Georgia in Wisconsin. No, this is not about Southern cooking in The Great White North. You may remember Georgia, former California resident, Wisconsin native, local fixer, expert baker and friend; she introduced Monkey Bread to The Ham just over a year ago. This time, she is introducing me to Gile Cheese Curds, the New Glarus Brewery and Hinterland Brewery. (The curds are to your left I was told they should "squeak" when you eat them. Evidently a sign of freshness and quality. They did squeak at room temp and after 10 seconds in the microwave. Good snack at either temperature and even better with beer.) We kicked off our evening early, pulling down a couple Spotted Cow brews from New Glarus. This simply acted as a warm-up to serious eating and it gave us a chance to catch-up after her return to Wisconsin. The Hinterland Gastropub tasting menu is the focus of the evening and tasting menus require concentration, a healthy appetite, and a guide, so I'm pleased to have Georgia accompany me during the middle of winter in Milwaukee.
Now for the restaurant review. Nick was our server for the evening. Pretty much a one-man-show and he was covering 5 maybe 6 tables. I will say that he explained each dish thoroughly and accurately, service didn't lag, and he was friendly. Bonus points for Nick for dealing with the hammered couple next to us. The husband shouting "Nick, Nick" in the dining room and the wife laying down in the booth was part bothersome, part comedy for Georgia and I. Luckily, they were finished and out the door by our second course.
We requested the tasting menu from the kitchen. Of course I spied the menu before hand and spoke to one of the staff two days before. I liked what I was hearing. Generally, The Ham doesn't take pictures during dinner, just notes, so don't expect any food porn money shots for each course. Get your kicks somewhere else. However, I did take a picture of the main dining room and kitchen below (after closing) and some filler shots outside of the Milwaukee Art Museum.For wines, we started with the Gruet Blanc de Noir New Mexico sparkling wine. I've been drinking this NM wine for over 10 years and I'm happy to see it in Wisconsin. It paired well with the guanciale and crispy prosciutto as individual items. The sweetness of the syrup was a bit much for the Gruet. The second wine, a Siduri Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains 2008 was a bit of a gamble with the wide variety of foods offered at Hinterland. It had huge toasted oak flavor and a smokey nose when first opened and throughout the first hour. That smokiness subsided and was replaced by a more classic cherry and spice note. The wine paired very well with the duck (as it should) and the salmon courses. The heavy Asian influence from the scallop dish was a tough pair for the Pinot.
Course One: Guanciale wrapped medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese and topped with balsamic syrup and crispy prosciutto. As I mentioned before, the balsamic syrup was a bit sweet for me. I thought the dates were sweet, the goat cheese tangy and smooth, and the cured items salty (naturally). Dotting the dish with the syrup would have been enough for me, rather than the amount presented. Tasty dish and a nice start. While not part of the course, we were offered homemade biscuits instead of regular bread. The biscuits were great.
Course Two: Caramelized Norwegian salmon topped with onion sprouts on top of seaweed salad with a miso caramel sauce. Well presented and clean looking on the white plate. Nice tasting portion of salmon on top of a bed of seaweed salad. The application of miso caramel was perfect in both amount and sweetness, versus the balsamic syrup in course one. I liked this dish. Seaweed is a favorite of mine at Japanese restaurants and in Asian markets for take home. The team here did real justice to the seaweed; well balanced salt, the 'crunch' was tender without being chewy, and not overly seasoned with Asian flavors, namely soy sauce and sesame oil. The salmon was seared and cooked 70% on a single side and simply warmed through on the other. The salmon was moist and the cooking method was effectively a gradient from fully cooked to near sushi. Georgia felt the onion sprouts overpowered the subtly of the dish, but were easily removed, so no harm done. Great dish.
Course Three: Pan seared diver scallops with soba noodles, stir-fry vegetables, peanuts, baby shiitake in a light kung pao sauce. This dish was the most difficult for Georgia and I to reconcile. Did we like the flavor of the dish? Yes. The scallops were perfectly cooked and seasoned. We generally liked the Asian style, the presentation, the overall flavor, and the size was generous for a tasting portion. My question is one of placement in a tasting menu and theme. It's a bold dish, with a heavy Asian hand. Course Two was Asian inspired but not overwhelming. After the more Mediterranean first course, course two worked well with a kiss of Asia. Looking ahead to the Fourth Course, we return to Europe and the meal comes together again. Never handcuff the Chef, but give him honest feedback. The dish is good, just think about the combination in the tasting menu.
Course Four: Pan seared Maple Leaf Farms duck breast on a bed of french green lentils, velvet pioppini mushroom, brocollini, and carrot purée. As I just alluded to, this dish finished the savory courses well. The duck was slightly rare for Georgia and high-end restaurant medium rare for me, but with a well caramelized skin for both of us. The Siduri Pinot shines with this course. Taking mixed bites of lentil, carrot, and duck was the combination that I was happy with. I always find a lack of descriptive words when I really like a dish, and this is one of those.
Course Five: Peanut butter tart with hazelnut gelato, panko tuile (this could be the best panko crispy treat ever), fried peanuts, bourbon-vanilla syrup, peanut dust. Let's get back to the Best Panko Tuile Ever! Call is a Tuile, but I think it was the best high-end Panko Crispy Treat I've ever had. I think they could make that a dessert, serve it with a side of home-made marshmallows and chocolate sauce but that's just my opinion. The peanut butter tart was rich beyond compare. Neither of us was able to finish the tart, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. It was a nice finish to the tasting menu.
After our Asian and European inspired culinary adventure at Hinterland, we had one more drink in the back lounge until closing, where the kitchen crew was beginning to un-wind after service. We unwound with a local Hinterland Luna Stout. In my adventure to The Great White North, I was transported to Asia and Europe twice in 3 hours; realizing I never left the restaurant. And just like the start of the night, I ended the evening drinking a local brew with a girl named Georgia...in Wisconsin.