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May 31, 2008 07:58 AM

MIlwaukee- Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro

CG and I finished our James Beard Foundation Best Chef Midwest 2008 tour at Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee last week. We have already dined at Restaurant Alma, 112 Eatery, and La Belle Vie, and a month or so ago we went to Bluestem in Kansas City.

The setting of BLPB is amazing, and we were seated right near the window. Beautiful view of Lake Michigan, but not distracting or detracting from the delicious food. We dined with 2 friends, and all pretty much ordered different items, some apps as entrees, and just tasted a bit of everything.

Amuse bouche sent out from chef Siegel of a duck confit fritter had some foie inside, and had a small drop of what I think was called cumberland sauce. It tasted sort of tart and citrusy, and was a perfect foil to the rich and perfectly cooked fritter.

Apps/salads included the special soft shell crab (we wanted another one it was so good), a foie gras dish that CG loved, french onion soup (I am not a french onion soup lover, but the two people at the table who had it raved), my asparagus frisee salad with truffle vinaigrette topped with a crusted poached egg (I still don't know how they managed to get the egg coating so crispy and the egg yolk still runny!) that had such an intense truffle scent when it arrived I couldn't speak for a moment. There was also a beet salad enjoyed by my friend and some Coquilles St. Jacques that didn't look traditional (not in the shell, had some asparagus in it) but still had perfectly cooked scallops and was delicious.

The chef sent out a charcuterie plate that was really wonderful, and knowing that they made the stuff in house was pretty impressive.

Two of us had the special salmon sauvage roti entree, salmon cooked perfectly medium-medium rare, and accompanied by morels and early peas. I liked that it was made with olive oil so it was lighter than if it had been made with butter, but I am not such a fan of fresh peas, as they always seem to not cook up very tender, and these followed suit with my previous experiences. CG had the mussels app for his entree, and the sauce was so creamy we all sopped it up with the extra bread. His frites came out initially limp, but he barely had commented on this to the server when she whisked them away with apologies and brought back crispy ones. I really wanted to try the sole meuniere, as the price suggests it is the real deal, but maybe next time.

The chef also sent out some desserts that were so good we wished we'd left more room-- an apple tart with cherries and creme fraiche, frozen hazelnut praline mousse, Yves chocolate mousse, coffee ice cream, PLUS a mini creme brulees for each of us. Talk about gilding the lily!

Lauren and Jessica were our servers, and we all felt the service was the right balance of attentiveness without hovering. Everyone there contributed to the wonderful experience, and we can't wait to go back to Milwaukee and try Bacchus, Chef Siegel's other restaurant.

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  1. I wish I'd liked Lake Park Bistro more. I was really looking forward to eating here since it had won a James Beard Award this year.

    Was there as a party of 7 for my fiance's birthday. We were visiting from out of town. His mother had a reservation, but also wanted a table with a view of the lake. No problem, we were told, it would be 30-45 minutes. 60 minutes later, we were still at the bar. I was starving. Asked the bartender for some bread. She brought over two pieces and some butter, but forgot the butter knife. Meanwhile, the hostess said that the other party was "just finishing up." We finally sat down an hour and a half later. Ugh. This was a Wednesday night, too, and I didn't think they would have been that busy. Alas.

    We ordered a bottle of red wine. It was flat, and had a sour/metallic aftertaste at the end. At least three of us tasted it, unsure, as the sourness was very faint. The wine smelled fine but was not as strong or bright as it should have been. We asked the server if he could taste it to see if we were just imagining it, we didn't want to make a scene or be bothersome. He hesitated, didn't taste the wine, and said it wasn't an issue, they could replace the wine, and he would need to see his manager first. It struck us as a little odd that he didn't want to taste the wine to see if it was truly gone bad. He left, came back, and did offer to replace the bottle with another wine, about $10 pricier. We got a second bottle, and all was well. But at this point, I was starving since we hadn't even gotten bread service yet. Uck.

    No amuse. Luckily the appetizers came quickly. My fiance's brother ordered the escargot, which came in a cast iron plate with indentations in it, covered with a big puff pastry circle. Smelled divine, and tasted pretty good too. My fiance ordered a special, foie gras with apples and some sort of basalmic/red wine reduction and black truffles. I had the "regular" seared foie along with the rest of the group. Frankly, his foie was MUCH better, more interesting and complex. Mine was good but was missing the umami punch that the other dishes had.

    For mains, my lamb loin was perfectly cooked, but a bit boring, both in concept and execution. It was a nice piece of meat, but underseasoned and not very flavorful. It got better when I added some salt, but I felt like I'd chosen a loser. My companions, though, did much better. The filet mignon was great and had wonderful sugar snap peas, nice and crispy. The special was a perfectly cooked sockeye salmon where the flavor of the salmon really shone though. Great piece of fish, great piece of beef, but my lamb was just there. Boring, and especially frustrating when everyone else's dishes seemed much better. Worse, too, because I was thinking of the duo of duck, also, but the server talked me into the lamb loin.

    Suddenly, they brought several desserts to the table, compliments of the house, since we'd waited so long to be seated. A nice touch. These were all quite good but not as good as some of the desserts I've had elsewhere. A great molten chocolate cake with the mintiest mint ice cream I've ever had. An excellent cherry tart that was not too sweet nor too sour. A hazelnut praline dome. Chocolate mousse with peanut butter (with a candle in it for the birthday boy). A really nice creme brulee. And a special of strawberry mille-feuille.

    Did I order badly? Lake Park Bistro just didn't seem impressive. A let-down of a meal. And I've eaten out a fair bit in Milwaukee (Bacchus, The Social, Trocadero, Nanakusa, etc.) and my favorite restaurants in NYC are Babbo, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Craft, Gramercy Tavern, Balthazar, Eleven Madison I was expecting something more, perhaps, more than I should have.

    Unfortunately, I just wasn't that impressed by Lake Park Bistro, at least with the dishes that I ordered, despite them being called out on the menu as signature dishes.

    1. Next time you are in Milwaukee, you should give Bartolotta Ristorante a try (his italian place in Wauwatosa). Excellent Italian and, more specifically, seafood.