Disclaimer: This is only one visit. Yet, every visit makes an impression.
I had high expectations for Roots given some of what I've read here and elsewhere. I travel to Waukesha on business three times a year, and have struck out finding decent restaurants around Waukesha, Pewaukee, Hartland, Delafield, etc. And, overall, I can't believe the prices that are charged. Waaaay more places in MSP with similarly-styled fare that is better prepared and not as pricey. Before the objections start, I've not been to Sanford, and I don't know that my non-profit employer would be too keen on seeing it on my expense account. I have been to Cafe Coquette, however. Poor food and worse service.
So I looked forward to Roots. A chef-driven, foodie type of place. Ivisited on a Tuesday evening. The dining room was one-third full. I didn't venture to The Cellar, but there was noise coming from there. The host asked if I wanted to be seated in the dining room or cellar. I asked what the difference was. Well, Happy Hour was still going on in the cellar for 20 more minutes. Didn't expect to hear that. But what kept me upstairs was that smoking was permitted in the cellar.
Now, I believe Milwuakee restaurants are going smoke-free February 2, but a chef-driven, fussy foodie place allowing smoking??? Even seated upstairs far from the open stairway, I could detect the smoke.
I"ll get to the highlight first. I found a wine on the list whose price was the same price one would find in a retail shop. I think someone made a mistake. No markup. I asked if that was indeed the correct price. It was. Then I asked if Wisconsin laws permit me to take the unfinished wine home with me. They do. So I ordered the bottle.
Bar snacks (this is Wisconsin) were deliever to my table. Deep-fried garbanzo beans which were okay and jerk-butter popcorn which had no discernable jerk flavor.
I ordered the appetizer special. Grape and pine nut focaccia bread served alongside a salad of fresh greens and locally-produced feta. Flavors were good. Feta was plentiful. More greens and less feta would've been a better balance.
I also orderd the entree special. Roasted monkfish on a bed of caulifllower rice pilaf surround by beet hummus. Fish was on the overcooked side, but not to the point of needing to send it back. Pilaf was on the dry side. The hummus was a light pink, so the beets added color but no discernable flavor.
I also decided to try a dessert, and ordered the sorbet trio: grapefruit cucumber, avacado udze, and pear thyme. Good thing a fork was provided along with a spoon since a fork was need to penetrate to molded portions. They were a bit on the hard and crystalline side.
Maybe it was the Tuesday night. Maybe it was an off night. I'm willing to give the place another shot. It's better than what I've found so far.
First, let me start out by saying Roots and the Cellar are by far one of our favorite restaurants in Milwaukee. No I don't work there, I don't get paid to say that.
Roots is voluntarily going smoke free in the Cellar during dinner service. The Cellar is still a bar and you can still smoke there after dinner hours (10ish I would imagine). Milwaukee and Wisconsin have no plans to go smoke free in bars and restaurants that I am aware of.
I am sorry to hear that you had what you considered a poor meal at Roots. For the money you spend at Roots, you get well more in food and service. The food is quite good. If you want a wonderful yet cost effective weekend meal, go for brunch on Sunday. I highly recommend the Roots Benedict, which does not resemble a benedict in any way you might think of one. It is comprised of seared rare tuna, poached eggs, tempura nori, shitake-daikon hash, wasabi hollandaise. My personal favorite meal is the San Francisco Cioppino.
My personal advice is if you feel you were not totally satisfied, take the short walk back to the kitchen pass, and talk to the Chef and Co-owner, John Raymond. I guarantee he will be cooking. I say go back and try again.
I think that much of the praise heaped on Roots is because it’s a hip hangout. What they are doing (working with farmers, growing their own stuff) is admirable but I think they just miss the mark on the food. I have never had a bad meal there but I have never had a great one either.
If I were to recommend one restaurant it would be Crazy Water. Lake Park Bistro is excellent but I always steer clear of recommending a French restaurant to an out of town visitor because most of them have French restaurants in their own Cities. You can get most of the dishes from Lake Park Bistro or Coquette at other French restaurants. I try to steer people towards unique places which is why I really like Crazy Water. La Merenda is great too but if Brad is dining solo its not as fun as when you have a group and can order 10 different plates.
Perhaps this would be better as another thread, but I want to pose a question raised by the post, namely "maybe it was Tuesday night....."
Off the top of my head, I'd say that's one real problem with Milwaukee eateries, lack of consistency. I know this is a real problem for any place, any eatery, but it seems to me that the best places in Milw. are often the worst. For example, I've been to Coquette and thought it was quite fine, but Brad's been disappointed.
Anyway, I was just curious what people thought. I haven't seemed to experienced the same problem in Chicago as much.
Consistency seems to be a problem right now, in this economy. I see it everywhere.
Milwaukee does have great dining, having lived in both MSP and Milwaukee, both over 6 years each. So Brad, you should be able to find what you are looking for, esp if you are willing to drive, as it seems you are.
I admit that I am not too familiar with the dining scene way out in the Pewaukee, Delafield area, nothing I know of that I could recommend....it is a bit too suburban. But I do know that rarely do any of those places make the top of the best restaurants in Milwaukee lists, if anything, that is a pricey area but without the quality, as you stated. Milwaukee is at its best with ethnic foods, made in and around the immediate Milwaukee city area.
Try Cempazuchi (mexican/east side), Il Mito (rustic Italian/Wawautosa) both affordable and great quality.
A couple that are a bit more pricey (but no more $$ than Roots)....Osteria Del Mondo (modern italian/downtown Milwaukee) another from a top restaurateur Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro (French/Lakefront N Downtown/East Side) Bacchus (continental) perhaps most pricey.....very high service, (downtown/lake)
One cheap but great place....Nessun Dorma (Riverwest) wine list and gourmet hole in the wall.
Also what is a visit to Milwaukee without a hamburger or custard? Kopps has a location on the west edge of Brookfield on Bluemound rd. Go there for both. Or to Sobelmans for burgers downtown.
I've been to Roots one time, for drinks and for the view. I understand people like it for "locally grown" food, but that was never much my cup of tea. There are much better restaurants in Milwaukee that Roots/far west lake country suburbs.
I went to Roots for brunch in 2006. I liked it but didn't love it. The food was good and the service was fine, but it didn't seem like a top-end place to me.
The dessert was a major misstep - I ordered black pepper sorbet, but it was so solidly frozen that it was almost impossible to eat. (There was a line of people waiting for our table, so I didn't take the time to let it melt.) And I could barely taste the advertised flavor, perhaps because it was so cold.
The view from upstairs is great, but I was also unhappy that smoking is allowed downstairs. I would have liked a choice of locations to dine, but my lungs required an upstairs-only experience.
Me, I was happier with Triskele's and La Merenda. They're more casual, are but still chef-driven places with good food (and all-non-smoking). Then again, I'm not a high-end restaurant type (I would choose Merkato's over Sanford any day).
P.S. That's great news about the Feb 2 switchover - I need to get to MKE to give some positive feedback to all those formerly-smoky places that I've wanted to try but couldn't!
re: Brad Ballinger
We have been to Roots and we think the best part of the place is the view. The food was good but not outstanding. We recently went o Bayou and really liked the place for the atmosphere, the food was good and fair for the price. The seating along the river would be great in the summertime.
Where did you get the information on Milwaukee restaurants going smoke free as of Feb 2? I live in the area and haven't seen anything like that..although I would welcome it.
re: Brad Ballinger
Hmmm, I wonder if it was just Roots that's going all-non-smoking. I couldn't find any info about a city-wide change in the online papers.
Dang-a-roonie! I had gotten all excited about trying places like Polonez, Tulip, and a classic fish-fry. Oh, well. I'll go to Chicago instead, this time, for non-smoking Polish and Turkish food.
P.S. Brad, for my mini report on dining at Cempazuchi, La Merenda, and Triskele's (and other non-smoking places), see this thread: