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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Port of Call’s Creative Kitchen

New restaurant with RiverWalk access

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Milwaukee’s restaurant vacancies continue to be filled. Recent months have seen replacements for Cameron’s, Yanni’s and Coco Bella, and now it’s time to add another to the list: Port of Call is replacing Byron’s Bistro. Port of Call is owned by the Milwaukee River Cruise Line, which operates the Edelweiss dinner cruise boats. 

The space first opened as Yaffa, and the interior remains much the same. A screen separating the front dining area from the main dining room has been removed, as have the arabesque lighting fixtures. The new theme, not surprisingly, has nautical touches, including a burnished copper diver’s helmet. The tables and very comfortable chairs remain.

Among chef Jenny Johansen’s daily specials will be entrees like Roma tomato and blue marlin stew or sandwiches such as a merlot goat cheese melt with blackberry mayonnaise—a truly interesting, wide variety.

The regular menu offers sandwiches, salads, entrees and a Sunday brunch. Note that entrees normally are served after 4 p.m. Consider starting with corn chowder ($3-$5). It has a touch of cream with celery, peas, potatoes, artichoke hearts and whole crawfish tails—a good introduction to this menu. Among the salads are hearts of romaine ($7), quartered romaine hearts doused in simple vinaigrette with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. The only problem with romaine in large pieces is that the dressing tends to be applied unevenly.

Starters include a Southern touch in fried green tomatoes ($6). Here you get a big plate of them in a tempura-like batter, along with a side of bacon caper tartar sauce. In the South, fried green tomatoes tend to be coated in cornmeal—and for a reason, as the breading will not get mushy as quickly. The bacon caper tartar sauce seems intended for something else. It simply smothers the tart flavor of the green tomatoes, which is the reason for ordering them in the first place. But this is a rare misstep in a menu where creativity usually works.

Be sure to try the shrimp BLT ($8). Two pieces of toasted bread hold thin slices of tomato, pesto mayonnaise, four whole jumbo grilled shrimp and strips of lean, smoky bacon. The lettuce is an interesting Japanese green that tastes like a delicate form of arugula. Try eating this open-faced so the shrimp and mayonnaise can exhibit their fine flavors.

Vegetarians will only find a Gorgonzola grilled cheese sandwich and an entrée of pasta with vodka sauce. The entrees do include a crab and sweet pea risotto ($12), properly prepared with short-grained arborio rice. The crab meat neatly blends in, and the color comes from slices of wild mushrooms, fresh green peas and more of those Japanese greens.

Other entrees ($12-$17) include duck breast, short ribs, hanger steak and roasted chicken breast. One special entrée was a rib-eye steak ($13). This proved to be an exceptional bargain. The steak was minus the bone but properly cooked to order (medium rare). The modest price included a delightful citrus salad with red grapefruit, grapes and greens, plus sweet potato fries with a great horseradish cream.

The bar offers an adequate beer list, the usual martinis and a smallish selection of wines ($6-$8 per glass, $28-$45 per bottle). The item to order here is a Bloody Mary. The vodka is bacon-infused and the mix is made in-house. There are tomatoes, roasted red peppers and horseradish, along with other vegetables and herbs—a true labor of love.

As summer arrives, Port of Call opens up an extensive outdoor dining deck located directly on the RiverWalk. Sit back, sip a drink and watch the riverboats gently float by. n

Port of Call

106 W. Wells St.

(414) 273-7678

$$

Credit Cards: All Major

Handicap Access: Yes

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