While visiting my wife's family in Milwaukee over the holidays I had an opportunity to have dinner at Hinterland on Erie in what I believe is referred to as the 3rd Ward.
With my in-laws out to dinner with friends and my wife out with her sisters, I found myself alone for dinner and with a copy of that day's Journal-Sentinel in my hands which happened to have a run-down of the best openings in 2008. Hinterland was near the top, and having been to the Hinterland in Green Bay for a beer once, I knew they had a commitment to good, local food.
On an beautiful foggy night, Hinterland was relatively easy to find thanks to the valet outside and very little else going on in the area that night. I sat at the slate bar upon a surprisingly comfortable rattan stool and was greeted by a bartender with enough knowledge to ask if I wanted my rye old fashioned, sweet, sour, press, or up and if I wanted olives or cherries (sweet, rocks, olives). Ordered the hamachi crudo, monkfish cheek, and hanger steak coursed and continued sipping a very good cocktail.
The hamachi arrived well presented with a dice of avocado and small slices of grapefruit. Well-sized and well-cut pieces of fish matched well with the acid in the dressing, grapefruit and fats in both the fish and avocado. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the accompanying greens upon which everything was presented, and I hate throwing away food, but I vetoed eating them.
This and the next course were accompanied by Hinterland's own nitrogenated pub-style draught ale. I found it much more hoppy than, say, Old Speckled Hen or Boddington's and overwhelmed the crudo, but stood up to the Monkfish.
The Monkfish was a single cheek which I believe was fried in a thicker panko-style crust. Though the slightest bit overcooked, it was very good. The slaw of celery-root and apple made the dish in my opinion and worked well (along with the beet puree) in that it was delicate enough not to overwhelm the fish and had a really fun texture in comparison to it. This was my favorite dish.
Finally, I had the hanger steak with runner beans, sweetbreads, matsutake's and parsnip puree. The first sense you get is of the spice rub, and while I sat there trying, I could not for the life of me identify this flavor. Was it allspice? Clove? Sumac? I could not place it, and while it slapped me in the face upon first bite, it fell into the background as I continued. The steak was a perfect medium-rare and the sweetbreads were perfectly fried, lending a creaminess to the tougher cut of steak. Mushrooms were also well-cooked and not over-seasoned, helping the meat where they could have played too big a role. The runner beans were the slightest bit undercooked, but I think this added another dimension to the textures of the dish and was likely intentional. I loved the puree, but there was very little of it and I would have liked just a bit more. This was accompanied by the Cabernet Franc which I chose but wish I'd chosen a bigger red for this dish. I had hoped for a little more conversation from the bartender, but she appeared to be busy entertaining regulars elsewhere at the bar.
So in closing; recommended. This was the best meal I have had in Milwaukee to date that was not a fish-fry (I love Clifford's). Beautiful room, thoughtful food and a staff that appeared to be taking care of their regulars which I appreciate.
I agree with japanabanana and think giving Sanford another shot is a great idea. I live in Chicago, where we have a lot of outstanding restaurants, and based on my experience eating at Sanford, it's as good as our best - and that is high praise indeed!
I haven't been to Hinterland though - thanks for your report.
We have been to the Hinterland on several occasions, both in the back lounge area and the main dining room. I think people in the are get thrown a loop when they encounter the Gastro -pubs casual feel but yet high end dining in the main area.
I found that the changing menu is very inspiring, using creative ingredients in wonderful combinations. The service has been great with the waitstaff and bartenders being very knowledgeable. For a higher end meal the main area has not faltered in my opinion. Sanfords and the Hinterland are two different dining experiences.
The back lounge offers great fare at lower prices not your typical "bar menu".
We were in Milwaukee last weekend for Easter with the family and made it back to Hinterland. My wife and I and two friends were recovering from a Brewer's 9th inning loss and needed some cocktails and eats. We sat in the front bar again and had a very good bartender/server. He had some good details on the wines and beers and made some good small talk. We had:
Fish Tacos - Your average fish taco with Mahi. There was some bite in the cream which may have beer wasabi...it was a nice touch.
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon - Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon. So simple, but very good.
Quail with Spinach and Speck - This was the winner. The quail was stuffed with dried fruit and nuts of some kind (I forgot to ask) was just the slightest bit overcooked (I like game bird med-rare) but it was excellent. The salty, slightly smokey speck didn't overpower the bird and worked better with bites of the spinach.
Tempura Maitake Mushrooms - This was an entire cluster of maitakes that had been battered and friend. Very unwieldy since it was this big log of mushroom you had to dissect. My wife enjoyed the flavor but tired of taking it apart to eat it.
Manilla Clams - I love clams with a good hoppy beer and these didn't disappoint. Good broth for sopping, satisfying.
Blue Cheese Stuffed Dates - Warm inside and out, sugary with a mild and creamy bleu in the middle...this was simple, but such a satisfying end to the meal...
My only real disappointment was the first wine I ordered. It was flat and boring...had no nose (a Spanish varietal of some kind), but it was a wine by the glass and wasn't expecting much. My follow-up was a Loire Valley Pinot. Much more floral than a Burgundy Pinot without any big fruit but peppery and ripe. Everyone else enjoyed their beers, the girls especially enjoying the raspberry ale.
Incidentally we went to the pub next door for a pint after dinner and saw my bartender from the last trip to Hinterland...WEARING A CUBS T-SHIRT. This will make it much harder to return, but we'll have to manage.