Small is Good
Rich Flavors at Triskele’s
|The usual pattern for a successful chef is bigger and bigger: larger
dining rooms, multiple locations and perhaps even a television show.
All of this also means less time spent in the kitchen.
JoLinda Klopp has followed a different pattern. The former head chef at River Lane Inn, the popular North Shore seafood place, has opened her own, smaller restaurant. The name is Triskele’s and it is located in a former corner tavern on Milwaukee’s South Side. The new spot houses about 60 seats and a bar. Everything is prepared behind the bar, which serves as the kitchen. The staff includes a bartender, a server and a kitchen assistant in the evenings. Klopp makes everything look effortless, even when cooking several items at a time.
Triskele is a term for a Celtic three-spiral motif seen on the menus. Due to the kitchen’s space limitations, the menu is not large, but it is thoughtful. The River Lane Inn focused heavily on grilled seafood; this menu offers some as well, but is more up-to-date. Grilled rainbow trout is made with chardonnay, smoked sea salt and a beurre blanc. Cider-roasted chicken is accompanied by pumpkin spaetzle. A sirloin steak has a whiskey peppercorn sauce.
Ingredients are selected carefully. The Caesar salad ($4-$6) is chopped romaine with grated Parmesan and a dressing with a hint of mustard. What makes the difference is the use of white anchovies. These are not the overly salty kind found at pizzerias, but are gentler and more subtle in flavor. There is an occasional element of surprise, too. The ahi tuna hot pot ($9) arrives as a bowl of raw ingredients, including pieces of tuna with chopped scallions, slivers of bok choy and tiny enoki mushrooms. The soy-sauce-based broth is in a teapot. The diner cooks the ingredients by pouring the broth over them. The only drawback is that the tuna cooks too quickly. It would be wise to put the tuna to the side and add it at the last second.
Blue mussels take an interesting twist. Typically they are steamed with wine or beer, but here they are served as Pei blues ($8), steamed in a roasted poblano pepper cream sauce. The poblano is soothing and mild, just enough to offset the occasional full-flavored mussel. Tuesdays offer all-you-can-eat mussels in three different preparations at the same price.
Vegetarians will find this a worthy menu. Start with a small plate of the Portobello fries ($7) in a light batter with a sprinkling of sun-dried tomatoes and a caper aioli that seems especially created for this dish.
The trout and sirloin steak top the price list at $15 each. Wednesday converts one of the small plates, stout-braised short ribs ($8), to entre size for a mere $2 more. The fatty short ribs are popular of late. They are rich in flavor and disappear quickly. Roasted potatoes and wilted spinach accompany the dish.
The homey side of Triskele’s menu is also expressed with the macaroni and cheese ($9). You choose a cheese—goat, aged cheddar, Gorgonzola or a combination of the three. The tubular pasta is then baked with the cheese, which is thinned with cream and topped with a few cracker crumbs. Try the cheddar and Gorgonzola combination. The sharpness of the cheddar is followed by a rich undertone of the Gorgonzola.
There is a small but international wine list. Nearly all of the bottles ($18-$38) are also sold by the glass ($5-$9). The choice of beers is as large as the wines. Try a pint of Pilsner Urquell on tap.
Triskele’s is a refreshing change of direction. It’s a place where you can sit at the bar and watch a real chef at work, instead of on the artificial staging of the Food Channel.