With Benjamin Gone, Has the Bubble Burst on Highland Park Dining?

After a flurry of North Shore openings, the last man standing has closed—but its owner has plans to reopen as a tapas restaurant.

Mike Hari

It was only a year and a half ago that we wrote an item about the foodie gravitation around Highland Park, with the openings of M, Benjamin, 2nd Street Bistro, and two cupcake shops. The excellent Moderno flared up and out like a Roman candle not long after. That gravitation turned out to be a black hole, as Benjamin, the last of those establishments standing, closed three weeks ago.

“The concept wasn’t right for the neighborhood,” says the eponymous chef/owner, Benjamin Brittsan. “We weren’t too pricey, but the ambiance mixed with the pricing made the place feel too pretentious. I didn’t think so, but it’s not about what I think.”

Just as John des Rosiers reworked Moderno into Royce, however, Brittsan plans to reopen in May as Benjamin Tapas (1849 2nd St., 847-748-8737) after some cosmetic changes to repaint and add more seats to promote a buzzier atmosphere. The menu will hew to the Spanish classics, such as paella, torta española, sardines a la plancha, and queso de cabra. “It’s very, very simple. But you can’t go wrong with baked goat cheese,” Brittsan says.

Homemade desserts will run along the lines of plátano con helado, a sautéed plantain with caramel sauce, candied pistachio, and vanilla ice cream. A mostly Spanish wine list will keep prices largely in the $20 to $40 range per bottle.

Brittsan hopes to open an ambitious restaurant in Chicago, possibly in Wicker Park, next spring, getting back to what he loves to do. “I want to be able to do a restaurant in the city where I can really show off,” he says. “I didn’t think I was able to do that in Highland Park at all.”

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