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Friday, Sept. 12, 2008

Pandl’s New Venture

Agave Southwestern Grille

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Pandl’s has long been a familiar name in the North Shore, with restaurants in Whitefish Bay and Bayside. The newer location in Bayside is owned by Jim and Jere Pandl, who also own Eagan’s on Water and the Milwaukee Waterfront Deli. They have now added a fourth property, this time in Brookfield, and it’s completely unlike the others. The name is Agave, and it’s billed as a Southwestern grill.

The newly constructed location on Capitol Drive sits on a spot once occupied by Seigo’s restaurant. The spacious barroom features a center bar that is topped with tequila bottles. A large, sunny dining room, a screened porch and a walled outdoor terrace, complete with an adobe fireplace, add Spanish Colonial touches. The place would look right at home in San Diego.

The menu is an ambitious one, from the Mexican-inspired tapas to the novel sliders and substantial entrees. The casual setting calls for salsa and tortilla chips, though there is a charge ($3.95-6.95). The white- and blue-corn chips are accompanied by a salsa that changes daily. If the salsa happens to be the one made of roasted tomato with jalapeno, cilantro and onion, the price will be well worth it. Roasting brings out a flavor that is lacking in many fresh tomatoes. The chips would be better without the spice dusting, however.

There are three ceviches at moderate prices. The scallop with avocado ($4.50) includes pieces of raw scallop and avocado in a martini glass with minced tomato, onion and a citrus marinade. It is interesting, but not entirely successful. The tapa of grilled shrimp with avocado horseradish salsa ($4.50) is similarly intriguing, except that the salsa is guacamole without a trace of horseradish. The fresh guacamole has a nice texture, but it desperately needs some hot chile pepper or more cilantro.

Tortilla soup ($3.95-6.95), a special one day, had the right appearance with blue-corn tortilla chips, chicken and a myriad of vegetables. But although the broth had the color of chile, it lacked the flavor. The oysters ($9.95/6), raw and on the half shell, are served with three different salsas that illustrate a more ambitious kitchen. The West Coast oysters, served with lime wedges and with the salsas already placed on them, are all interesting—especially the one made of jalapeno peppers and marinated onions. Good oysters often don’t need assistance, and these smallish oysters could do without this amount of salsa.

The bar is a destination in itself, which is sorely needed on Capitol Drive. Much of the menu is geared toward diners who are watching one of the flat-panel televisions. For example, there are four different sliders, one of which is even a shrimp BLT. The basic Agave burgers ($8.50) are a trio adorned with lettuce, Roma tomato, Chihuahua cheese, avocado and a slice of roasted red pepper—the perfect snack for watching a Packers game. The pizzas also work well. One has pinon nuts ($9.95) with roasted poblano peppers, spinach and cilantro pesto, which makes for a tasty combination of flavors. It is topped with arugula that, while inoffensive, seems lost in this picture. However, it’s still well worth trying.

The entrees continue the Southwest theme. Sauteed shrimp ($18.95) in a sauce of orange, tequila and cilantro is served with rice. The menu forgets to mention that there also are a lot of vegetables—corn, zucchini, red onion and bell peppers in three colors. The shrimp fights it out for center stage, though it has a good flavor. Penne ($18.95) is served with shrimp and clams and a tomato sauce with chopped chorizo. The clams are Manila clams, still in the shell. The chorizo is not fatty and contains mild accents of hot pepper, but more needs to be happening in this dish. Why not use cilantro instead of chopped parsley? The flavors that seem so promising in the roasted tomato salsa are completely absent here.

While consistency is not Agave’s strength, they do know how to make a really good margarita ($6-$10). The margaritas are made with fresh squeezed lime juice, which makes all the difference in the world. And they are good-sized—always a plus.

The staff is trained well, providing service at the right time and even promptly removing and replacing plates for the discarded clam shells. Agave is a very attractive new restaurant. Let’s hope that the kitchen is able to rise to the challenge.

AGAVE SOUTHWESTERN GRILLE 18380 W. Capitol Drive (262) 439-8200 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Outdoors only Handicap Access: Yes

Photos by Tate Bunker