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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Clutch Takes Tapas to Next Gear

Small plates should be large draw on the East Side

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Tapas, anyone? Over the past year, the biggest trend among local restaurants is tapas—not necessarily the Spanish classics, but instead an international spectrum of small plates. The latest entrant into this field is Clutch, which opened recently on Milwaukee's East Side (in the location of the former La Piazza).

The name “Clutch” implies things mechanical, and the new interior fits the bill. Tabletops feature giant gears topped with glass, and a motorcycle is parked at the front window. The bar and dining rooms have walls and upholstery in warm, deep brown tones. The website describes the décor as “steampunk.” You could also call it “Rust Belt Revival.”

Prepare yourself for some interesting grazing. The gazpacho ($4.50) makes an ideal starter for the summertime. The chilled tomato and vegetable soup arrives as a puree and has a refreshing spike of hot pepper. Rib-eye lettuce wraps ($6) also seem in season, with romaine lettuce leaves, avocado and slices of grilled beef and jalapeno. Fritto misto ($8) is a small plate of calamari in a light batter. A side of melted butter arrived instead of the promised aioli, but it proved just as useful. Try a side of grilled asparagus ($4), a simple preparation with lemon and shaved aged Parmesan. One evening featured a special of artichoke dip. It was uncommonly good and deserves a place on the regular menu.

The Clutch house salad ($4-$7) is a simple affair—leaf lettuce topped with delicate white balsamic vinaigrette and a slice of roasted red pepper. A few slices of pickled radishes add novelty.

Other items are meatier and more substantial. The pork spareribs ($11) could qualify as a small entrée. The ribs, served dry, arrive with red cabbage slaw, tasty apple chutney and a sample of the house-made potato chips.

The priciest item is called surf, turf and surf ($17). It is a combination of three items that can also be ordered separately. One is a prosciutto-wrapped sea scallop flavored with gremolata. Gremolata is lemon zest with herbs. Another item is half a dozen gambas al ajillo, grilled shrimp seasoned with garlic. The final item is a small skewer of beef tenderloin. Order this with a side of yuca ($4). Yuca is a root tuber also called cassava. Here it is served with a classic Argentine chimichurri, a mixture of olive oil and herbs that is also perfect for the tenderloin skewer.

Grilled Mexican chorizo ($6) is grilled sausage with a hot pepper flavor, in contrast to the far milder Spanish chorizo. The meaty Clutch chili ($11) is filled with beef brisket, bacon and chunks of cheese and then topped with crème fraiche. It tastes more like a beef stew than chili, but it is still worth a try.

A few flatbread pizzas are offered as well. One is topped with prosciutto, arugula and tomato oil ($9).

Lunch offers a smaller menu, but it is still a decent selection.

At every visit the dining room was nowhere near as busy as the bar, but that should change. The bar is a draw, but Clutch also offers food options that should attract sit-down diners.

Clutch

1504 E. North Ave.

(414) 510-7900

$$-$$$

Handicap Accessible

clutchmilwaukee.com

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