dining out: c. 1880

It’s been a loooong time since I went to a fancy restaurant, folks. But there’s a birthday coming up, which means it was time to go out and celebrate! And we picked a nice one.

I’ve been intrigued by c. 1880 for a long time, but it’s definitely not the kind of place I would go as part of my everyday life, so it always lingered on my restaurant wish list. But with the aforementioned birthday (and, selfishly, some good news for me at work), it was finally time to take the plunge. Chef Thomas Hauck is nominated for the James Beard award for Best Chef Midwest this year, so what better time to try it out? If he wins, I’ll get to nod knowingly!

First off, the space is very cool. A lot of rustic, industrial touches executed in a super classy way. I especially loved the statement light fixtures, with black wires draped across the ceiling. We sat in the back, where there’s a set of four intimate banquette tables – it seemed like this was “celebration” space, since three of the four tables had birthday cards from the staff set up on them (such a nice touch, by the way!).

The service was excellent; the host was very friendly and checked out us several times throughout the night, and our server was great and so knowledgeable about the menu. She let us know that the appetizers are individually portioned, so we decided to just skip ahead to entrees. Plus a bottle of prosecco…it was a celebration, after all!

I considered a lot of options on the menu (our server let us know that it changes up quite regularly with seasonal ingredients from the local producers they work with), but in the end, I had to go with my one true love: scallops.

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Wowza. The pan-seared scallops were served with a trio of sunchoke (pickled, pureed, and sunchoke chips), paddlefish roe and a dill oil. The dish comes with pickled ginger, but I’m not a ginger fan…I always feel a little weird about asking for changes/substitutions in a fancy restaurant (I feel bad for not experiencing the dish as the chef intended), but our server checked in and the kitchen was happy to leave it off for me. And god…this dish was seriously mind-blowing. Scallops are a special favorite of mine, so I know: when they’re good, they’re so good, and when they’re bad they’re tremendously disappointing. And these were so so good. (I also snagged a bite of the shortrib [which is cooked for 48 hours! What!], and it was also amazing.)

For dessert, we split a cheese plate (who knew cheese was a dessert? I approve!) and the house dessert, the Whatchamacallit. The cheese was amazing (cheese is always amazing), but the Whatchamacallit? People. I can’t even remember everything that made up this dessert…chocolate mousse, ice cream, caramel rice krispies, peanut brittle, it is 100% not to be missed. The perfect ending to a lovely meal.

I don’t know when I’ll return to c. 1880, but the next time I have a special occasion that’s really worth celebrating, it will be at the top of my list.

milwaukee’s secret garden

Did you know there’s a magical garden right downtown?

plazahotel

I’ve been completely taken with the new(ish)ly reopened patio at the Cafe at the Plaza Hotel since my first time lunching on it. It seriously is like a darling little secret garden, with the vine-covered walls and twinkling lights overhead. I’ll admit it called to mind the Madeline books that I loved growing up. In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines…¬†The hotel has such lovely art deco flair (and one of the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever been in), it feels a little bit like stepping back in time. Add in some delicious food (I recommend the salmon BLT or the Jucy Lucy sliders…I know they’re most famous for breakfast, but what can I say? I’m a carnivore) and cocktails, and it’s a great place to wile away a few hours before the weather turns on us for the year. The cafe will still be open, of course, but you don’t want to miss the chance to sit on this sun-dappled patio. It’s quickly become a place I’m very fond of. There’s nothing quite like a little secret escape from the bustle of the city.

Do you have a favorite “secret” place in the city?

lunch rush: la masa

Today I got some help from a lovely (and strong!) coworker to pick up a piece of furniture; we stepped out at lunch to unload her car and made a stop at La Masa Empanada Bar before we went back to work. I don’t think I’ve actually ever had an empanada before, so I was intrigued and eager to try this new spot!

Yum! Delicious and adorable empanadas at La Masa. ūüėč #Milwaukee #food #eatmke #myfab5 #mkefood #foodie

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  • Ambiance:¬†Casual cool. This is in the former World of Beer on Brady Street, and I wondered if it would still feel like WOB, but they added some Mexican tile details to the counter and some lovely rustic wooden tables.
  • Food:¬†Delicious! We ordered four empanadas to share (Grilled Chicken, Italian Sausage, WI Beer Brat and Jamon y Queso). They were all tasty, but my favorites were the brat and the ham and cheese. I liked being able to order whatever empanadas I liked a la carte – each one is $3, so it’s easy to try as many or as few as you want.
  • Service:¬†Excellent! Our server was very friendly and attentive, and the rest of the staff was super nice as well.
  • Potential for Return: I probably won’t be back for lunch since Brady Street is a bit outside my usual lunchtime range, but I’d definitely like to come back for happy hour or dinner sometime. I didn’t have the time to try the banana & nutella dessert empanada on this visit which is a CRIME.

dining out: braise

I am a newly minted 26 year old! Yesterday was my birthday proper, but the celebrations actually started on Wednesday. Since some of my coworkers are out of town this weekend, they took me out for a lovely evening of birthday surprises on Wednesday night!

The first stop was cocktails at Bryant’s, one of my very favorite local spots. After a few drinks, we headed back toward the city for dinner. Where would we go? I had my fingers crossed, and my wish came true: it was Braise!

braise

We decided to share a few small plates for dinner. I had tried and fallen in love with the trout parfait at Taste of the Ward, so we had to get the preserves plate. It was my first time at Braise, but my coworkers recommended the bread plate and the pork buns, so we tried those too, and rounded it out with humba (which was an Asian pork with a crispy rice) pictured in the background and bone marrow with bread and turnips, pictured in the foreground. Not pictured: one of my greatest weaknesses, steak tartare, and the chocolate truffle cake we shared for dessert.

I loved the style of the restaurant, first and foremost. I think my favorite overall dish was the humba, though MAN I love me some trout parfait. Not only did they bring out the cake with a candle in it for my birthday, but I even got a birthday card with a little packet of sugar snap pea seeds from the staff! It was an incredibly sweet touch that made the meal feel really special.

My first visit to Braise was a lot of fun and very tasty. I have to admit that Odd Duck is still my favorite small plates in Milwaukee so far, but I would very happily return to Braise for another meal. I’m especially interested in taking a cooking class there! Thanks again to the “birthday club” for the awesome surprise adventure!

lunch rush: screaming tuna

When you’re working downtown, you quickly develop a mental rolodex of possible lunch options. For this series, I’ll be sharing mini reviews of downtown restaurants I’ve lunched at.

I’ve had a tremendous craving for sushi lately; I was super disappointed when Kanpai ran out at Taste of the Ward before I even managed to make a lap around the room (and I got there right on time!). So when my coworkers asked me if I wanted to come try out the Friday lunch specials at Screaming Tuna, I was all in!

Tonkatsu at Screaming Tuna #foodie #foodporn #myfab5

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  • Ambiance:¬†Very chic. This place has a stunning view of the river and the Third Ward…I would definitely love to come back to get the full effect when the river wasn’t mostly frozen!
  • Food:¬†Delicious! As mentioned, Screaming Tuna offers¬†a special Friday lunch menu alongside their full menu which has awesome deals (meals are around $10). Each “bento box” on the menu comes with miso soup (which wasn’t noted on the menu, so it was a pleasant surprise!). A¬†coworker and I split the tonkatsu and another special lunch option, a choice of 3 rolls or maki, which were also all very good. It was a lot food for the price!
  • Service:¬†Very polite & friendly. The food took a little longer than we planned, so this may not fit into a traditional one-hour lunch break.
  • Potential for Return:¬†High! I would definitely come back for the Friday lunch again, but I’d also really like to return in the evening for a little sushi happy hour with some friends. This is definitely my favorite sushi spot in Milwaukee thus far.

review: blue apron

I’ve been intrigued by Blue Apron since I first heard about the delivery service. Each week, you get the recipe and supplies for three inventive dinners meant for two. It seemed pretty fancy and exciting, so I eagerly accepted when a coworker sent me one of her free trial weeks.

My lovely roommate actually brought the box in while I was still at work and was kind enough to put away the items that needed to be refrigerated for me, so I didn’t quite get the full unboxing experience. But the Blue Apron box is pretty huge and everything comes inside a space-age looking refrigerator pack thing. Absolutely everything is in tiny individual bags or tiny bottles…it’s really charming, and it’s definitely great to have exactly what you need for each recipe, but the sheer amount of packaging that went into each recipe drove me a little batty.

My first dish from #blueapron! Thanks for the trial, @haygal!

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As for the recipes…the first one I enjoyed. I made a salmon ramen with tatsoi. It involved three different burners on the stove at once, which was a bit ambitious for a weeknight meal, but it was tasty. The other two meals, I have to admit, sat in the refrigerator. I knew that I should make them; I already¬†had¬†the food. But these are not simple recipes. I do actually really enjoy cooking, and I don’t mind following the occasional complicated recipe, but it’s not quite the same when it isn’t one I picked out. I wasn’t especially excited to eat chicken thighs with freekeh salad and kumquat relish or pork chops with marinated beets, so it was hard to work up the energy to do what I knew would be some intensive cooking (and use a lot of dishes. I have to wash all of those by hand!). I did eventually make the chicken recipe (I was not a fan), but I ended up cannibalizing the last dish and just enjoyed my pork chops alongside some green beans.

Blue Apron just really doesn’t fit my life. Its $59.94/week pricing is steep for me, especially when I’m pretty good at grocery shopping and rarely eat out, but even if it was less expensive, it just isn’t the sort of thing I enjoy. I was really impressed by the quality of the ingredients, and the recipes were very straightforward, so if you’re an adventurous cook (who maybe has a dishwasher) with some extra cash and no time to shop or plan, it would probably be a lot of fun for you. I liked that you’re able to skip as many weeks as you like without penalty (though you do need to decide whether to skip or receive your next shipment 7 days in advance), so you could definitely use a shipment or two of Blue Apron each month to spice up your usual routine.

I think I’ll use the inspiration to seek out at least one new recipe each month that I want to try. It really was a lot of fun to take on something a bit more daring than my usual protein + veggie + carb formula…I’d just like to be the one deciding what that new adventure will be.

dining out: odd duck

I’ve lived within easy walking distance of Odd Duck for two and a half years now, it was one of the very first Milwaukee restaurants recommended to me, and yet it still took me until this weekend to finally visit Odd Duck. Right now, I don’t know how to feel…thrilled at how awesome the dinner was or furious with myself for waiting so long.

We were out with some friends, so I was a good citizen and kept my phone in my bag and didn’t snap any pictures. I wish I had, because pretty much every dish was as beautiful as it was delicious. The four of us ordered a cheese plate, 6 plates to share and 3 desserts (we just couldn’t decide!), which seemed about right. I was still a bit hungry, but I hadn’t had lunch and the rest of the group was happily satiated. The pricing is in line with what I would expect for this type of restaurant, and I definitely felt like we got more than our money’s worth!

It’s so hard to choose my favorites, since everything was so good. I might have to give the prize to the braised beef short ribs sauerbraten, which was my choice, but the rabbit & lentil ragout with a savory churro (savory churro!) also made a big impression. As did the pork belly donburi, and the andouille sausage with hush puppies and…let’s just say it was all fabulous.

The restaurant itself is quite small, but it doesn’t feel cramped, just intimate. Service was very good. I really do enjoy this small plates trend that’s so hip right now; it’s a lot of fun to try a little bit of everything, even though you definitely sometimes find yourself wishing for another taste of your favorite.

If you love delicious, creative food (once again – savory churro!), definitely check out Odd Duck. I’ll be back, and it certainly won’t take me a two more years to do it!

the best peppermint mocha in milwaukee

I’m not much of a coffee drinker. I’ve only started drinking it at all in the past year, and still only rarely and only in its sweetest forms. But ’tis the season, and I must admit a bit of a weakness for that wintery drink, the peppermint mocha. (“You know we have peppermint syrups all year,” a Starbucks barista once told my roommate, but that’s really not the point.)

Now, my mocha preferences are definitely heavily influenced by my general lack of interest in coffee, so if you’re a dedicated fan of the ol’ cup of joe, you might have different opinions. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that of all the gin joints peppermint mochas in the land, from the big bad chain to the plucky local cafe, the best I’ve ever has is the Frosty from Anodyne Coffee.

Oh, Frosty. You’re sweet, but not cloying. Your coffee taste is so rich and smooth. You have a super cute name to boot. You were my first peppermint mocha, and no other can hold a candle to you. Others may be tasty enough, but you have won my heart.

If you ever find yourself at Anodyne, do me a favor and try the Frosty. I’ve been meaning to get to the Bay View location to try their new pizzas…I might just have to get myself a mocha to go along with it.

lunch rush: cafe dulce

When you’re working downtown, you quickly develop a mental rolodex of possible lunch options. For this series, I’ll be sharing mini reviews of downtown restaurants I’ve lunched at.

It’s winter, which means I have very little interest in putting on my coat, scarves, gloves, and hat just to go out for lunch. Luckily, my building is connected by skywalks to several downtown buildings that have food options inside them (shoutout to skywalks, which are totally the best). Across the river in the Chase building is a little place called Cafe Dulce.

  • Ambiance: Way cuter than expected. This place is tucked away in the building, but there’s a whole little dining area with river views and little decorative centerpieces. It does a nice job of making quick food for office crowd feel a bit nicer.
  • Food: I’ve had a sandwich and a pasta dish here. Both were tasty, but neither set my heart on fire. I preferred the pasta (Chicken Bacon Alfredo oh yeahh). They have a really wide variety on their menu, so there’s a lot of chances to find something you like.
  • Service: The crew here is like a MACHINE. They’re super efficient, but also very friendly. I was really impressed.
  • Potential for Return: Very high! Proximity is a huge factor in lunch choices for me, and this one is super convenient. The food is plenty tasty, more interesting than the majority of the food court options, and reasonably priced. I’ll definitely be back.

lunch rush: onesto

When you’re working downtown, you quickly develop a mental rolodex of possible lunch options. For this series, I’ll be sharing mini reviews of downtown restaurants I’ve lunched at.

I had the pleasure of checking out Onesto today as part of Yelp Does Lunch. I’d already heard great things about it from coworkers, so I was excited to try for myself. The lunch was set up as a buffet, so although it was a little different from the standard lunch experience, it also allowed me to taste test way more than I would have on a normal visit. So here’s the quick hits!

  • Ambiance: The space is gorgeous. We ate upstairs and it’s all high ceilings and light wood and cream city brick. Heaven! There are also fireplaces.
  • Food: The meatball slider was my favorite! I would happily munch on an order of those for lunch. I was also really impressed by the gluten free fusilli with chicken…I never would have guessed it was GF pasta and kept asking my tablemates, “It said this was gluten free, right?” The menu item I was most intrigued by going in was the bolognese, and sadly that wasn’t set out while I was there – reason to go back!
  • Service: Like I said, this wasn’t the traditional lunch experience, but the staff was very friendly and chatty and very happy to answer questions. Thumbs up!
  • Potential for Return: Deep in the Third Ward, Onesto is a bit outside my usual work lunch radius (especially now that the temperatures have dropped), but I would definitely return for dinner or if someone was willing to drive!