What's in a restaurant? In this series, we ask chefs around the city to describe their restaurants in their own words and recommend three dishes that embody the best of what they offer. In this edition, we talk with Dave Swanson of Braise Restaurant. Swanson will be among six featured chefs at the upcoming Moveable Feast event at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
"Braise has really always been about simple, straightforward, seasonal food," notes Chef Dave Swanson, "And it’s through that lens that we tell our story. But, food is really just one component in a more holistic view. It sits side by side with the education we do through our culinary school, the distribution of local food we facilitate through our restaurant supported agriculture program (RSA) and the ways we help individuals to source local products through home delivery.
The whole goal of the restaurant was to create a visible sustainable model that showcases various elements of a sustainable local food system – from local meats and vegetables, to water preservation and rooftop gardening – and really give people a new way of looking at how our food system does (and could) work."
1. Pork buns
Steamed buns filled with cured, crisped pork belly, scallion vinaigrette, spiced nuts and served with thinly sliced fresh cabbage, or another crisp, seasonal vegetable ($10).
"The steamed pork buns have been on the menu, really, since the beginning," says Swanson. "Part of the challenge here at Braise is that most people assume – even before coming here – that we’re high end. But, this is the kind of dish that you have to eat with your hands; it’s really very simple and straightforward and takes all the pompousness out of the experience.
"They’re a fun dish that in many ways is inspired by my work with Roland Liccioni at Le Francais. He was born in Vietnam and raised in France, so many of his dishes had quite a bit of Asian influence. I also remember occasions when his mother would come to visit, and she would cook with us and teach us to make various dishes. It’s really where I picked up a lot of my education in Asian cuisine."
2. Beef tongue tacos
Housemade corn tortillas filled with marinated grilled beef tongue, vegetable slaw (made with carrots, turnips, daikon, radishes or whatever is fresh and seasonal), crema and chimichurri. ($8)
"This dish exemplifies the idea of nose-to-tail cooking, something that’s growing to be more prevalent in the industry," notes Swanson. "It’s also a dish that surprises people. Those who’ve never had tongue are often stunned by how much flavor it has, and that it simply tastes like really great meat. And the taco really makes the dish accessible and familiar."
3. Fresh seasonal vegetable dishes
Fresh seasonal dishes are the name of the game at Braise. Such is the case with this dish featuring grilled ramps, olive oil poached potatoes, grated cured egg, harissa and petite nuage. ($8)
"We’ve gotten our first shipment of Wisconsin ramps," says Swanson. "So, we'll be rolling out dishes with them as a feature over the next few weeks. In terms of our philosophy, this is more 'root to leaf.' We’re using as much of vegetables as we possibly can – from carrot tops to the roots. It's something that comes across in many ways in our vegetable dishes.
"This particular ramp dish also showcases our dedication to preservation. The harissa is made with peppers that we preserve (usually by freezing) over the winter, and then we can turn it into a sauce or vinaigrette."
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.