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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

Water, Land and Fire

Wild Earth’s varied delight

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The expansion of the Potawatomi Bingo Casino may be ongoing, but another new restaurant, Wild Earth, opened during the first week of August. The new venue, located on the upper level—away from the noise of the casino—offers an American menu with a few American-Indian accents. In some respects this is a less-pricy version of Dream Dance, the casino’s flagship restaurant.

Though the decor is simple, the finishes are luxuriant. Warm autumn tones prevail and the tables are topped with an alluring wood veneer. Spacious seating and a bar make for a great hideaway from the gaming tables. Diners can choose from a table with chairs or one of the booths.

The first item to arrive will be a basket with small pieces of fry bread. Those who have visited the city’s Indian Summer Festival will recognize fry bread as the base for Indian tacos. This smaller version is served with butter flavored with maple or honey. The lone soup is a good one: Menomonee Valley wild rice chowder ($5). Wild rice tends to lack flavor, but this version adds minced ham and sweet corn to a rich broth, creating a prelude to a notable meal.

There are only a few differences between the lunch and dinner menus.One item only on the lunch menu is the five-spice barbecue shrimp ($14): five pieces of jumbo shrimp gently dusted with five-spice powder, the dominant flavor being the licorice-like infusions of star anise. The noodles in the crispy noodle salad could be crisper, but the remaining ingredients of chopped napa cabbage, red onion and carrot are tasty. Tiny dollops of sweet mango vinaigrette go well with the shrimp and the salad.

Among the starters is wild king salmon satay ($9), which offers three skewers that each hold a piece of meat the size of a large lollipop. The real delight is the asparagus “coleslaw” that accompanies it. The slaw is of thin strips of raw asparagus, fennel and frisee. A lemon-lime dressing adds some sweetness to counter the frisee, and black sesame seeds provide contrasting color. Maryland crab cakes ($12) come in a pair, and are a tad on the starchy side. But the mustard butter sauce is an appropriate condiment and the tricolor bell pepper salad is an eye-catcher.

The entrees ($15-$25) are noticeably less expensive than Dream Dance, but vegetarians are left out of the picture and will have to rely on salads and starters. The entrees are divid ed into three groups: Water, Land and Fire. In Water, you’ll find seafood like the grilled sea scallops ($17), a plate of four scallops topped with a grilled tomato salsa and served with a black-bean cake and bits of creamy goat cheese. The cake, every bit as good as the scallops, is a welcome addition to this smallish serving.

Homespun items like rotisserie chicken, short ribs and pork chops will be found in the Land category. Veal and wild mushroom meat loaf ($15) is an ample slab with the delicate flavor of veal, plenty of chive mashed potatoes and some thin green beans (quite a contrast to the very contemporary asparagus cole slaw).

Fire is the place for steaks. The flat iron steak ($18) is the least expensive, but it’s a per fectly good choice. I recommend spending a little more for the petite filet ($21), which is more tender and better prepared. This is how American tourists in France find their steaks when ordering them “well-done.” The exterior is seared to a crust that seals in the juices, while the interior remains pink, between rare and medium-rare. Unless you insist on overcooked meat, this is the way it should be done. Don’t expect a quick meal, as Wild Earth aims for a more leisurely pace. This is a fine alternative to the more expensive Dream Dance, though there is one major difference: Dream Dance is renowned for its wine list, which is more than 30 pages long, while Wild Earth offers a mere 32 bottles ($27-$42 for bottles, $7-$9.50 by the glass). Otherwise, the setting is just as comfort able and the food offers as many delights.

WILD EARTH 1721 W. Canal St. (Potawatomi Casino) 1-800-PAYS-BIG $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Casino only, Handicap Access: Yes