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Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013

Global Cuisine, Local Sources

La Merenda serves small-plate dishes with an international flair

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A Walker’s Point hot spot since 2007, La Merenda Bar & International Tapas was a pathfinder when it opened, marking the Milwaukee neighborhood’s emergence as the new foodie destination.

The renovated woodworking shop has a relaxed basement appeal with concrete walls and glass-blocked windows warmed by butternut and pumpkin hues and recently added textured fabric drapery to dampen the sound level. The welcoming bar of hand-poured concrete, eclectic lamps, and a haphazard mix of wooden furniture, various mismatched mirrors and pictures create the kickback atmosphere. In tune with the social nature of the tapas experience, the astute service staff seems less preoccupied with turning tables than with preparing a haven for urbanites with European sensibilities to hang out with friends while savoring a cornucopia of tastes.

The $6-$15 plates are showpieces for the culturally diverse cuisine of owner-chef Peter Sandroni. Ingredients are sourced from Clock Shadow Creamery, just blocks away, as well as the southeastern Wisconsin farms of Jeff Lean and Maple Creek and a multitude of other locals proudly acknowledged on the chalkboard. Handpicked vegetables, herbs and edible flowers from the backyard patio garden add to the fresh, healthful quality of the dishes; the spacious open veranda has a fireplace for seasonal outdoor seating. There are gluten-free and vegetarian substitutions on a good deal of the items and a tight selection of imported and local craft beers.

On a recent visit, we started with the flaky-crusted seasonal tart of the day, baked with a divine broccoli, chives and manchego cheese filling. Working up the food chain, we feasted on Vietnamese salmon over hans tai tai, wax beans topped with chili-lime sauce and pickled vegetables with a balanced blend of sweetness and salt.

When dividing the spoils on usual dates, my carnivorous friends go for the Argentinian-style beef, whereas I lean towards the LaClare Farms goat cheese curds. The sautéed River Valley Ranch mushroom tortillas with onions, huitlacoche, chihuahua cheese and prickly pear salsa are our go-to compromise. 

2013 OpenTable Diner’s Choice winner La Merenda, is just the ticket for your taste buds to travel from the Far East through Europe, the Bahamas and South America. Look for half-priced bottles of wine on Mondays. Arrive before 6 p.m. for a shot at the best seat at the bar.

 

La Merenda

125 E. National Ave.

414-389-0125

$$

lamerenda125.com

Handicap accessible: yes