Monday, July 25, 2016

Buckley's Restaurant & Bar - Milwaukee

We visited the fabulous Milwaukee Museum of Art in downtown Milwaukee, right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Judy googled for a place to eat nearby and we settled on Buckley's, a walk that took us 10 or 15 minutes into the city away from the lake. It was in its own stand-alone building on a corner, with umbrellas over tables outside and a cute mural on the outside wall. It looked inviting and fun. Trip Advisor rated it no. 67 out of 1,242 restaurants in Milwaukee.
Buckley's
Mural on outside wall.
We opted to eat inside, unlike most of the other guests. We'd just walked and wanted the air conditioning. The menu was creative and unusual, something that I look for. Judy ordered truffle fried artichokes with parmesan cheese, chives and lemon-truffle oil. She started raving about it from the first bite and she has mentioned it several times since, claiming it as perhaps her favorite artichokes ever. The presentation was very different. They had a fried, crispy look, but were very tender. There were also lots of them and they were nicely seasoned.
Truffle fried artichokes
I ordered a cup of clam chowder and was hugely disappointed by it. It had none of the cream, butter or thickness I associate with clam chowder. It did have a fair amount of clams that were cooked nicely, but it had large chunks of potatoes and was very bland - more of a bland vegetable soup with clams. As I look at the picture, it looks buttery, perhaps it was not salted butter. I did not finish it, some of my least favorite clam chowder ever. 
Clam chowder (vegetable soup)
Thick bread with butter.
I also order sauteed shishito peppers with almonds, green onions and romesco sauce. I've had shishito peppers once before from a burger place in Redlands and found them wonderful. They did not disappoint. They were a little charred and wilted, and with a little salt, were a perfect snack food. Romesco is a mixed nut and red pepper based sauce from Catalonia in northeastern Spain. It was mild and did not really add all that much to the peppers themselves, which were the stars of the dish. I'd love to sit down to shishito peppers in front of the tv and watch a football game. I'm starting to think that they may be the best peppers as a stand-alone dish I've had. The size is right, they have spice, but are not overly so, and they have a nice flavor. 
Shishito peppers and romesco sauce (the orange bowl)
Judy also got what I believe was a beet carpaccio salad with arugula, smoked blue cheese, and a pistachio vinaigrette. I'm not sure why they called it a carpaccio, as that term relates to raw meat thinly sliced or pounded thin. Perhaps it was because the beets were thinly sliced? It had lots of chunks of pistachio and the blue cheese was nice. 
Beet carpaccio salad 
I also got grilled octopus with polenta, a paste made from corn meal and then fried or baked. I've not had much polenta, but I enjoyed it. It was quite thick and reminded me of grits. It had a few leaves of frisee on top, a member of the endive family with a slightly bitter taste. It had fig vincotto, which is a dark, sweet, dense condiment made in northern Italy from non-fermented grapes, but this was apparently made from figs. I believe it was the dark substance on the octopus in the picture. Finally, it had a paprika-pancetta vinaigrette. Pancetta is an Italian bacon made from pork belly that is salt cured and spiced. It made a very cool oily-type substance on the plate that reminded me very much of hot chile oil, so much so that I was a little disappointed it did not have the heat of the hot chile oil. I wanted the vinaigrette to be more aggressive/assertive. This dish was very unusual. I've not had much octopus and certainly none prepared in this way. It was good, but it had the potential for so much more. I wanted to like it more than I did just because it was so unusual and fun looking. 
Grilled octopus with polenta
Overall, we really liked Buckley's, a place we would visit again without hesitation.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Shropshire Blue Cheese

Six years ago I did a post on Shropshire Blue cheese. In short, it is made in England by the same cheese makers and by the same process as Blue Stilton, but it has added annatto that colors it orange, makes it creamier and also milder than Blue Stilton. 

Recently I was at the office of Cheese of the Month Club and saw a wheel of Shropshire Blue, saw the wheel cut into portions and then got to take some home with me. I have not seen many wheels of cheese and seeing a cheese I love in such a large quantity was really fun. I have to say that Shropshire Blue is some of my favorite cheese, blue or otherwise. First, the orange cheese and blue veining are very distinctive, it just looks interesting and cool. Second, it is more solid than Roquefort, another favorite of mine, but softer than Blue Stilton, and the flavor is just about perfect. It is not overpowering, like Roquefort can be, and it is not as strong as Blue Stilton either, but it still has a very distinctive and strong blue taste. 

I have been into cheese sandwiches recently, and made one with the Shropshire Blue. I was using the heels of the bread, not my favorite part, but it turned out to be one of my best cheese sandwiches. I put mayonnaise on both slices of bread, liberally place on sliced sweet onion, put on sliced avocado and sliced tomato, a thin slice of Shropshire Blue to cover the sandwich, a little bit of olive oil, some red leaf lettuce and some salt and pepper. I gave Judy a bite and she came back for more. The cheese gave it a nice strong, but not overpowering flavor.  


I also tried it on a salad. Instead of sliced up like I normally would use it, I put some in a bowl with olive oil and chipotle mayonnaise and mixed it together for my dressing. I added sliced sweet onion, tomatoes, avocado and red leaf lettuce, basically the same ingredients that were on my sandwich, and mixed in the dressing. I love that combination of flavors. It was not as strong as some commercial blue cheese dressings, but it was flavorful


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Graze - Madison, WI

We visited Graze on a Wednesday evening while an orchestra played a free concert on the grounds of the Wisconsin Capitol building across the street. When we had difficulty with traffic, then problems finding a parking spot, then saw thousands of people picnicking and milling around the capitol building we figured we would have a long wait. But we got right in without a problem. 
The restaurant was upscale, housed in the U.S. Bank building, and I love the Graze concept. They concentrate on produce from local farms and on grass-fed beef and farms that use rotational grazing. The name speaks to that concept. It was also rated well, no. 3 out of 734 restaurants in Madison. 

I'm a sucker for deviled eggs, even though I am always disappointed when I get them. This was another case-in-point. I ordered the deviled eggs that had smoked paprika aioli. The presentation got my hopes up. The egg yoke mixture looked like fire emanating from a torch and a burnt orange colored dressing, the paprika no doubt, was lava-like at their base. The egg yolk was very creamy, but alas, it and the rest of the egg and dressing were not particularly flavorful. 
I also ordered a roasted beet salad with goat chevre cheese, smoked almonds, berries, mint and a raspberry dijon vinaigrette dressing. Like the deviled eggs, I shared both of these with Judy. The salad was good, but very similar to other roasted beet salads I've had before. There again, I was hoping for something a little more interesting, different. 
Judy struck gold with her order of bibimbap, a Korean dish with tofu, crispy rice, a sunny-side up egg, vegetables and spicy gochujang, a Korean condiment made of red chili, fermented soybean and rice. This dish was fantastic. It was colorful, was full of different textures, was quite spicy and the ingredients all came together well. Among the vegetables, I believe I detected a healthy dose of kimchi, which I love, and the rice was kind of glued together and more solid in a way I'm not familiar with. This is a dish I would order again.  
Moules frites were chili-braised mussels with shaved fennel, a spicy white wine broth and cilantro and fries with aioli (the picture below this). The broth was orange-ish and had a little bite to it. The mussels were a little over-done, not as plump and juicy as I like them. The broth was different than anything I've had in that context before, but I still much prefer the standard garlic broth. I dipped bread (see a picture below) and ordered another piece of bread to soak up the remaining broth which they charged for. 
These fries may be the best fries I've ever eaten. They were golden brown, but not overcooked, and nicely spiced. I could eat them forever. The aioli was also a fabulous addition. Not too long back I got some aioli that was much too lemony. This was perfect. I would come back just for these fries. 
Interesting that at a very nice restaurant like this one my favorite thing would be fries. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Renard's Cheese

On our visit to Wisconsin we visited the Door Peninsula which is about two hours north of Milwaukee by car and juts into Lake Michigan, creating the land barrier which makes Green Bay on the west side, separating it from the rest of Lake Michigan. On our drive, which eventually reached Gills Rock and Northport at the end of the peninsula, we stopped at Renard's Cheese just outside of Sturgeon Bay, about half-way down. 

We had some Lay's Kettle Cooked Jalapeno flavored potato chips in the car and I spotted some cream cheese & chives spread that looked like it would go perfectly with the potato chips. It did. Several hours later the potato chips and spread were all gone and I was wishing for more. The smoothy creaminess of the spread with the really strong chips complemented each other. 

Judy had me get some Renard's natural olive cheddar cheese which was infused with chunks of olive. She also got a baguette with the intended purpose of making some car-sandwiches with the cheese. A little later on we stopped at a roadside stand and I purchased some smoked whitefish, an oily, bony fish that is captured in Lake Michigan and smokes very nicely. The smoked whitefish is pretty strong and combined well with the olive cheddar on a piece of baguette. Sometimes our little car-meals, put together from road-purchased items, are as good or better than some of our restaurant meals. 


Smoked whitefish
Smoked whitefish and cheese on a baguette.
We brought home some Renard's Havarti jalapeno cheese, morel & leek Monterey jack cheese and ghost chili pepper Monterey jack cheese. I have been eating cheese sandwiches the last week and have almost finished them off. My cheese sandwiches are made of potato bread, mayonnaise, sweet onion slices, avocadoe slices, slices of cheese and sometimes red leaf lettuce. They have been outstanding. The ghost pepper cheese has got a good kick to it. I love the strong flavor. The jalapeno cheese was not nearly as hot, but still had a bit of a kick and the cheese was more creamy. The morel & leek cheese was much more mild, but creamy, and worked well on sandwiches and in salads. 

Sandwich with sweet onion, avocado, mayo and ghost pepper cheese.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Quicke's Oak Smoked Clothbound Cheddar

In addition to exotic meats, Anshu Pathak sells cheese through an internet based cheese of the month club.  I visited him recently and he gave me access to his cheese locker where he keeps some cheeses for himself. He allows some of his personal cheeses to age longer because he likes the stronger flavors that result. 

I previously had tried some Quicke's Elderflower Cheddar from him that I really liked. In that previous post, I gave a little background on the Quicke's family that live in Devon, England, southeast of Bristol. This time I got some Quicke's Oak Smoked Clothbound Cheddar that had been aged at least 12 months. They take mature cheddar, then cold-smoke it using oak chips from their own estate. Anshu had allowed this particular approximate eighth-round to age even longer. It had a nice bloom on the outside which he had cut-off and then cut into smaller portions, one of which I took home with me. 


The outer bloom is cut-off using a cheese cutter.
Quicke's Oak Smoked Clothbound Cheddar
The taste of the oak smoked cheddar is very assertive, very cheddary, with just a hint of a crystal crunch, and a very pronounced smoky flower, but not overpowering.  

Judy had just come home from a retreat at St. Andew's Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Valyermo, on the back-side of the San Gabriel Mountains. She brought home a bottle of jalapeno extra virgin olive oil which I believe is made by a different monastery further north in California. We tasted it and it had a wonderful strong, almost smoky, flavor. 
I love the angel on the bottle.
As I thought about lunch, I decided to pair the oak smoked cheddar and the jalapeno olive oil in a salad full of bold and smoky flavors. So a cut up some red leaf lettuce; heated and then sliced up some bottled roasted red peppers; sliced up some avocado; roasted some white sweet corn on the cob with the jackets on on our outdoor grill, then cut the corn off using a knife; chopped up some sweet onion; broke up slices of the oak smoked cheddar; and then tossed them all together in a salad. I even added some cayenne pepper to my salad to give it more of a kick. 


The result was great. I love olive oil as a salad dressing and the smokiness of the cheese, the corn and the red pepper combined well with the heat of the jalapeno and cayenne pepper. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Kegel's Inn - Milwaukee

On my drive up through northern Michigan and northern Wisconsin I became aware of the "Friday Fish Fry," it was on signs everywhere. It kind of dove-tailed with one of my goals on the trip which was to try walleye, a fish I'd never eaten before. I stopped and asked several places where I could find some walleye to eat and invariably they would say, such and such restaurant serves it Friday night at their fish fry. Well, unfortunately, I was not going to be in the area on a Friday night. In Eagle River, Wisconsin, part of the Land O' Lakes Region, it seemed like the perfect spot for eating walleye, so I asked at a gas station, at a place that sold smoked fish, and at a pub/restaurant that served fish, but no walleye. The pub people suggested a place five miles west of town, next to a lake, that they said would be serving it. So I drove out and found the place and was told they were serving walleye that night, but not for lunch.

Friday arrived and Judy, who had joined me mid-week, and I were in the Milwaukee area. I told her I wanted to eat the Friday Fish Fry somewhere. So she got on her i-Phone and googled the best Friday Fish Fry in Milwaukee and got a number of names of restaurants. From there we called several until we found two that served walleye and then picked the closest one: Kegel's Inn. We asked for a reservation and they said they were filling up and could not give reservations, so we drove over as quickly as we could. We arrived about 5:15 p.m., still very early, and cars and people were converging on the place like it was a Saturday afternoon football game. I dropped Judy off to get in line and parked about a block and a half away. Crazy. 


The place is huge, has a rock exterior and looks like it could fit in the German countryside. Inside everything screams German beer hall. Stained glass windows with beer hall motifs and steins and murals lining the walls. Incredibly, we had a 45 minute wait - at 5:15! A plaque on the wall noted that Kegel's was established in 1924 by John and Anna Kegel, Austrian immigrants. It was during prohibition, so it opened as a "soft drink parlor" but was actually a "speakeasy" with frosted windows to keep people from peering inside. They sold 20 cent whiskey and 15 cent home-brewed beer along with a free meal. The present building was completed in 1933 and prohibition was over, so stained glass replaced the frosted glass.



A nice article in OnMilwaukee gives some background on the Milwaukee Friday fish fry. Many of the European immigrants to Milwaukee were Catholic and consuming fish on Friday was a way of avoiding "meat" consumption. Milwaukee is right next to Lake Michigan, so fish is easy to get and cheap. Then, during Prohibition, "fish fries became a way for former alcohol-purveying establishments to stay in business. Many went so far as to conceal their illicit speakeasies beneath the intoxicating aroma of frying fish, offering free or low-cost fish to those who imbibed." Well, that is exactly the story of Kegel's Inn. 

A comment on Trip Advisor (which rates Kegel's as no. 74 out of 1,242 restaurants in Milwaukee) mentioned that many of the murals at Kegel's were painted by a German artist during the Depression for free food. 



The clientele was mostly older, except for us of course! We finally got seated and were given some wonderful salty and very strong rye bread along with some butter. I also ordered a cup of clam chowder that was quite ordinary. I ordered walleye and Judy ordered cod. Both were breaded and fried, over-cooked and tasteless. The walleye was better than the cod, but neither were very good. I loaded on tartar sauce and eventually catsup to choke it down. We also got potato pancakes along with apple sauce. The potato cakes were much different from any I've ever had - much less potato and more gooey and I did like them. 


walleye
cod
After anticipating the Friday fish fry for days and then waiting for 45 minutes to be seated, I could not have been much more excited to eat a meal.  That excitement ended in a big thud. 

One of my partners who does a lot of fishing went to law school in Ohio and he says he couldn't stand to eat the fish there. He quit trying.  A gourmet eater I know, who travels all over the country to eat at fine restaurants, told me that people in the Midwest don't know how to cook. All I can scratch my head over is why all those people wait all that time to eat that food. 

Given the above, I must say that the walleye I had at The Old Fashioned in Madison was very good, as was the rest of that meal. We also did have some good food in other places on our trip, but also had some that was quite mediocre.