Giovanni’s

10 Jan

Run, don’t walk to Giovanni’s. At long last, Milwaukee has an Italian restaurant that I consider to be outstanding. Previously Tutto on Old World Third Street, it has been re-vamped into a lovely new space with a wonderful menu. For those of you who have lived in Milwaukee for a while, you may remember the original Giovanni’s. Sadly he retired years ago and the restaurant closed. But, Giovanni is back! And in partnership with his three sons who together have transformed Tutto into a true gem.

The atmosphere is warm, inviting and comfortable, yet upscale and classy at the same time. What added to the mood, the evening I was there, was the live piano music playing in the front. The interior is not particularly spacious, one could argue a bit cramped, but it all adds to the intimate ambiance. The bar is very nice, and large enough to comfortably eat dinner at, which I am grateful for on those random evenings when one does not have a reservation.

Across the board, the food is excellent. The baked mozzarella over a pomodoro sauce melts in your mouth. The veal piccata, quite literally my favorite dish in the world, was superb. My friend had the Italian salad and gave it rave reviews. I will not belabor the menu items; there were 6 of us, everyone had different menu selections and all had the same sentiment…yum! Be sure to check out the picture of the rather large Tiramisu for dessert on eatdrinkmilwaukee’s Facebook page. There was not a speck left.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Giovanni for coming out of retirement! I, for one, look forward to eating here again and again.

Merriment Social

17 Oct

Merriment Social is in the old Prodigal Gastropub space and looks just about the same. Large, open and airy, with garage doors that open up in the warmer months. This place is all about sharing, as so many are these days, but I happen to love that concept. As of this writing I have been 5 times with different people and I have yet to have anyone say they were not happy with the experience.

The menu changes all the time, so there is much point to writing about the menu details. That said, there are a few things they have told me will be staples which are simply superb. The Merriment burger. I ready a blog post where someone said “watch out Sobelman’s. Not sure I’d go that far, but it is pretty amazing. Cheese, bacon, pickles, a special “social” sauce on a milk bun. Oh and TWO burger patties. It is absolutely delicious. My second favorite is the fried Brussels sprouts with pie crust pieces, pecans, fermented honey and thyme crème fraiche. Most times I have gone we ordered two because it is that scrumptious.

There is always something for everyone between the menu and the hot, and cold, dim sum carts they bring around for small bites of plates that change almost every day. Mexican street corn and a smoked salmon cream cheese wonton were the most memorable ones for me. I have eaten with gluten free people, vegetarians and, of course, me, who does not like spicy food, and there is always a fantastic selection that makes everyone happy.

This place is high on the top of my favorites places in Milwaukee. I look forward to going back many many times since the menu always has something new to try and so far has not disappointed.

Lazy Susan

19 Jun

I am a Lazy Susan for not writing a post about one of my favorite restaurants Lazy Susan. This little gem, just off KK on Howell, in a house, is a perfect pick for dinner or brunch. I have been countless times so I will not regale you with all the things I have tried since the menu changes all the time based on what is in season. It’s great for a causal dinner or a leisurely brunch on Sunday.

Last time I was there the waiter told me the menu more of a sharing concept, and they bring the food as it comes. But perhaps they only do this for larger parties. When C. and I eat there we obviously order fewer things and it comes out in a normal fashion and portions one could eat on their own.

From an atmosphere perspective it is pretty chill. Nothing fancy here, I’d probably choose the word quaint. It has a homey, comfortable charm. There are lazy Susan’s and unique salt-and-pepper shakers on the tables, and some quilts and antique plates on the walls. If you’re looking for glitz or spectacular interior design this is not the place.

But honestly, who cares about atmosphere when you just want to eat some really amazing food.

And drinks. Let’s start with the drinks. It would almost be a crime not to start out with a cocktail. The list very imaginative. As I mentioned I will not belabor the details, but last time I had the French Lavender. Uncle Vals Botanical Gin, Guillaumette L’Authentique Genepi Liquer, lavender simple syrup topped off with cava. Fantastique! This gives you an idea of what I mean by imaginative.

So now a bit on the food. Again, I caution that what I’ve sampled will change. But to give you an idea, here are a few menu items to give you a sense of the cuisine. Duck drummies with an amazing Asian sauce. Spaetzle (home-made) Carbonara with ham, English peas in a creamy egg, parmesan sauce with 7-year cheddar. Nettle Gnudi which are hand-rolled ricotta and nettle dumplings with arugula, prosciutto, wild mushrooms and a rhubarb buerre blanc. I do not feel I need to say more. Except, perhaps, YUM!

The Vanguard

27 Jan

I love the Vanguard and I doubt I will ever be disappointed eating here. Who cannot love a restaurant that is all about sausage!

The menu boasts 2 whole pages of sausage goodness, from your basic Bratwurst, Hot Dog, Mild Italian and Cheddarwurst to the more unusual ones like Duck BLT (DIVINE! Duck and bacon sausage with lettuce, hollandaise aioli and bacon) to The Red Hot Zerkel, The Jamaican Lamb Currywurst and the Toulous (garlic, nutmeg and apple). Even non-meat eaters can dine here since there are a couple vegetarian options on the menu. We did find that they were out of 3 kinds of sausage the night they were there, but I chalk that up to the fact they were do scrumptious that they sold out.

And let’s not forget the Baked Potato Balls. Ridiculously delicious little fried balls of mashed potatoes topped with Cheez Whiz broccoli, bacon and chives. Don’t let the Cheez Whiz scare you, they are a MUST!

If you’re looking for upscale dining, this is not the place. It’s a super laid back, it’s basically a bar with some tables (albeit with nice little succulent plants as decoration) with a small kitchen behind/next to the bar. And speaking of the bar, it is actually kind of fancy. They have a pretty amazing liquor selection (3 whole pages worth on their menu) and make special “draft cocktails” that are quite interesting. For example, S. had the Philly Fish Punch made with Don Q Anejo rum, Korbel XS Brandy, Peach Brandy and Lemon. They have tons of interesting draft beers (ex: St. Ambrose Oatmeal Stout, Karben4 Block Party Amber, Three Floyd’s Alpha King) and all sorts of beers in a can, including a wide selection of Belgian brands. And wine. Not as extensive but I wouldn’t expect that in this place. But they had 3 reds and 3 whites and notes on what sausages with which to pair them.

Couple side notes. You order at the bar. They do not give you plates. They have the most eclectic music selection ever; it’s fantastic! And more awesome is the fact that they play really fun random stuff on their 2 TV’s. The night we were there, we got to see old All Star wrestling matches and David Letterman with Andre the Giant. A co-worker, M., said when he was there old Batman & Robin TV shows were on. Did I mention they’re open until 2 AM serving food?  Oh and they open at 11 AM so you can get a sausage fix for lunch or in the wee morning hours.

UPDATE: I went back a week later and the menu has expanded! We tried the Bachhuber Express made with red wine and short ribs with blue cheese, fried shallots and a veal demi glace.YUM. Also, discovered they make their “draft cocktails” in kegs in the basement. Oh and they have a deviled egg of the day. The one I had was with bacon and chives.

Carmella’s (Appleton)

11 Nov

Every once and a while I feel compelled to write a review on a place other than Milwaukee. This time it is in Appleton, WI. I often gripe that there isn’t really a great Italian restaurant in Milwaukee. And I stick by that. In my opinion, they are, at best, pretty average in this city. Sorry readers, I know some of you may not agree, but I am pretty picky when it comes to Italian. At least now I know where to go when I need a fix and not have to drive to Chicago or Sheboygan (Stefano’s). Just drive to Appleton and hit Carmella’s for lunch or dinner.

I will keep it short since many of you may never end up in Appleton, but if you do this place is a must. They have a fantastic wine list. Not the usual labels you find at restaurants around here, but some interesting options at a very reasonable cost and a what I call “the Fox River Valley pour”. No measuring wine in exact ounces here! They have a really nice selection of meats and cheeses, salads, antipasti, small plates and larger plates. The calamari with a spicy marinara and a garlic aioli on the side was to die for.  I had my absolute favorite dish in the world, veal francese,  and it was the best I have ever had. Not exaggerating.  It was served over linguine with a lemon butter white wine sauce that was sublime. Yes, I am going to use that word. And, the seared scallops on a bed of mushroom risotto was superb.

Next time I go back I will be hard pressed not to have the exact same meal, but I need to try the tenderloin carpaccio with arugula, pine nuts, parmesan and truffle oil. And the parpadelle pasta with chicken, wild mushrooms, roasted tomatoes in an asiago cream sauce. And definitely affogato. Once of my all-time favorite desserts that I simply did not have room for after the meal.  Espresso with hazelnut syrup and vanilla bean gelato. Yum!

Morel

21 Oct

Shame on me for not writing up a review on Morel sooner. This little gem in Walker’s Point is fantastic. I’ve been three times, including my birthday. Yes, it was so good the first time, I picked it for that evening as well.

The space is very nice. It has exposed brick walls with wood beams. It’s casual enough that I’d feel comfortable popping in after work, yet, nice enough where I’d feel fine about dressing up and having a night out or bringing clients. There is a rather large counter that spans from the bar to the open kitchen so you can see all the action. They say the restaurant proper seats about 40 which seems right but you are not packed in like you are at some other places in that area.

I have to first hand it to them for the cocktails. Just as their food changes by what is available seasonally, they also make up new drinks all the time. And they’re all quite eclectic. The 1st time I was there I had something called an August Morning made with Raspberry brandy,  lavender, lemon and cuvee. On my birthday,  the bartender made me something special just for me with Morel’s simple syrup, vodka, champagne and St. Germaine. It was lovely!

On the food font, twice I opted for a confit option. Experience #1 was duck confit with house-made smoked pheasant sausage on a bed of polenta with green beans. #2 was a pheasant confit with duck sausage on the same model. Quite frankly the house-made sausage pretty much blew my mind both times. Sadly on trip #3 last week, a variation was no longer on the menu. Sniff. We had the smoked trout appetizer with a horseradish cream and baby kale salad. It was an entire filet of smoked trout and it was superb. C. had beef cheek, which sometimes can be a bit much, but this dish was excellent. As with so many new places in Milwaukee, the menu changes based on the seasonal availability of different foods so it’s never exactly the same. Let’s just put it like this, if you don’t want to try new things or combinations of things or things you’ve never even heard of, then you may not like it. But I do, and all their menu items were imaginative and intriguing to me. And for those of you who work with me, you know one of the harshest food critics we know is T. Rock. And he told me he had an absolutely fantastic meal when he and his wife paid a visit last week.

Last but not least, the desserts; they’re on par with the food, perhaps even better. Very unique with interesting combinations of flavors. We had chocolate shortcake with  bourbon ice cream and brittle. And a goat cheese cheesecake with red currants.  You get the idea.

It’s most definitely on my Top 5 restaurants in Milwaukee as of the writing of this blog post!!

 

 

Movida

13 Oct

One word. WOW! This new Spanish restaurant is fantastic. I am not sure where to begin.

First of all, this is how they position themselves and it is very accurate. “Authentic Spanish flavors prepared with a unique modern flair. Signature craft cocktails made with fresh ingredients and paired with classic Spanish tapas.”

It’s located in the old Industri space …warm and inviting with lots of wood, chandeliers, casks, etc…. the décor is by no means a total re-do but they did a nice job of updating it.

Let’s start with drinks. They all seem to have a Spanish twist. So for example, I had a Madrid Mule. Tito’s vodka, lemon juice, crème sherry, ginger beer, mint. Not in a copper cup. It was fantastic. On another occasion I had a Pisco Sour. Don Cesar Pisco, lemon juice, egg white and Bittercube Bolivar and Blackstrap bitters. Divine. And they have so many more options that I need to go back and check out. A Spanish Margarita made with Ancho Reyes Chili Liquer, Aqua de Valencia with vodka, lemon and orange juice and cava and an Old Fashioned made with red chili simple syrup and Spanish brandy. You get the idea. Not to make it an after-thought but they do have a very nice, albeit not extensive, wine list and house-made red and white sangrias.

As for the food. Everything we tried was exceptional. And, everything, including the paella, is small plates so you can order lots and share. The beef tenderloin tartare with guindilla peppers and a duck egg and manchego crisp was spectacular. For those of you who know me, you know I don’t like peppers. I border on being allergic to them. Well the peppers were so perfect in this that for once a pepper added to the flavor for me instead of detracting. We had a lovely arugula salad with and orange cava dressing, crispy Serrano ham and a Spanish cheese. The seafood paella was amazing served in a 6” mini paella pan. And let’s not forget about the tapa with potato chips and a broken duck egg on the top with chorizo. So good. Dessert was vanilla bean flan, which could not have been any better, and an apricot toffee buttermilk cake for C.

I could go on. But I won’t. Anyone reading this gets the idea. I LOVE this place

Engine Company Number 3

6 Oct

Engine Company Number 3 opened it’s rather large garage door in September, 2014. It’s in an old re-modeled firehouse complete with open beams on the ceiling, Cream City brick walls, gorgeous wood plank floors and a variety of old firefighting equipment like ladders and a big life net. All they’re missing is a fire pole.

It’s open only for breakfast/lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. The fare leans towards the gourmet side of things which is not surprising since the chef is from La Merenda. The menu lists 4 main areas: Fresh from the Bakery, Eggs and Such, Sweet Fare and Side and Extras. Sweet Fare offers up some every interesting combinations such as Apple Pie or Pumpkin Flapjacks and Amaretto or Mocha French Toast. Eggs and Such offers unique plates like Argentinian Steak & Eggs, Langoustine and Grits, Smoked Pork Benedict and your basic Quiche Lorraine (which must be good because they had run out of it the day we visited)

I had the Crab Benedict which is made with lump crab and was delicious. I also tried their coffee cake from the Bakery section and it might just be the best coffee cake I have ever had. I wanted to sample their cinnamon rolls, but they had run out of those too, but I caught a glimpse on their Facebook page and they look divine.  On the flip side, the Langoustine with Grits was sort of average, but C. is quite discerning about his grits so it was a tall bar. And the “classic bacon” was pretty unusual. It came out looking rather grey and not crispy at all. I asked what kind of bacon it was because it tasted so different we actually thought it was from a different animal. I was told it is “streaky bacon” and smoked over at La Merenda. I am guessing some may absolutely love it, but for me, I prefer regular old bacon.

Overall,  the experience was quite nice and they’ve been getting a ton of glowing reviews. The space is very cool, the menu is interesting and unique and I am guessing if we had ordered differently (which I will next time), we’d have been all thumbs up.

Added March 2015: Over the course of the past 6 months they have made great strides on the menu. Fortunately they have added regular old bacon, in addition to their Irish bacon, so that makes me happy. Just be sure to ask for it crispy. And their Quiche Lorraine is amazing. The Gruyere cheese baked on top is to die for. Oh, and they offer single pancakes which make a nice “breakfast appie”. Try the S’Mores version with a graham cracker batter, marshmallow fluff and chocolate drizzle.

Goodkind

8 Aug

In just one meal, I have put Good Kind high up on the list for places to dine in Milwaukee. I already have a burning desire to go back again and again and again, just to sample more items on their menu.

This new restaurant is in Bayview a little north of the Cactus Club and brought to us the chefs of Odd Duck. It’s a very interesting menu; everything has a twist but it’s not as “odd” as their former establishment. Which I prefer. They do a nice job with a craft cocktail list (some of the owners are associated with Burnhearts’s so you know they’re tasty), good selection of beer and wine. The menu offers ups “Bites” which are very small plate nibbles to start (I understand the fried chickpeas are divine although we did not have them), options form the “Larder”, “Pans” which are small plate options, and larger items from the “Fryer” and the “Rotisserie”.

We did not sample a ton of options and I am glad I didn’t because they’re quite generous with the portion size. And I am not going to bother to detail the multitude of offerings because they’re all so unique it wouldn’t make any sense. Plus, the menu is going to change on a regular basis based on what they can source locally so it’s pointless.

That said, to give you an idea, C. , whose favorite food in the world is soft shell crab, had them with a  lemon buerre blanc sauce and he said they were some of the best he had had in his life. And that’s a lot of soft shell crab! I had the rotisserie leg of lamb with a lavender-anchovy rub. One word. WOW. And,  on the at note, they appear to be placing a big emphasis on their rotisserie from the interviews I’ve been reading. For example, I just noticed on Facebook, the put quail on the rotisserie the other night. Yum! And, save room for dessert.  They’re just as imaginative as the rest of the menu. We had something called a Basque cake. It’s an almond cake with Door Country cherry preserves and dense elderflower ice cream.

As for the space itself, it’s great. It’s been all remodeled and it’s very warm and inviting. There is a huge oval bar in the middle that you can eat it and then tables around it. My only caution would be that it is very loud. Very! I’d probably not go with more than 4 people, because if you try 6 the 2 on the opposite ends will likely not be able to hear each other. But who cares, it’s a fantastic place and the food is terrific!

Black Sheep

15 May

I have now been twice to this restaurant and bar in Walker’s Point on 2nd Street and I’m a fan. First of all, because of the space. They did an amazing job with the décor. Cool lighting and lots of candles. A huge metal top bar area. Seating areas with pillows. And sheep artwork that looks fantastic. I have to say this next part because a friend who dined with me, who wishes to remain anonymous, coined the whole effect,  “tre-Sheep”.

On their site, the owners say the concept is “wine meets hot dog”. Very accurate, but they’re actually called “haute-dogs”.   Now, those of you who know me, know the combo of wine and hot dogs is sheer bliss. The wine part is genius. You get a card and use their self-serve dispensing system to sample 1.5, 3 and 6 oz. pours from a selection of 5 whites and 5 reds. And the “haute-dogs” are very imaginative. The Trailer Park dog is my favorite. Bacon wrapped with braised onions and coleslaw. But the Rum Dog was pretty tasty too with rum baked beans, pork jowl and cheddar cheese.

But they have all sorts of other decadent offerings too. (Note: this place is not a great place if you have high cholesterol or are on a diet). The Mac N’ Cheese with roasted garlic and Maytag blue cheese is scrumptious. The night C. and I went we had a special appie of truffle potato chips and cheese dip. Yum! And the braised short rib was superb. Not such a huge fan of the Chicken & a Biscuit though. To top it off one must have the Warm Fudge Brownie with whiskey ice cream that is more like 4 brownies that comes in a cast iron skillet with a little handle mitt.

They also have a nice selection of interesting salads, seafood and heartier fare like meatballs, cassoulet, pancetta-wrapped tenderloin, and,  of course,  the obligatory charcuterie and cheese boards.

And I am very excited that  they just started an all-day Sunday brunch. The menu has the standard offerings like waffles, pancakes and omelettes, as well as more interesting options like the brunch dog with scrambled eggs and cheese on a pretzel bun and foraged mushroom fricassee with creamy polenta. And something I plan not to miss…..Mimosa table service. Not sure what that is yet, but I intend to find out.