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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Refreshingly Simple, Delightfully Slow

C. 1880 features local produce, succulent entrées and leisurely dining

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Restaurants that use local sources for fruits, vegetables and meat are now gaining momentum in this area. The latest establishment to follow this trend is a place in Walker's Point named C. 1880, which chef Thomas Hauck opened in May. Hauck is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who spent some time as the sous chef at Citronelle in Washington, D.C.

C. 1880 is located in the former Marchese's Olive Pit. The interior is much changed. The front room has a long bar and a main dining area with tables of distressed wood. The smaller dining area in back is more intimate and has a small fireplace. The lighting has a bit of an industrial feel and the walls have many framed historic photographs of Milwaukee.

The menu changes often. The front lists appetizers and entrées while the backside honors the many farms that provide the ingredients. There are nearly 70 sources! The restaurant's website provides more details about those farms, including the markets where they sell their produce. The current menu lists eight appetizers and nine entrées. There is a separate small wine list. Organic produce plays a prominent role here although only entrée qualifies as vegetarian. The other entrees feature a range of meats from veal, lamb and duck to scallops, salmon and skate.

A summery starter is simply called watermelon ($8), a square slice of melon served over a basil reduction with frisée and a bit of sweet red pepper with radicchio. It's refreshingly simple. Do not miss any of the soups. The asparagus soup ($10) is a puree with bits of diced melon. The flavor of the asparagus is amazingly intense. Naturally there is the “trend du jour” pork belly ($12), a rather meaty slice served with a few slices of pickled peppers, arugula, asparagus, a bit of gruyere, and a sprinkling of pine nuts. Everything plays its role well.

Among the entrées, the sides of vegetables play just as big a role. One has the curious name of beef cap ($27), although it is actually a few medallions of ribeye. The meat is perfectly cooked, so succulent and bursting with beef flavor. But the portion is small. The vegetables on the side do help and are as exceptional, the tiny fingerling potatoes with asparagus, peas and other green things, along with a puree of fava beans. The vegetarian entrée is just called onion ($19), a good enough description. The centerpiece of the plate is a large onion with its top cut off and the core removed so that it serves as a bowl. It is filed with vegetable treats like ramps, asparagus, carrot and slices of wild mushrooms. Couscous provides a bit of starch. It does not entirely qualify as vegetarian or vegan as some veal jus is poured on at serving time. However, this is strictly an option. The onion is as sweet as they get. This dish is a tribute to all things vegetable.

This is not the place for those who are in a hurry. The kitchen has its own pace and the nature of the food here requires quite a bit of preparation. The prices are not low, but organic produce and hormone-free meats are not cheap—just ask any Whole Foods shopper. But for the right person C. 1880 will be a treasure. Just try one sip of that asparagus and experience the true flavor of top-quality vegetables.

C. 1880, 1100 S. First St.

(414) 431-9271

$$$-$$$$

Credit cards: yes

Handicapped access: yes

c1880.com

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