For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
Although Ardent, Chef Justin Carlisle’s new restaurant, announced last week that it would be taking reservations for Nov. 1 and beyond, Carlisle says the restaurant should be ready to roll on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
Ardent, which is located in the former home of the Sphinx Coffee Shop at 1751 N. Farwell Ave. on the East Side, has been a labor of love for Carlisle, who say he’s thrilled to really get to know the diners who eat his food.
Carlisle, a past semifinalist for the James Beard Award, retired from his post as executive chef at Umami Moto to open Ardent. Carlisle’s credentials also include work at Harvest and Restaurant Muramoto in Madison, Tru in Chicago and the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.
"I’m excited," he says. "I used to feed 100-plus diners in a night … I was responsible for giving them a good time, but I didn’t even really know who they were. This smaller space … it makes it more personal. For me that’s a lot of what I’m excited about."
Carlisle’s staff will be small, but smart. He has hired Chef Aaron Patin, formerly of Stone Creek, as his cook, Dan Frame as his bartender, and he’ll have one additional employee working front of the house to act as host and waitstaff. Carlisle says he and Patin will provide the food service to each table to provide a more personal element.
According to Carlisle, the menu will be seasonal, featuring 11 or 12 items at any given time. He’ll be putting in the work to source as locally as possible, visiting Edelweiss creamery once weekly for dairy products, procuring vegetables coming by the case from farmer’s markets and pulling in beef sourced from his father’s farm in Sparta.
"It’s getting back to the roots of where we come from, what we’re supposed to be doing," Carlisle says. "And it’s to show people that you can really do this. It just takes a little work. For example, we’re taking in the whole cow, so, the beef dishes on the menu will change frequently. One week it might be tenderloin, but when we’re out of that, we’ll move to another cut."
The restaurant will greenhouse herbs like lemon balm and mint, and will feature a living wall near the entry where Carlisle hopes to grow lettuces and microgreens starting this spring.
As for the menu, prices will range between $6 and $20 for individual items. Diners will also be able to enjoy an eight-course tasting menu for $85.
"Depending on what you order, three plates should be substantial," Carlisle says of the menu, which he describes as "Modern Midwestern," "It’s things that I grew up with … flavors and dishes I grew up with, interpreted my way."
Dishes will be familiar, yet inventive, and will include options like French onion soup made with Madeira beef stock, pureed onions, roasted cippolini, dehydrated caramelized onion, herb crouton and aerated aged provolone and an acorn squash dish comprised of molded spheres of eggless squash custard, glazed with brown sugar and vanilla and served with candied squash, compressed squash and browned butter consommé.
Beef tartare is on the menu, as is game hen or poussin, Rushing Waters rainbow trout and pickled herring, which will be served with carrot puree, shaved lardo, mache and rye toast.
Deserts will include a chocolate option, loosely based on black forest torte with smoked marshmallow and verjus cherries, as well as an apple confit with shattered crème fraiche, whipped cider and chamomile snow.
Although Ardent has been granted a full liquor license, Carlisle is starting out with a modest selection of local beers and a hand-curated wine list of about 20 picks from small vineyards.
"We sat down and paired the wine with the food," he says. "My food is on the lighter side and we’re matching that element with the wine. It was a really thoughtful process."
The restaurant’s coffee of choice is Anodyne, and they’ll be serving a selection of teas from both Rishi Tea and Chicago's Rare Tea Cellar.
The restaurant seats seven at an L-shaped oak bar, and an additional 17 at rustic tables. The atmosphere in the space is clean and comfortable, with personal touches like hand-made linen napkins on the tables and lap afghans (made by Carlisle’s mother) which hang amiably on the back of every chair.
Reservations for Ardent can be made by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (414) 897-7022. The restaurant will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m.
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.