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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

CONTEMPORARY

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Bacchus

925 E. Wells St.

Bacchus is an expensive place that has it all: a setting overlooking Lake Park, a spacious luxurious interior, an innovative contemporary American menu and fine service to match. The small touches, like flatware being replaced at every course, justify the expense. Dinner entrees include a selection of steaks, other meats and seafood. The wild barramundi, imported from Australia, is exceptional. This is a very worthy restaurant in a setting it deserves. (J.B.) $$$$. CC. Handicap access. FB, RS. 765-1166

Balzac

1716 N. Arlington Place

The preferred beverage at Balzac is wine, although the beer list also is not bad. The menu enhances the wine drinking experience with thoughtful cheese plates and a myriad of small plate courses. The pizzas have a thin crust; consider white and sweet potato frites served with a trio of dipping sauces. The vegan strudel will please any vegetarian. Meat eaters might try duck leg confit or some lamb lollipops. The outdoor tables are a quiet refuge in summertime. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB, OD. Handicap access. 755-0099

Beta by Sabor

777 N. Water St.

Beta by Sabor is housed in the same building as the Brazilian churrascaria but the two places could not be more different. Beta is in the bar and lounge area and has an intriguing menu of small plates. Surf and turf is carpaccio of beef paired with tuna. The heirloom tomato salad explodes with the flavors of summer. The prices are quite affordable. Large groups should consider the nitrogen ice creams and sorbets, prepared tableside. Order several items to share, as they are meant to serve five to 10 customers. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. Handicapped access. 431-3106

Blue's Egg

317 N. 76th St.

The Egg serves only breakfast and lunch, with some of the breakfast items served at all times. Morning options include a range of omelets, benedicts, pancakes and French toast. The lunch menu adds soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees. Focusing on good ingredients and generous portions, the Egg is the type of restaurant that should be seen more often in Milwaukee. (J.B.) $. CC. FB. SB. Handicap access. 299-3180

Bosley on Brady

815 E. Brady St.

A white linen establishment with a popular and trendy bar, the menu focuses on seafood along with a few steaks. Many items have touches of Key West. Grouper, though pricey, is always impeccably fresh. Try a fancy fried green tomato, luxuriantly topped with lump crab meat and shrimp. Pistachio crusted scallops also are the stuff of dreams. There is a thoughtful wine list with 90-some choices. (J.B.) $$$. CC. OD. Handicap access. 727-7975

Braise

1101 S. Second St.

Braise combines a cooking school with a restaurant. The chef/owner, active in the locally sourced ingredient movement, has put together a dazzling menu with items as refined as a dock confit flatbread to a playful pickled green tomato risotto. The restaurant has a rustic front bar and a dining room dominated with two communal constructed from the wood of bowling alleys that formerly were in the building. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. Handicapped access. 212-8843

Buckley's

801 N. Cass St.

Though Buckley's is small it has charm and style. The dining room is dominated by a durable wooden bar with an ample stockpile of Guinness. Outside of Irish stew the menu bypasses Eire completely with panini sandwiches, a few Italian entrees, BBQ ribs and salads. An appetizer not to miss is a plate of three Kobe beef burgers, tender and delicious. The menu may be small but the warm service and quality of the food compensate. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FF. FB. Handicap access. 277-1111

Café 1505

1505 W. Mequon Road

(behind M&I bank)

Serving only breakfast and lunch, the café is a pleasant place to enjoy light fare. Breakfasts center around omelets, French toast, baked goods and a quiche of the day. Lunches offer salads, sandwiches plus a few entrees. The salad ingredients are always very fresh and the daily soups all are very well prepared. Salads include a parmesan portabella and balsamic chicken. Try the eggplant pita or a jumbo half-pound Angus burger. Service is efficient and pleasant making. (J.B.) $-$$. CC. SB. Handicap access. (262) 241-7076

Café Benelux

346 N. Broadway

The rooftop deck is a prime spot for watching the activities of Milwaukee's Third Ward. The menu, not surprisingly, has a few Dutch and Belgian items. Bitterballen are Dutch meatballs served with curry ketchup and the Belgian mussels are prepared five ways. The star item is the frites, which are thin and crisp, served with more than a dozen sauces. Opt for the roasted garlic aioli, which never disappoints. The rest of the menu wanders around casual fare with a sound selection of burgers, sandwiches and a few entrees. The list of Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers is exceptional. (J.B.) $$. FB. OD. SB. LT. CC. Handicapped access. 501-2500

Café Calatrava

700 N. Art Museum Drive

Where are the tables with the city's best view? A contender is Café Calatrava in the Milwaukee Art Museum. The café is located under the main entry hall and has sleek slanting windows overlooking Lake Michigan.  The menu is contemporary with  Latin, Asian, European and American influences. The café is only open for lunch and Sunday brunch. (J.B.) $$. SB. Handicap access. 224-3831.

Café Hollander

2608 N. Downer Ave., 963-6366

7677 State St., 475-6771

The Café Hollander offers casual European fare in a setting to match. The menu focuses on things Dutch and Belgian. Think heaping bowls of steamed mussels and fries with a side of mayonnaise. Dining is on two levels; the large bar has a distinguished menu of Belgian beers. Though the split pea soup is very Dutch the menu has considerable diversity, adding burgers, pastas and a daily fish fry to this Low Country mixture. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. OD. LT. SB. Handicap access.

Cafe LuLu

2261-2265 S. Howell Ave.

Café Lulu boasts a newer bar on one side and the original diner on the other. The newer section features potted plants, hardwood floors and vintage armchairs. The menu is vegetarian friendly with appetizers, salads and sandwiches. Try a roasted Tuscan salad with a bit of fresh goat cheese. Meat eaters will love the half-pound heart attack, a burger topped with Gorgonzola. Homemade potato chips or crunchy Asian slaw accompany sandwiches. Pies are homemade. (J.B.) $-$$. CC. FB. SB. Handicap access. 294-5858

Crazy Water

839 S. Second St.

Casual, light entrees and appetizers are the forte of this small kitchen and wonderful Walker's Point hideaway. Sauces have hints of worldwide influences from chorizo-stuffed dates to ribeye with chimmichurri. Crazy is defined by the “crazy” shrimp with Asian BBQ sauce.   (J.B.) $$. CC. FB, OD. RS. 645-2606

Dream Dance Steak

1712 W. Canal St.

(in Potawatomi Casino)

Dream Dance is the showcase restaurant of the Potawatomi Casino. There are champagne and cognac carts as well as a tremendous wine list. The approach is contemporary with a focus on American ingredients. Whether you try Maine diver scallops or venison, everything will be prepared with respect and skill. The décor is of contemporary luxury, the cutlery ultra pricey and everything from the amuse-bouche to dessert an exercise in good taste. The prices rank with the most expensive but this is a worthy splurge. (J.B.) $$$$. CC. FB. Handicap access. 847-7883

The Eatery on Farwell

2014 N. Farwell Ave.

The Eatery takes a different path from the many ethnic restaurants on Farwell. The menu ranges from old-time standards like oysters Rockefeller, braised short ribs and burgers to items like bruschetta, filet au poivre and duck drumettes. The setting is casual and the food unpretentious. Brunch is served daily until 3 p.m. The bar is a pleasant place to be but the prime tables are outdoors on the three terraces. Sit back and watch the street traffic. (J.B.) $$. CC. FB. OD. Handicap access. 220-1110.

Elsa's on the Park

833 N. Jefferson St.

The facade is Victorian brownstone; the interior is trendy. Fresh flowers adorn every table and the crowd is well dressed. So why is everybody eating burgers and pork-chop sandwiches with their martinis? Try one and you'll know why. (J.B.) $$. CC. FB. FF. LT. Handicap access. 765-0615

Envoy

2308 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Envoy is the jewel of the renovated Ambassador Hotel. The lobby is an Art Deco masterpiece and the dining room illuminated by massive chandeliers. The menu is contemporary with a fusion of international ingredients. Barramundi is an excellent fish of Australian origin. Try a free-range chicken breast or an American Kobe beef burger.  (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. RS. SB. Handicap access. 345-5015

Firefly Urban Bar & Grill

7754 Harwood Ave.

The menu focuses on wood-smoked meats. Entrees include a choice of two sides, mostly picnic fare like baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad. The refreshing crunch salad is a legacy of the old Bjonda. For an appetizer the samosa is a curry-flavored delight and the lamb sausage pizza is worth a visit in itself. This is casual fare with high ambitions. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. Handicap access. 431-1444

Harry's Bar & Grill

3549 N. Oakland Ave.

Although the bar dominates the dining room, this is very much a restaurant. Harry's takes an international approach in its menu with bits of the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia. They also make some very decent all-American burgers. Light eaters will find a number of salads. Evenings offer entrees that are more substantial with beef, chicken, seafood and pasta options. The outdoor terrace is a fine spot for Sunday brunch. Sip a mimosa and savor the eggs benedict. (Jeff Beutner) $$$. CC. RS. FB. FF. LT. SB. OD. Handicap access. 964-6800

Harvey's Central Grille

1340 W Towne Square Road, Mequon

Imagine sipping a perfectly chilled glass of Chardonnay while listening to Brett Dennen's poetic lyrics stream out of the speakers...surreal, isn't it? After a long day, Harvey's conservative yet borderline artsy atmosphere is just what the doctor ordered. It's an establishment tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city with contemporary style and service. Quite frankly, it's “Sex in the City” (pre-dinner martinis with friends) meets Ralph Lauren (wine and a salmon salad) polished off with a tempting slice of paradise (tiramisu). (N.P) $-$$. CC. RS, OD, FB, FF, SB. Handicap Accessible. 262-241-9589

Hi Hat Lounge/Hi Hat Lounge and Garage

1701 N. Arlington Place

Alike in originality, contrasting in atmosphere, the conjoined pubs offer affordable high quality comfort food daily until midnight. Classic and innovative craft cocktails made with fresh ingredients and a good selection of beers are served in both rooms. The low-key elegance of the architecturally stunning Lounge facilitates conversation, and the handmade conservationist décor of the Garage is a pleasant conversation topic. Every demographic is welcome at this popular Brady Street landmark with occasional live jazz and the Garage's big screen TV. (J.S.) $$. CC. FB, FF. OD. SB. LT. 225-9330

Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub

222 E. Erie St.

Hinterland is a gastropub where one can order a beer and enjoy fine dining at the same time. It's not a pint-drinking and dart-shooting kind of pub. This is an elegant bar and restaurant with a small lounge located in a classic renovated Third Ward building. Ingredients include such foodie buzz words as veal sweetbreads, pork belly and lamp carpaccio. Seafood is wood grilled. (J.B.) $$$-$$$$. CC. Handicap access. 727-9300

Hotch-A-Do

1813 E. Kenilworth Place

The extensive brunch menu served daily until 3 p.m. includes traditional favorites plus unique creations such as Hotch Hash and French toast made with zucchini bread. Over a dozen sandwiches are offered with many vegetarian options, along with homemade soups, pizza and dinner entrees. (J.B.) $$. CC. Handicap access. 727-2122

INdustri Café

524 S. Second St.

This café has the renovated loft look with hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. The ceilings are tall enough to permit a balcony seating area above the bar. The menu is about locally sourced ingredients including Rehorst vodka and artisanal meats. The beer list is composed entirely of Wisconsin products. The grilled prawn skewers are simple and delicious. The fare tends to be simple preparations of meat and seafood. The action is in the sauces like the apple-bourbon and craisin reduction that accompanies the duck breast. Homey foods with a contemporary twist. (J.B.) $$. CC. FB. Handicap access. 224-7777.

John's Sandwich Shop

8913 W. North Ave.

The longtime fixture in Wauwatosa reinvented itself a few years ago with a new interior and a healthier menu. Did you know that yogurt helps prevent hypertension or that olives are an anti-inflammatory? Such are the captions on the menu, an offering with a slight Mediterranean accent. Among the delights are a Caprese burger, a Greek omelet and pomegranate pancakes. (D.L.) $. Cash Only. OD. 257-9347.

Juniper 61

6030 W. North Ave.

Juniper 61 has a casual contemporary setting and fare to match. Start with tempura green beans and move on to salads or a roasted vegetable pita sandwich with great homemade potato chips or Asian slaw. Heartier appetites will find entrees like a fine duck ragout or stout-braised short ribs. The menu isn't large but it is thoughtful. Every neighborhood should have a restaurant like this. (J.B.) $$. CC.. Handicap access. 727-6161

Kil@wat

139 E. Kilbourn Ave.

With its décor of serene, uncluttered decor, Kil@wat is the star of the Wyndham Milwaukee Center. The menu wanders from homey fair to very trendy. Start with tuna tartare tacos or American Kobe beef served on a hot rock. Entrees are as traditional as pan-roasted whitefish or as unusual as sweet pea and scallop risotto. Remember the classic Marc's Big Boy double-decker burger? It's on the menu. (J.B.) $$$-$$$$. CC. Handicap access. 291-4793

The Knick

1030 E. Juneau Ave.

The floors and metal-edged tables are retro dinette but the colors are bright and contemporary, with rich burnished gold, ruby red and azure blue. Sinuous wood partitions provide privacy for diners. The menu includes sumptuous appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees. The bar is well stocked and martini friendly. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB, OD. 272-0011

La Merenda

125 E. National Ave.

La Merenda features over 25 tapas; a few are Spanish but more are Asian, South American and Mediterranean. Where else can you combine lobster & crab arancini with lumpia Shanghai and Argentine style beef? The beer list is good and the wines are moderate in price with several choices under $20 per bottle. Portions might be small, order at least two per person, but the quality is excellent and nothing is priced over $10.  (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. RS. Handicap access. 389-0125

Maxfield's Pancake House

333 W. Brown Deer Road

The menu travels across the globe with delicious ease. Omelets and skillet dishes with Greek and Mexican themes are on tap along with more common but no less tempting items. Salads, sandwiches and soup round out the lunch options, but breakfast, as the Pancake House name suggests, is a crowing achievement. A second Maxfield's has just opened in Wauwatosa on Mayfair Road. (J.L.R.) $. FF. (414) 247-4994

Meritage

5921 W. Vliet St.

Meritage has the style of a bistro and a focus on wine and casual fare. This theme is not uncommon locally. What is uncommon is the quality. Start with scallop cakes or smoked trout spread. There are just eight or so entrees but they are chosen with care. The menu changes seasonally. Owner Jan Kelly is a James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest nominee. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. 479-0620

Metro

411 E. Mason St.

Located in one of Milwaukee's top hotels, Metro is open from breakfast to dinner. The décor has Art Deco touches and the menu is current with duck risotto appetizers and entrees such as walleye a la meuniere, roasted organic chicken and a 24 oz. porterhouse. The choice menu is served in an elegant setting. (J.B.) $$$-$$$$. CC. RS, OD, SB, FB. 225-3263

Mikey's

811 N. Jefferson St.

A chic cocktail lounge with commanding views of Cathedral Square Park, Mikey's serves upscale comfort food at its most rich and buttery. Among the items are four-cheese macaroni, meat loaf, pot roast and picnic fried chicken. Starters turn a bit Asian with spring rolls and Asian crunch salad. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. FF. LT. RS. 273-5397

Moct

240 E. Pittsburg Ave.

In Serbian Moct means bridge. The setting here is a bit industrial with garage doors that open up in summer, exposed brick and even concrete floors in the lounge. But the stainless steel bar is contemporary and very cool. The menu has a 'small plates' theme. Many items are Serbian but you will also find mussels in Thai curry, fine fish tacos and a contemporary twist of Puerto Rican shrimp mofongo. Moct has not been serving food for the last five years. They continue to do a fine job, especially with the splendid burek. (J.B.) $$. CC. FB. OD. Handicap access. 273-6628

NSB Bar & Grill

8649 N. Port Washington Road

The former North Shore Bistro has been slimmed down and the menu is on a diet. The towering lobster salad has vanished, which is a shame, but thankfully the tuna tataki remains. While the new menu focuses on upscale burgers, other dishes, such as the wild mushroom ravioli, are superb. (J.B.) $$. CC, RS, FB. FF. OD. 351-6100

National Café

839 W. National Ave.

The National is a neighborhood café for breakfast and lunch. The menu is friendly to vegetarians. Breakfast options include a vegan burrito and omelets made from organic eggs. Be sure to try a side of rosemary breakfast potatoes. Lunch offers a variety of sandwiches. The black bean sandwich is amped up with chipotle peppers. A Trempealeau walnut burger is free of meat. Carnivores need not worry, though: They will find items like an Italian melt and an Asian tuna sandwich. The National, open daily from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., is a pleasant place in which to relax and enjoy a good cup of coffee. (J.B.) $. CC. 431-6551

Oakcrest Tavern

4022 N. Oakland Ave.

The Oakcrest is half bar/half restaurant. The warm tones of wood and a stone fireplace add a cozy, inviting feel. The menu adds to the casual theme with sandwiches, entrée-sized salads, appetizers and an interesting group of entrees, including shrimp risotto, fish tacos and a great hangar steak topped with chimichurri, a condiment of parsley, herbs and olive oil. (J.B.) $$. CC.SB. FF. Handicap access. 967-0222

Palms Bistro and Bar

221 North Broadway Ave.

This Third Ward casual-dining bistro caters to local theatergoers and gallery-hoppers with a menu of hearty pasta dishes (including shrimp carbonara and chipotle mac and cheese), large salads, burgers and imaginative sandwiches like a BBQ salmon sandwich with avocado, herb-roasted tomatoes and marinated red onions. Sandwiches are served with large waffle fries or a tangy, fresh Asian slaw. Among the dinner entrees are rack of lamb, seafood paella and Chinese five-spice sea bass.  (E.R.) CC. $$-$$$, SB, LT, OD, RS, FB. 298-3000

ParkSide 23

2300 N. Pilgrim Square Drive

Local foods are the focus. This means that the meats and cheeses are from Wisconsin and summertime will feature the bounty of an onsite garden. The interior has earthy tones and a fusion of country charm and urbanity. The bar is a relaxing spot for a craft beer, preferably from Wisconsin. The menu is organized into three price categories. Nearly half of the items fall into the lowest ($5-$12). A huge stuffed pepper and Italian sausage stuffed pasta shells are among these. Braised shot ribs are up a notch and worth every penny. This is a very popular place but even when the tables are filled the kitchen keeps pace. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. GF. Handicap access. (262) 784 7275

Roots

1818 N. Hubbard St.

Perched atop Brewer's Hill, Roots offers panoramic views of the city. The outdoor deck and patio are prime seats in the summer. Most of the produce is organic and the kitchen seeks out quality sources for meat, whether fresh scallops or top-quality beef. Chef John Raymond's cuisine proudly merits its description as California fusion. The Roots Cellar on the lower level boasts a large bar and a menu focused on sandwiches and appetizers. Vegetarians will love this place. (J.B.) $$$-$$$$. CC. FB, OD.  SB. LT. RS. Handicap access. 374-8480

Sanford

1547 N. Jackson St.

Once a corner grocery store, Sanford has long been Milwaukee's premier contemporary restaurant. Chef/owner Sandy D'Amato has received national awards and draws customers from a wide area. The current chef, Justin Aprahamian, is adding Armenian touches to this stellar menu. Yes, the rare tuna on cumin wafers is still on the menu. The menu, of course, strives to use the freshest ingredients. (J.B.) $$$$. CC. RS (recommended). FB. 276-9608

Swig

217 N. Broadway

Swig's front is open-air on warm days, with an intimate bar and a dining room with warm wood tones. The menu offers sandwiches for lunch as well as salads, entrees and “small plates,” the international version of tapas. Creativity is in flower here. Look for grilled watermelon salad and a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and lobster in a pool of sweet red pepper sauce. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. OD. SB. Handicap access. 431-7944

Thirst and Vine

4330 N. Oakland Ave.

Thirst and vine combines a wine shop with a café. Buy a bottle at retail and enjoy it here with a modest additional fee for corkage. Relax at the bar or at a table. The menu is geared to wine with fine cheese plates, charcuterie and light salads. The soups change daily and every week offers three different entrees. You might find short ribs, venison sausage, or even BBQ ribs. If gnocchi is on the menu order it! The pace is leisurely. This is one of those rare places that combine top quality with affordability. (J.B.) $$. CC. Handicap access. 763-7340.

Triskele's

1801 S. Third St.

JoLinda Klopp, former head chef at the River Lane Inn, now has her own restaurant in a former corner tavern. The menu is not large but is innovative. Start with ginger pork wontons or a salad of arugula with dried cherries and goat cheese. For entrees try the vegetarian sherry-braised mushrooms with whiskey-glazed parsnips or a shrimp and mussel stew with andouille. (J.B.) $$. CC. FF. No handicap access. 837-5950

Trocadero Gastrobar

1758 N. Water St.

Trocadero made major menu changes in 2010 and now dubs itself a gastrobar. The new menu has an international tone with lobster truffle burgers, ahi tuna with Sicilian caponata, Baja fish tacos and red curry mussels. The Cream City brick former corner tavern remains charming as ever and the enclosed dining porch and outdoor tables are prime spots. (J.B.) $$. CC. OD. SB. LT. RS. (414) 272-0205

Water Buffalo

249 N. Water St.

Water Buffalo offers great river views as well as outdoor seating along the RiverWalk. The interior is dazzling with two levels, two bars and contemporary artwork. The menu is casual with appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees at moderate prices. Try lobster and fennel fritters or sautéed shrimp and mussels over pasta. Every table has a great view. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. 431-1133