Every year, in the first week of June, numerous restaurants in downtown Milwaukee participate in “Downtown Dining Week,” in which they put on special priced menus in order to attract business downtown at the start of the summer season.  This is an opportunity for us to visit new places, or revisit favorites at a break on price.

This year, we hit two. We went to Ward’s House of Prime for a lunch, which was very good.  I had the house salad, which was nice, with good fresh greens, the prime rib French dip, also very good with lovely meat and nice French fries, and the apple tart with caramel drizzle for dessert. The tart had an unusual rather thick crust, but was tasty and had evidently been made with fresh apples. Georgie had the tenderloin tips with mushroom sherry sauce over egg noodles for main dish, and found that very good as well. At $12.50 per person, this was definitely a real deal. At noon on Friday, Ward’s was busy and loud, but service was fast and friendly.

For a dinner, we went to Pastiche at the Metro Hotel, our first time visiting this restaurant at the new location.  For starters, I tried the country style pate, which I thought was very good and compared favorably with the house terrine we had had in France at places like Les Bacchantes. Georgie had the tomato bisque, which she pronounced delicious. (I am not a fan of tomato soup, but sampled it and had to agree it was the best I had had--.) For “plat” I had the “Steak Frites,” which in this case was a grilled New York Strip, accompanied by French Fries and garlic aioli. The steak had had a very effective flavor enhancing rub, was grilled to perfection, and topped with a blob of herbed butter. It was decadent and delicious. The “frites” were nicely spiced, and went down very well with the aioli. Georgie had the pan roasted chicken breast with lemon herb sauce, which was quite delicious, accompanied by some roasted fingerling potatoes, and very fresh and tender asparagus. (Georgie tried dipping the asparagus spears in my aioli, and pronounced it “the” way to eat asparagus.)

For dessert, Georgie sampled the chocolate mousse, which was a dollop of very dark, almost bitter, chocolate confection of a puddingy consistency, garnished with some fresh berries and whipped cream. I tried the strawberry shortcake, which was a square of rather coarse, yellow cake (the better to soak up juice and not turn to pulp--), set on a coating of strawberry coulis, drizzled with juice, and topped with vivid-tasting “marinated” strawberries and also whipped cream.  I could have used a few more strawberries, but I have to say that, although on first glance, the dessert portion sizes appeared small, after the rest of the meal, they were quite adequate. We went away feeling very well fed.

We noticed in the newspaper that Mason Street Grill was having a monthly special series based on movies, with the first one being “Julie and Julia,” the movie about the young woman who cooked her way through Julia Child’s “The Art of French Cooking.” We loved that movie, love the cookbook, and the special dishes looked really yummy, so we thought we’d give it a try.

The Mason Street Grill is a very nice place. If you are an old Milwaukeean, you might remember the space they are in as having been Grenadiers’ years ago. It has been entirely redecorated since then, of course, with a lot of dark wood and tasteful accents.

If you want the “movie menu”, you have to sit at “The Chef’s Corner,” which is a less-formal seating location at a marble-topped counter, with a good view of the open kitchen. Our server, Ryan, was very friendly and informative.

We ordered a starter of the charcuterie, which was good, but not special. The only home-made part was the chopped liver on toast. The sausage and ham were good, but probably not anything you couldn’t have gotten elsewhere (or at the grocery store). An amuse-bouche of a crostini with grilled tomatoes and cheese also comes with the movie menu (Georgie was able to brush the cheese off this--). That was tasty also. The breadbasket came with cottage cheese bread and a parmesan flatbread. I tasted both, but of course Georgie couldn’t eat either and it would have been nice to have had a non-cheese offering.

For main course, I ordered the Lobster Thermidor. This is bits of lobster, sautéed in cognac, in sauce, topped with bread crumbs, and broiled in half a lobster shell. I found it very tasty and good, and was glad to have had the opportunity to try this preparation.

Georgie ordered the Poulet au Porto, which was a lovely portion of roasted chicken, sauced with a port wine, cognac, cream and mushroom reduction, and accompanied by tiny fingerling potatoes. The Amish chicken was some of the best we had had, and the sauce was delicious.

For dessert, we had the Mouselline au Chocolate, which was a chocolate tart with whipped cream on top. The chocolate filling had a lovely texture, very rich and smooth. It was also flavored with espresso, which was a bit stronger than I liked, and pretty well overpowered the Grand Marnier element. The tart crust for some reason was unusually hard, (made from crushed ladyfingers) but was quite delicious in flavor. If you could manage a bite with crust, filling and whipped cream, it was a very mellow and luscious dessert.

All in all, a very pleasant and delicious dining experience. We would definitely eat there again. (But maybe not for the April movie theme, which is "The Big Night." Georgie has trouble finding any Italian dish that doesn't have cheese in it--.)
June 4th, we went to Le Reve restaurant in the “Village” of Wauwatosa for luncheon. I had the Canard BLT, which was duck confit, bacon, arugula, tomato, and tarragon aioli on a toasted baguette. Georgie had the Pan Bagnat, which was chicken breast, watercress, tomato, basil tapenade, and roasted caper aioli on a soft bun. Both of these were delicious. We split an order of “pommes frites,” which were basically standard french fries, but nicely done and with a very tasty garlic aioli with them. Georgie had a nice green salad with her sandwich. Lunch time is a bit early for wine for us, so we accompanied the meals with a pleasant sparking lemonade.

Service was attentive and quick, as usual for Le Reve. We took home a Napoleon slice and a Valrhona chocolate tart from their bakery case for later, both of which were perfect and delicious. Le Reve continues to be one of our favorite restaurants, although we hear they are getting a new chef. We hope changes under the new regime will not be too radical.
On February evening, the 23rd, we went to c.1880. c.1880 has been very well reviewed locally, and, the day after I had made the reservations, the chef was nominated for the Midwest James Beard Award, so we were looking forward to a meal there with great anticipation. We were not disappointed.

The building, at 1100 South 1st Street, is a very nicely remodeled Milwaukee corner tavern building. You enter into an attractive bar area. The dining room proper is a cozy back room, lined with banquette-style seating around the walls. Illumination is provided by Edison-style electric bulbs, and there is a fireplace full of candles. I thought that the rustic tables didn’t quite go with the rest of the décor, but they served their purpose of keeping your food off the floor perfectly well.

Service was friendly, prompt, and informative. This latter is an important feature, since a typical menu entry for an entree looks like this:
MONKFISH FENNEL/MARBLE POTATO/CIDER

Apparently, the menu doesn’t go into details of preparation, since preparations of the same basic ingredients may change from day to day.

We started with an order of foie gras. C.1880’s foie gras is very mild and pleasantly flavored, and served with a cranberry garnish that worked well. It was served with a couple of toasted rounds of brioche, which were particularly delicious.

For dinners, I ordered the DUCK CASSOULET ANDOUILLE/ELEPHANT BEAN/BACON, which consisted of a large bowl containing two large slabs of rare duck breast, resting on a bed of the “elephant beans,” which were large white beans, each about the size of a quarter, which had been pickled or dressed with vinegar. Slices of Andouille sausage, which appeared to have been grilled, bacon, and other vegetables such as finely diced carrot, made up the rest of the dish. The server applied a warm duck jus to the bowl upon bringing it to the table. This was all quite delicious. The one annoyance with the dish was, literally, the dish. The unnecessarily deep bowl made using one’s knife to cut up the duck awkward, particularly given the low seat.

Georgie had the RABBIT SPATZLE/SAVOY/HORSERADISH, which was a very nice boneless ‘loin’ of rabbit, served on a bed of tasty spätzle, with a lightly flavored horseradish sauce that was tangy, but not at all overwhelming. The “savoy” in the listing was a leaf of the cabbage that had been flash fried in some way so that it was crisp, but still green, and very interesting. This was all excellent, also.

For wines, I had a glass of an excellent Pinot Noir, as recommended. Georgie felt like having a rosé, which went very nicely with the delicately flavored rabbit.

The dessert menu looked very tempting, but we were going to a gathering after dinner where dessert would be served, so we decided to save that for next time. There will definitely be a next time.
Sunday evening, December 20th, we had a festive dinner at Antigua Restaurant, on West Burnham St. in West Allis, and found it very good.

We came particularly wanting to sample the paella, which takes half an hour to prepare. So, we started off with some of the restaurant’s “small plates,” some of which are classic tapas, and some not. Antigua has what might be called a “Latin fusion” menu, with dishes from a number of different countries.

For starters, we ordered patatas bravas, a Spanish tapas, which are crisply browned cubed potatoes, seasoned with paprika, and served with both a spicy romesco sauce, and topped with a bit of cilantro aioli.

We also had an order of the “Yolanda Empanadas,” (named after the person they learned the recipe from) which are an Argentinian variation on the filled pastries. These had a light flavorful crust, filled with ground beef, seasoned with onions, red bell peppers, manzanilla olives, hardboiled egg whites and raisins, and which came with a chimichurri basil dipping sauce. Both the patatas and the empanadas were very good.

Antigua separates its paellas into Paella Valenciana, which has chicken and pork, and Paella de Mariscos, which has fish, mussels, and shrimp. We elected to go with the Mariscos. One order is assumed to be for two, and the dinner-plate sized pan was more than enough for both of us.

When it came, the paella was as handsomely presented as any I have seen, with shiny black mussel shells and lovely large shrimp arranged over the top of the rice. The rice was a rich orange color rather than saffron yellow. Saffron was definitely present, and I believe that the orange tint was due to paprika in the broth, making up for the fact that chorizo sausage, a common ingredient in paella, is not used.

The seafood was tender and perfectly cooked, but seemed bland to our taste. It appeared that the mussels and shrimp were cooked separately and then added to the dish at the last minute, which means that they will not be overcooked, but also that they don’t pick up flavor from the rice mixture. Taking a little bit of the rice on the fork with the seafood tended to remedy this, I would have liked it better had the mussels and shrimp had an opportunity to pick up some of the blended flavor on their own.

For drinks, I had a glass of the Sangria, which here is red Tempranillo wine, orange and lime juices, and brandy. This was not as strongly fortified with brandy as some I have had, which I consider good thing. I liked it quite a bit and would have gladly had another had I not been driving. Georgie had a glass of the straight Tempranillo, which is a mellow varietal we enjoy.

For dessert, we tried the flan. This was an unusual preparation, being stiffer than most we have had, and having been made in a Bundt pan or similar. We split a very generous serving, which had a nice vanilla-bean flavor accompanied by the traditional caramel sauce.

The service was quick, cheerful, and attentive. The restaurant is a bright and airy place, pleasant on a gloomy December evening. Latin music was nice and not obtrusive, and, although the Packers’ game was on the television, the sound was either off or low enough that it didn’t carry away from the bar.

We would definitely go there again. I’d like to try the Paella Valenciana, and there are a number of other good looking things on the menu, including Mexican and Peruvian inspired dishes, that look worth sampling.
Wauwatosa Tour of Homes

Saturday, October 3rd, we took the annual Wauwatosa Historical Society tour of homes. This year, the neighborhood for the tour was Washington Highlands, with six houses open on Washington Circle, Upper Parkway North, and West Washington Boulevard. All the homes were very gracious and handsomely appointed. The two we liked best happened to be the first two we visited. One was a nicely remodeled and finished “Milwaukee Bungalow” on Washington Circle, and the second an “American Tudor” on West Washington Boulevard. An “American Tudor” is based on Tudor design, but is a bit modernized and streamlined as compared to a classic English Tudor home. This house backs onto parkway land along Schoonmaker Creek and Martha Washington Drive, which gives the effect of having a sizable scenic estate.

The Wauwatosa Historical Society does a good job of organizing these tours, and all the docents were friendly and informative. Thanks to the generous residents that opened their homes to us!

West Allis Car Show

Sunday morning, October 4th, we took a quick pass through the annual West Allis Car Show on Greenfield Avenue between S. 70th and S. 76th Streets. As ever, the show included a wide variety of classic, vintage, and collectible cars, with emphasis on later-model American “muscle cars”. Unlike the “Milwaukee Masterpiece” show which covers mainly historically correct restorations, at West Allis there are a lot more custom cars and “hot rods” which are interesting to see.
It’s always a pleasant time if the weather is good. A DJ will be playing classic rock through the speakers that cover the district streets, various charities will be selling snacks, and the people-watching is almost as good as the car watching.

Dining at Sanford

On Tuesday, October 6th, we went to Sanford restaurant for dinner. For starter, we split an order of duck breast, which was excellent. For main course, I had the “Lacquered Quail and Crisp Veal Sweetbread with Grilled Peach and Braised Collards, Peach Kernel Gastrique“. Lacquered Quail has been grilled and glazed, which gives it a shiny finish. Mine was quite delicious, and the veal sweetbreads, lightly breaded so that they had a dumpling-like appearance were excellent also, with a very light flavor. The grilled peach and collards were a fine accompaniment.

Georgie had the “Spiced Paillard of Salmon* with Bulgar Pilaf, Cilantro and Tomato”, which was part of the monthly ethnic menu, in this case, Lebanese. The salmon was perfectly prepared, moist and delicious, and the bulgur pilaf was good with it. The only drawback was the drizzle of tomato sauce, which contained some very hot spice that was too sharp for our taste.

For desserts, I chose the wickedly rich Banana Butterscotch Toffee Tart, while Georgie had the Blueberry Clafoutis. These are both variations on classic Sanford desserts, and were up to expectations.

Service at Sanford was as usual excellent. We were pleased to see that, although it was early on a week night, business was brisk, perhaps due to Sanford being rated number one in the Journal-Sentinel annual review of restaurants that came out recently. The rating is well deserved.
Sunday evening, February 23rd, we went for dinner at Chez Jacques, which bills itself as "Milwaukee's only authentic French restaurant." Whether or not that's correct, Chez Jacques is very good.

We started off by splitting a plate of the "Charcuterie Artisanale," which includes the Paté de la Maison, prosciutto, and sauccison (French style salami), served with bread, toast, pickles and garnish. All of this was very good, especially the Paté.

For main course, we had a couple of classic French dishes. Georgie had the Boeuf Bourguignon, a beef stew with burgundy, onions,and bacon, served with mashed potatoes. I opted for one of the night's specials, Cassoulet. Cassoulet is something I'm always interested in, but it is hard to find because it takes a lot of preparation. Chez Jacques' version is a white bean stew with a very flavorful broth. With it you get a duck leg confit, a mild-flavored but savory sausage, and a boneless pork chop. Needless to say, this is a very filling dish, and just the thing to warm you on a winter's night. I accompanied the meal with a glass of the house Syrah, and Georgie had hot tea.

Service was fast and attentive. We had an excellent time, and excellent dining all around.
Tuesday night, June 4th, we went out to dinner at Devon Seafood and Steaks, located in Bayshore Town Center, the "New Urbanism" style development adjacent to Bayshore Mall. (While not unpleasant, this is basically another mall turned inside-out. Imagine a small-town urban center made up almost entirely of chain stores, which is kind of creepy in a "Stepford Wives" kind of way--.)

Devon Seafood was very nice. We got there at 5:00PM, which allowed us to take advantage of their "fashionably early" menu. This was a good deal with starter (soup or salad) and entree for $19.95, plus specials on wine by the glass and desserts. I opted for the Lobster Bisque to start, and Georgie had the Baby Greens salad, both of which were excellent. The restaurant states on the menu that they will make adjustments to accommodate dietary restrictions, and had no problem leaving the feta cheese of the salad.

For entree, Georgie had the Almond Crusted Tilapia, which came with orange beurre blanc, grilled asparagus, and seasonal berries. This was also excellent, although they could have gone a bit lighter on the beurre blanc. I had the Seared Whitefish, which was perfectly done, and accompanied by my choices of parmesan roasted potatoes (lightly cheesy), and apple-celery root slaw, both of which were very good. We had a glass of a very nice Pinot Grigio each. I can't can't remember when's the last time I saw a restaurant serving baking powder biscuits as bread, so these were a treat, and I was also impressed that we were offered more during the meal. I would have preferred regular butter with a meal to the honey butter that was provided, but that's the only quibble. Service was fast and attentive. We will be going back.

On Wednesday, June 5th, we went to Le Reve French restaurant, located in "The Village" of Wauwatosa, to sample their desserts. (Coincidentally, Wauwatosa's village area is the real thing of what Bayshore Town Center pretends to be--). We tried their Chocolate Raspberry Dome (pistachio cake, raspberry mousse, dark chocolate mousse, raspberry gelee, and dark chocolate glaze), Chocolate Mousse, and a Chanson Aux Pommes, a glazed pastry with a tart apple filling. The Chocolate Raspberry Dome was almost unbelievably good, being very light, moist, and entirely delicious. The Chocolate Mousse was very smooth and rich, but being a bit lighter on the chocolate and sweeter than I would have preferred. The Chanson had a light flaky crust and very flavorful apple filling. service was cheerful and showed no displeasure with us just wanting desserts. We will definitely be coming back here, too.
Friday night, January 25th, we went to España Tapas House for dinner, and had a very good meal.

On this outing we came for tapas, although the restaurant also has full meals such as paellas and other entrees on the menu also.

We started with the Plato de Embutido Variado con Frutas Frescas (Serrano Ham, Prosciutto, and Lomo with Fresh Fruit) which was three different dry-cured meats, accompanied with slices of apple and pineapple and blanched almonds. All three meats were very flavorful with subtle differences. I was somewhat surprised by how chewy the thin slices were, especially when compared with domestic commercial hams.

Next, we had the Tortilla de la Semana (Tortilla of the Week), A traditional Spanish Omelet, which, in this version, contained onion, potato, and more ham. Initially,it came with shredded Manchego cheese on top (which hadn't been part of the description) so we had to send it back due to Georgie's allergy, but the staff was very nice about it and quickly provided a cheeseless replacement.

Then, we had Patatas Bravas, browned potatoes chunks served with a smoky-flavored, piquant, tomato sauce, almost barbeque sauce-like. These were very good and an unusual flavor combination.

Next up were the Croquetas, crisply fried croquettes with bits of chorizo, and manchego, served with the house aioli. We knew ahead of time that these had cheese in them, so I ate all of this dish. They were very good.

After that, came the Vieiras a la Plancha, two delicious grilled sea scallops with a citrus saffron sauce.

The final tapas entry was Costillas Rioja Cortas, which was red wine braised short ribs served with roasted garlic and paprika mashed potatoes. We got a sizeable serving of very flavorful meat--an entree worth at many restaurants, and a generous scoop of the mashed potatoes. There weren't any rib bones in our serving, which didn't matter since the braized meat was literally at the falling-off-the-bone stage.

We accompanied our tapas with glasses of the España traditional Sangria. This was less sweet than many sangrias, and fortified with brandy, which made it noticeably heady. Very good, but drink with caution!

The dessert tray offerings were an eclectic collection of Milwaukee favorites: "New York" cheesecake, tiramisu, crème brûlée, and flourless chocolate cake were all represented. However, we opted for the flan, and for an interesting bread pudding with fruit. The bread pudding was a bit drier than expected--it does not have a sauce as many do--but still very nice. On the other hand, the flan was just marvelous! Smooth, light, creamy, and topped with an exquisite caramel.

Everything we had was delicious and well prepared. The restaurant has a nice ambiance, and the service was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive.

España now has a lunch menu, and has live entertainment Tuesdays and Saturdays (Spanish guitar) and Thursdays and Sundays (flamenco dancing). We will be going back for paella and flamenco sometime soon.

España Tapas House is located downtown at 800 N. Plankinton Avenue (Plankinton and Wells). http://www.espanamilwaukee.com
We always try to get out and have a nice dinner sometime during a con, if possible. The Hyatt Bistro restaurant is very convenient, but it's boring to eat all the meals there. We might have gone to Stetson's as we have done at previous Chicons, but they were closed for renovations, so I began tolling the Internet for interesting alternatives.

Checking first for cuisine's similar to Stetson's, I was shocked by what I found. What passes for a "chop house" in downtown Chicago has prices that put fine dining restaurants in other cities in the shade. One might not quibble overmuch at $54.00 for a steak—if that were for a steak dinner—but it's not. That's JUST the steak. A baked potato on the side is $10.00 extra. So is a salad. So is soup. Given that I'm not a subscriber to the whole "dry-aged beef" fetish, I looked elsewhere.

Elsewhere turned out to be ZED 451. They have one of the most fascinating menus of any restaurant I've seen. (You can see it here: http://www.zed451.com/pdf/ZED_chicago_dinner.pdf ) Moreover, the "ZED Experience" at $48.00 per person is a great deal. (Of course, tax, drinks, desserts, and tips are not included, but that's the same anywhere--.) The service is a modification of the "Brazilian" or Churrascaria style. At ZED 451, you first visit the "harvest tables," which are loaded down with two soups nightly, a dozen salads and vegetables, ceviche, deviled eggs, rare cheeses, several types of charcutrie, artisanal breads, and spreads (truffle butter!). When you are ready for meats, the chefs come round with small cuts on skewers, and you can sample as many, and as much as you want. Meats on offer Sunday night included several cuts of beef, Moroccan chicken, pork belly with hoisin sauce, salmon, red deer venison, leg of lamb, swordfish, and breast of duck with amaretto and pistachio. Between us, we sampled some of everything, but I think the staff was disappointed at how little we ate. However, we were saving room for desserts, and needed it, since the servings of banana cream "pie" (actually more of gateau--) and chocolate bombe with ice cream were ample and delicious.

The restaurant has an impressive wine list. I sampled the red wine 'flight' and found it very nice. (For non-foodies, a "wine flight" is a sampling of a number of wines for a single price, often paired with meal courses.)

The staff was friendly, cheerful, and helpful. One of the particularly nice perks about ZED 451 is that they have a free shuttle that picked us up at the Hyatt and delivered us back there after dinner. Not only did that make getting there and back low-stress, it makes the meal an even better deal since you save on cab fares.

Everything we had was delicious and of the highest quality. Georgie pronounced herself delighted by it. Highly recommended, we would definitely go there again.
Juen 4th, we went out to Sanford Restaurant here in Milwaukee for dinner. As always, it was special and excellent.

After having considered it on prior visits, we decided to start by splitting an order of of the squab as first course. ("Molasses Glazed Squab and Cold Cured Foie Gras, Grilled Mango, Toasted Coconut and Pineapple Granita"). The dish consisted of a number of slices of breast of squab, which was a dark, rich, red meat, accompanied by a portion of light and flavorful pate de foie gras, which was an excellent contrast. The mango, coconut and pineapple garnishes were very effective at highlighting and contrasting the flavors.

For entree, Georgie chose the halibut.("Citrus Seared Alaskan Halibut on Wild Mushroom Risotto Cake, Asparagus Nage.") She hadn't had halibut in a long time, and having determined that the wild mushroom risotto didn't include morels, ordered it with enthusiasm. (Morels are a seasonal hazard for both of us. Georgie just doesn't like them, but I actually have an allergic reaction to them.) She's not a big fan of asparagus, either, but Sanford's preparation was fresh, mild, and not overcooked, so was as good as can be. The halibut was excellent, with a firm, moist texture and distinctive flavor that was well supported by the tasty rissotto.

I ordered the duck breast ("Grilled Duck Breast with Chargrilled Scallion and Green Olive Dumplings, Romesco Sauce"). The slices of duck breast were juicy and flavorful (different from the squab) and the romesco sauce is almost a barbeque sauce, both sweet and piquant. The "dumplings" were small, more like gnocchi or spaetzle,and quite spicy, which made them a good complement to the duck.

We each had a glass of wine from Sanford's always reliable by-the-glass selection, Reisling for Georgie, and a Zinfandel for me.

For desserts, Georgie chose a perennial favorite, the cherry clafouti ("Warm Cherry Clafoutis, Morello Cherry Ice Cream") and I had the "Banana Butterscotch Toffee Tart, Banana Rum Ice Cream," which was also excellent. The banana ice cream was particularly good, being flavored with pureed banana rather than any of the more-or-less dreadful banana extracts or flavorings.

We've been enjoying meals at Sanford since it opened, and we've never had one that wasn't imaginatively conceived and perfectly prepared. This one was no exception, and we look forward to enjoying the cuisine there again.
We went out to dinner to try a new restaurant in the Bay View neighborhood, "Pastiche Bistro and Wine Bar" at 3001 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue.

The proprietors have done a very nice job of converting a classic Milwaukee corner bar building into a cheerful bistro setting. The bar has been cut back to a small service bar area, making room for the ten or so restaurant tables.

As usual, we tend to dine early, so the place was not full when we came in on a weekday night, although it did fill up later on. The small number of tables were handled by one server team, with assistance from the hostess, and service was managed quite well.

Although the business includes a wine shop, I was was a bit surprised that the didn't have any specifically aperitif wines (I like an occasional dry sherry), and referred me to the dessert wine list. At the server's recommendation, I opted instead for a dry white wine to accompany the charcutrie plate we split as appetizer. The plate included a couple of very nice home-made pates, a couple of types of sausage, and some pancetta, served with a lovely whole-grain mustard and crackers. All good, althogh I would have preferred more of the pates and less of the sausages.

For entree, I chose the cassoulet, a dish I've been wanting to try for a long time, but haven't found on a menu anywhere else, and haven't made at home since it's a major production. Cassoulet is a French white bean stew, which includes usually at a minimum ham, sausage and duck. Pastiche describes theirs as: "classic French dish of slow-cooked white beans with pork shoulder, duck confit, smoked pork shank, sausage and lamb." The dish was presented in a bowl, with a whole duck leg on top, the other meats in small chunks in among the tasty and well-cooked beans. I found it very good, and very interesting, and I am edging toward making my own some time soon. Again, at the recommendation of the server, I accompanied the meal with a glass of Cotes du Rhone, a rich red wine.

Georgie opted to try the coq au vin, and also found it very good, but not as richly flavorful as the version served by Coquette Cafe, where it is one of the signature dishes. She had a glass of a nice rose wine with her meal.

For desserts, Georgie had the Puff Pastry Apple Tart ("apples baked with cinnamon and sugar on puff pastry; served with vanilla bean ice cream and homemade caramel sauce") and I had the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart("homemade hazelnut crust with a dense chocolate and hazelnut filling; served with caramel sauce and Frangelico creme anglaise"). Both again very, very good. The Chocolate Hazelnut Tart was a dense hunk of dark chocolate with the hazelnut crust and hazelnut slivers on top. Delicious, but I had been expecting more nuts.

All in all, particularly for a newish restaurant, very promising and very pleasant. Prices are quite reasonable, comparable or less than we would have paid at restaurants offering similar fare.

Ratatouille

Jul. 5th, 2007 11:47 am
The major event of our July 4th was going out to see "Ratatouille," which I unreservedly recommend. It is a charming, funny, clever story and Pixar's animation technique has continued to evolve to a point of having a half-cartoon/half-real image which I gather some people find a bit eerie, but we found quite beautiful.

I have been interested to note that some of the criticisms of the movie I have read that were not wholly enthusiastic had reservations specifically because the rats were sufficiently realistic to make the reviewers squeamish. Well, I guess if that's your hang-up there's no getting around it, but I think that just because you were frightened by "Willard" as a child you should not give this movie full marks for artistic integrity.

True, Remy (the cooking-enamored rat) is not Mickey Mouse. He's not even Jerry from Tom and Jerry. He doesn't wear clothes. He runs on all fours (mostly). Although he understands human speech, he can't talk to humans. (It is established that the humans only hear squeaking--). Remy has fur (OK, blue fur) rather than a smooth coat of paint, and when he gets wet (which happens frequently) he looks like-well, a wet rat. When doing ratlike things, Remy MOVES like a rat. In one shot, where he is panting, his abdomen moves in the right places, so he even breathes like a real rat. Nevertheless, Remy is a very engaging rat, and very cute when doing human things like cooking.

The story of how Remy partners with Linguini, the hapless "garbage boy" who is clueless on cooking, works out cleverly and with a lot of fun incidents. The jokes are fresh and not cliched. The story has some genuine tension and a few good plot twists. The animation is fluid and the background design beautiful with recognizable Paris landmarks beyond the inevitable Eiffel Tower. Both Georgie and I, having worked in food service, agreed that the story included some home truths about the restaurant industry (including the kitchen crew's checkered past--). We absolutly enjoyed it all.

Pixar has done its usual job of levening experienced voice talents, notably Patton Oswalt as Remy and Lou Romano as Linguini, with veteran actors like Brian Dennehy, Ian Holm, and Peter O'Toole, with good effect. Janeane Garofalo brings fine passion to the role of Collette, the only female role in the film. (All the rats are males as well, which is a bit weird when you think about it--.)

Although it is animation, the story is a bit sophisticated for young children, but is a very family friendly film since there is no sex or bad language, and an actually uplifting story, although there is fairly intense cartoon violence, expecially when the humans are chasing the rats.
Long time, no post: so some catch-up entries will follow.

On Wednesday, march 7th, we went to Alverno College for "An Evening in Deutschland" dinner and performance. Alverno is a smaller Catholic, women's college on south side of Milwaukee. Georgie worked in their library for a couple of years, and we are still on their mailing list for cultural and outreach events. About once each year, the "extension" program has an ethnic dinner evening, and this year's choice was Germany. Having the taste of Austria still figuratively in our mouths, we thought it would be good to try their German cuisine.

Alverno sets up for the dinners in a "ballroom" space in one of their newer buildings, which is a pleasant venue. Diners are seated eight to a table, and we did our usual thing of finding an otherwise empty table and seeing who would choose to sit with us. We were fortunate in our dinner companions, in particular a well-traveled couple who had a good store of pleasant chat. The buffet dinner included a very tasty beef rouladen, chicken marinated in dark beer, spatzle, red cabbage, braised root vegetables, cucumber salad, and apple strudel, with coffee, iced tea, or milk for beverages. (The lack of alcoholic beverage, beer or wine, was the only un-German thing.) All the food was quite good.

The after dinner program was introduced by a mamber of the Alverno staff, who gave a capsule review of German history and culture in ten minutes, a feat which would have been more impressive had she not managed to mangle all the names of more than two syllables. The performing group was the DANK (Deutsch Amerkanischer National Kongress) Choir and Folk Dancers. The DANK Choir is one of five German-language choral groups in Southeastern Wisconsin and the only mixed choir. (There are three "mannerchor" and one "damenchor".) There were about three women to every man in this group, and I was rathr uncharitably thinking that the men must be solely husbands dragged along for the ride, since during the early part of the performance the men's voices were hardly present and marked by mumbling when discernible. However, once the chorus got to "Drink, Drink, Drink!", men warmed up and began to pull their weight.

The vocal program was a choral "tour" of German lands, starting from Hamburg in the north, and ending up in the Tyrol in the south. We heard a lot of songs that were new to us, plus some very familiar, like "Edelweiss", "Lili Marlene," and "Du, Du, Leibst Mir in Hertzen." Songs were introduced by choir members with brief descriptions of the region and what the song was about, which made for a very informative as well as entertaining time. The program was ended with four folkdances (five were scheduled, but the CD player refused to play the music for the "naughty" Window Dance) including an impressively complcated Maypole dance which both wound and UNwound the ribbons.

A good time was had by all. We've attended a number of Alverno's ethnic evenings over the years, and expect to continue in the future.
Thanksgiving turned out much better than I had feared it would, although I think some of the family issues are just delayed and I can now shift to dreading Christmas--. My brother David and his wife Val brought most of the meal, catered. Georgie and I came early, cleared the mail and medications off the dining table, and provided the traditional family dishes, like scalloped corn and rutabega, that the average caterer does not provide. My father seemed actually in a good mood, so things went smoothly and with a modicum of actual cheer.

Georgie and I pretty much stayed home on "Black Friday." It's been years since we ventured near a mall or shopping center day after Thanksgiving, and we've learned by experience it's pretty futile to try to find an uncrowded movie house, either, at least around here. So we took the day easy, snuggled in, and did household things, including cooking for Saturday's dinner. (I was making soup, and we find that making the soup a day ahead and letting it mellow overnight provides a superior experience.)

Saturday the 25th, we hosted the monthly Bardic Dinner. The reading theme was "Female Detectives" and the food theme was Classic Steak House. Chef Du Jour Tom Kline brought over his gas grill and grilled delicious New York Strip and Porterhouse steaks. I had made a vegan Soup of Many Onions, using roasted vegetable broth as a base, plus dry sherry, garlic, and seven different onion types, which gave a very mellow and complex soup. Those that wanted could have it steak house style with the floating crouton and melted Gruyere cheese, but the soup was good enough to not need it. Georgie had salad, and provided a classic mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and radish and carrot shreds, with choice of French or Thousand Island dressings. Shrimp cocktail, dinner rolls, and mixed vegetables were among the other dishes on offer, with cheesecake for dessert.

Megan Schaffer was Skald for the evening, and read a number of entertaining pieces, starting with a segment from "The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency," by Alexander McCall Smith, and some interesting period short stories. These included a one from a Sherlock-Holmes-era series I had not been familiar with, so I found that one particularly interesting.
September 16th was the monthly Bardic dinner, this month held at the home of Bob and Judy Seidl. The theme was India, and we had a very lovely Indian feast, of which Georgie provided samosas (pastries filled with spiced potato and peas) as appetizers, and I made gulab jamun (small fried batter balls moistened with either rose or honey flavored syrups) as dessert. Skald Tim Kozinski read from “The 22 Goblins” an Indian classic of teaching stories framed in a macabre setting.
On Labor Day Saturday, we drove to Madison for the Farmers’ Market. This is the high season for such markets, and it was full of produce and full of people. We bought sweet corn, cheese, and trout fillets, all of which were delicious when we got to them. Then we drove up to the Dells and visited my parents, who actually seemed in good spirits despite my father having had another fall recently and just gotten out of the hospital a week before. They are both getting more and more feeble, but are determined to remain in their home, despite the local home care agencies having pretty much given up on them.
I don’t know what will happen, but I have to respect their choice, since I think I might act similarly.

On Sunday, we met Henry Osier and drove out to Old World Wisconsin for the Civil War Weekend. We enjoyed chatting with the various docents as usual, and enjoyed seeing the Civil War reenactors, who seemed to be having a great time being able to interact with the period settings and the museum staff. The ‘script’ for the weekend was that the 3rd Wisconsin division, which was in fact part of Sherman’s march through Georgia, was foraging for supplies and the locals were enacting the part of Southern farmers and villagers who were engaged in hiding their winter supplies from the hungry soldiers. We overheard a couple of the townswomen berating the members of the artillery detachment for having made off with their chickens. The artillerymen were polite but unrepentant. We got to stand quite close by behind the guns as the firing drill was completed and the cannons fired.

There was also a detachment of mounted Confederate skirmishers, who harassed the Union soldiers as they moved along wooded trails to raid the outlying farms. Our timing was a bit off, as we got out to the Norwegian homestead well before the Union troops and got tired standing around in the sun waiting for them to show up. (The Army was, as usual for those times, late.) We caught the motorized tram back to the parking area, and even after a substantial wait for other trams to clear the roads because most of the people on the museum grounds were going the other direction, we encountered the Union foragers still well away from their goal. Still and all, we had a good time.
As a Christmas gift, my team of workers gave me a gift card for Yanni’s, a new restaurant open in my office’s neighborhood. Yanni’s is primarily a place for steak, in the mold of Milwaukee classics like the Five O’Clock Club, but rather more upscale, as befits it east-of-the river location downtown. Journal-Sentinel restaurant critic Dennis Getto had reviewed the place in November, and given it an excellent review. He was particularly laudatory of the steaks, which are “dry-aged”. This process is supposed to concentrate flavor and increase tenderness. Georgie ordered a petit tenderloin, and I splurged on the “surf and turf” (hey, it was paid for). The S&T includes a 12-ounce tenderloin as well as a lobster tail. While certainly not bad, I didn’t find it anything to shout about. Certainly the steak was very tender, but was actually curiously lacking in flavor. I noticed that Getto had his “crusted” with Parmesan cheese. I’ve fancy steaks with cheese on before, and, while good, for flavor’s sake it might as well have been a cheeseburger, so I’m not sure how accurate a description of the meat taste might have been. On the other hand, there is nothing so variable as steak. One steer might be tender, and another from the same lot be tough. I wasn’t really impressed with the lobster tail either—in this case it was just a touch too cooked, and therefore a bit rubbery on top, and a bit underdone on the bottom.

We tried a couple of the other things Getto recommended, and they were as good as advertised. The crab cake appetizers were very good, and the apple pie dessert was very tasty, had a nice pastry texture, and was nicely, and unusually, spiced. And, yes, an order of apple pie is an entire 8” pie, not just a piece of pie. Needless to say, we took a lot home with us.

The place was very busy for Wednesday night, even though at six PM we were some of the first people in the dining room. By the time we had entrees, the room was full. Service seemed slow—it was 8PM before we left, and I asked for the check when our dessert came. I could understand the pacing somewhat—the portions are massive and one would need time to deal with them if you ate it all. A side order of mashed potatoes would serve four, and the surf and turf was garnished with, I kid you not, a quarter of a pineapple. However, it seemed to take a long time just for the appetizers to come, and things never caught up after that.

Be warned that this place is not cheap: Steaks alone are in the $25.00 range, other things are ala carte, and the surf and turf (“market price” lobster) came to $70.00 plus, which makes it the single most expensive entrée I’ve ever had. My opinion is that, for that money, I can get better elsewhere.
Well, it's been a busy week (in Lake Woebegon) and I hope to catch up a few events. We were invited to the home of our friend Tim Kozinski November first for a dinner in honor of Dwali, the Hindu festival of lights and New Year celebration. Tim had prepared a lovely table, set with silk napkins and placemats, and the sideboard had been turned into a flower-bedecked altar where Ganesha held pride of place among other deities. (Tim and Judy Seidl operate "Ganesha's Treasures" an Indian clothing business specializing in saris.) The main dish was to be roast leg of lamb, and we contributed a dish of jasmine Basmati rice with cardamom pods from Georgie. Sweet things to eat are very much a part of Dwali tradidtion and I had gone to a store/restaurant here called "Bombay Sweet" and picked up a large assortment of Indian "sweets" for dessert. "Sweets" are about the only thing that describes them, since they are neither candies not cookies nor pastries in the conventional sense. Quite a few are based on the kind of milk-batter balls that make up gulab jamun, with various coatings and fillings; others are cakes of sugary stuff with different flavorings , and still other are a sort of heavy material with a taste and texture like heavy mild marzipan which may be spiced with a bit of saffron. We also had some very nice samosas, a lovely daal (a lentil pilaf), naan with and without garlic, and the lamb was lovely. There was also saag paneer, but cooked spinach is cooked spinach in my book, and I am not the one to appreciate it properly--. All in all, the dinner was as good as any we had had at most Indian restaurants, and the company was excellent as well.
We've eaten out rather a bit lately, and I thought the restaurants might be worth mentioning: one old, two new; two good, one disappointing.

Selen's is the old place. In one incarnation or another, Selen's has been around for at least twenty years as a supper club specializing in prime rib, steaks and the usual sort of other entrees. We went there Feb 23rd, largely because I had a craving for what our friend Henry Osier calls "big meat." Selen's is the place to go, indeed. You can get a cut of prime rib as big as you like. Not wanting to go to ridiculous extremes, I ordered the Queen Cut prime rib, and Georgie had the petite filet mignon. Both were as good as we had remembered, although we hadn't been there in years. I splurged and had the French onion soup, which is very good and comes with a huge piece of cheese melted over it, and the twice-baked potato. All wickedly good.

Star of India is a newish Indian place downtown, which we hit for lunch before the opera. Star has one of the most extensive buffets of any area Indian restaurant, including the usual items, but with a few new things such as "carrot pudding" which one does not usually find. All of the dishes were well-prepared and tasty, which made it a deal that couldn't be beaten at a mere $6.99 each (plus tax).

On Saturday the 5th we didn't want to cook, so tested Japanica, a new Japanese restaurant in the Greenfield Fashion Center near Southridge. We'd had rave reviews of it from our friend Nancy Mildebrandt, as well as a good write-up of it in Milwaukee Magazine. The restaurant is large and bright, with seating at the sushi bar, "tappanyaki" tables, or conventional seating, which we opted for. We ended up on the quiet side, away from the hibachi tables, which was fine with us. A distant glimpse of the flaring flames occasionally suited our mood. I was surprised to see the large number of families with youngish children there, as I don't think of sushi or even teriyaki as child-friendly tastes. The restaurant was busy all the time we were there. I ordered a sushi appetiser, and a salmon teriyaki dinner. Georgie ordered the mixed tempura dinner, both of which entitled us to a "house salad" and miso soup. These were the first of a series of minor disappointments. The house salad was just a serving of plain lettuce in a bowl, dressed with a concoction the color of thousand island dressing, but with a very unpleasant, very sharp, oniony (possibly horserashishy?) flavor. Neither of us ate it. The miso soup had a mild undertone of root cellar, and was sparsely garnished with a few very tiny tofu cubes. The sushi appetiser came essentially along with the entrees (although service in general was fast)and consisted of five pieces with generous cuts of fish. The "chef's choice" was pretty obviously geared toward newbies, with nothing challenging: the usual suspects of tuna, salmon, sweet shrimp, yellowtail, and another brown and white fish that might have been either mackerel or red snapper. Unfortunately, the sushi just was not first class. I found the fish limp and tasteless, even accompanied by wasabi and ginger. It all tasted basically the same, and the only one I would have been able to distinguish from the others with my eyes closed would have been the shrimp. My impression was that the fish lacked freshness, something I was surprised by given the amount of traffic in the place on this Saturday night. I would have expected the service to be slow but the cuts to be fresh due to volume. I was wrong. My salmon teriyaki suffered the same deficit. It was attractively presented on a sizzling bed of onions like a tandoori dish, with a side of steamed vegetables, of which the pea pods had a woody texture. The salmon was just--lacking in taste and texture, even though the teriyaki sauce was very nice. I have had SO much better salmon in other restaurants as well as at home, that it was really disappointing. Georgie's tempura was good, though, and they stock a good brand of plum wine. However, when I ordered a second cup of tea and it came tasting of miso, that was the last straw, and I'm afraid I went home rather grumpy.

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