nothing redeeming about this dish. The char gives the broccolini a bitter flavor, and it comes with a sunflower hummus that is too thick and grainy. It’s our least favorite thing on the menu.
Slow Roasted Lebanese Lamb
Don’t order this if you’re picky about what part of the lamb you’ll get - it varies based on what’s available, and the execution of the dish varies, too (sometimes the meat is tender, but sometimes it’s dry). The side dishes - a chickpea salad and roti - are also disappointing. The salad is very oily, and depending on the day, the bread might be stale, or fine.