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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

Kafe Kultura's Diverse Latin American Menu

Walker's Point has another gem in Milwaukee dining scene

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The Walker's Point neighborhood seems to be an incubator for good restaurants, as evidenced by new options like INdustri Café and Juto. Another recent opening, Kafe Kultura, adds even more variety to the mix. The menu is all about Latin America, from the Caribbean island nations all the way to Argentina. Menus that try to do too much so often disappoint, but Kafe Kultura manages the feat so very well.

Those who remember the building's former occupant, Pedrano's, will find an entirely different decor. Kultura offers a spare, contemporary dining room as well as an adjacent bar and lounge.

The menu, composed of plates both small and large, notes the nation of origin for most options. A cone of freshly fried chips quickly arrives—at some visits they were plantains and at others they were thinner chips of yuca. The sauce is a dead ringer for Thousand Island dressing, minus the pickle relish. But this is as tame as the Kafe gets.

Monday features a special of atypical empanadas ($2). Made with corn flour and featuring a filling of meat and potatoes, they arrive with a bold, fresh salsa of tomato and hot chile pepper that puts the neighboring Mexican restaurants to shame.

The small plates are a diverse lot. Ajiaco ($5) is a chicken soup from Colombia. There is little meat, as the chicken flavor is all in the broth. This soup, with two pieces of corn on the cob and many capers in the broth, is definitely worth a try. Tamales vallunos ($7) also hail from Colombia. The meat filling varies by day, but all are made with corn flour and include bits of carrot and bell pepper. Quite unlike their Mexican counterpart, they are wrapped in a banana leaf and arrive nearly flat.

Aguacate relleno ($8), a Venezuelan recipe, is a half avocado filled with shrimp salad (the shrimp are plump). The avocado makes this a very rich starter, so it is a good idea to share it. “Yuca” gets the Kafe Kultura spelling of “Yuka.” Yuka bacon bites ($4.50) are pieces of fried yuca in a bowl with crumbs of bacon. It's a tasty, plentiful starter. Ceviche de camaron ($9) is prepared with cooked shrimp that are split in half. The marinade consists of lime juice with cilantro, red onion and habanero and aji amarillo chile peppers, along with bits of fresh mango. It is one of the very best local ceviches.

The large plates also offer many delights, including a novel presentation for the Cuban standard of ropa vieja ($12.95). The shredded meat with sweet peppers is packed in the shape of a cylinder and served over slices of maduros (sweet plantains). The flavors are true to Cuba.

Head farther south to Argentina for churrasco ($14), a big piece of skirt steak with a side of excellent chimichurri, a sauce of herbs and olive oil that is so very good on beef. Return to the islands for mofongo relleno de camarones ($12). This Puerto Rican classic has a starchy base of mashed plantains with some pork rinds and lots of garlic. The plantains are topped with jumbo shrimp in a Creole sauce. The bold flavors will remain with you for a while.

Kafe Kultura is a true gem. Diners will enjoy warm service and white linen tablecloths at a place that is very affordable. There are few kitchens that are so adept at creating such diverse cuisine. Kafe Kultura deserves to be a success.

Kafe Kultura

600 S. Sixth St.

(414) 270-5858

$$

Credit Cards: All Major

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