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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Victor’s on Van Buren

Surprises with Excellent Prime Rib, Fish Fry

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First impressions can be deceiving. At Victor’s on Van Buren, the bar is an active meeting place, the music is loud and there is a metal dance floor straight from the ’70s disco era. But in the earlier, quieter hours, Victor’s reveals itself to be an enjoyable full-service restaurant as well. On a Saturday night, the tables are tucked away from the bar and you can settle in for some great people watching.

The menu is not large, with a separate list for sandwiches. You’ll find a few appetizers and entrees of beef, chicken and steak. This is reminiscent of a classic supper-club menu, complete with large servings. Items of note include the prime rib and a Friday fish fry that ranks among the best in the area.

Entrees come with soup or salad, and it is easy to see why most opt for the latter. The salad is a “kitchen sink” affair with a multitude of ingredients. In addition to red onions, cucumbers, miniature tomatoes, carrots and lettuce, you will find pea pods, hearts of palm and artichoke hearts, plus a few croutons to boot. Even though a lot is happening, no single ingredient drowns out the others. The dressings, with choices like honey Dijon and raspberry vinaigrette, also mesh well with the ingredients. The salad is why diners should resist the urge for an appetizer—otherwise, there will be no room for the entree.

Prime rib is definitely the best item to order, with the possible exception of the fish fry on Fridays. The cuts are available in two sizes ($21.75-$25.75) and both arrive on platters topped with whole sauteed mushrooms. Sauteed green peppers, broccoli and zucchini arrive on the side, along with your choice of potato. The twice-baked potato is indulgently rich, but even the plain baked potato includes a small bowl of sour cream, cheese, scallions and crisp bacon to add as you please. The price is very reasonable, especially when compared with restaurants that charge strictly a la carte.

The New York strip steak ($27.50) is nearly as good, topped with large onion rings and cooked to order. Among the few seafood choices are shrimp du jonghe ($24.75), another classic supper-club relic. This entree consists of six jumbo butterflied shrimp served over a bed of rice. There is just a hint of garlic. The shrimp are nearly upstaged by a vegetable medley featuring broccoli, asparagus, red pepper, mushroom and cauliflower. The medley coaxes the maximum flavor from each vegetable, even the typically dull cauliflower.

The menu is at its largest on Friday, the evening of fish fries. Soup and salad cost extra, but you receive a loaf of freshly baked bread with butter and your choice of potato. The butter comes in big slices instead of tiny foil wrappers, in yet another Victor’s touch. The most popular fish is battered cod ($11.95), which also happens to be “all you can eat.” Fish of this quality is rarely offered this way anymore. Though it isn’t all-you-can-eat, the five filets of lake perch ($13.95) are of good size. They are served battered or with light breading. Choose the latter to maximize the perch’s delicate flavor. The last time I had perch this good was more than 20 years ago.

The service is sound and the bar stockpiles nearly everything. It is even possible to order an entire bottle of liquor. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m., but most diners will want to move on by then, as the late-night revelers start to arrive and the music gets louder. Victor’s may be known as a lounge first and foremost, but it remains a solid choice for diners. The value is good and few places have a better prime rib or fish fry.

Victor’s on Van Buren 1230 N. Van Buren St. (414) 272-2522 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Yes Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Amelia Coffaro

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