By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Sep 22, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Bistro Z, a restaurant which aspires to being as experiential as it is delicious, opens today at W249 N5267 Executive Dr. in Sussex. And if the soft opening is any indication, true food lovers in Lake Country have something to get excited about.

While the area has experienced fine dining at restaurants like Union House in Genesee Depot, there are few restaurants in the area serving up the sort of palate-stretching cuisine that Bistro Z aims to offer.

Edibles

Under the deft hand of Executive Chef Thi Cao – whose career has benefited from work with chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Sanford D’Amato and Marc Bianchini – the menu (which is divided into sections including snacks, salads, sandwiches, small plates and large plates) connects the dots between the familiar and the exotic, offering diners the unique opportunity to experience truly flavorful cuisine which pushes the envelope in all the right directions. It’s perfectly designed for both sharing or eating more traditionally – with small plates and salads offering an opportunity for sampling a variety of interesting dishes.

Among the vegetable based small plates, roasted cauliflower with Romesco sauce is flavorful fare featuring slightly charred crisp tender cauliflower served with a sauce redolent of sweet, flavorful peppers and almonds ($8).

A chilled corn chowder showcases silky summer-sweet corn flavored with leeks and basil and texturally augmented by tender grilled squid ($7).

Other dishes, like the luxurious lamb tartare takes the traditional dish to new levels with delicious twists, like light crunchy rice paper crisps instead of bread and the burst of briny American sturgeon caviar in every bite ($21).

PBR pork belly is deliciously crisp, glazed with sweet hoisin barbecue sauce and served with pappadew peppers, orange, scallions and honey ($10).

Sandwiches include the wild boar sloppy joes – a scaled up sandwich that incorporates Doritos for flavor and texture ($12) and the Bistro "Juicy Lucy" burger with cheddar cheese and bacon jalapeno jam ($12), along with and eggplant sandwich with hummus, egg, tomato and giardiniera ($10) – all served with a side salad or fries.

Main dishes include a heritage pork chop with mustard greens, brown buttered apples, crawfish gumbo, andouille and dirty rice ($26), Mediterranean swordfish with artichoke pesto, orange, legumes and seasonal vegetables ($25) and a 25-day aged New York strip with rich buttery potato puree (potato butter) and tomato corn relish ($38).

Meanwhile, the dessert menu at Bistro Z is the brainchild of Chef Nell Benton of The National Cafe, who was hired as a consultant for the pastry side of things. And her work is delicious proof that collaboration pays off.

The sweet corn panna cotta is a must try – featuring the sweetness of corn juxtaposed against candy-like Cracker Jack-esque pop corn, a bruleed madeleine and blueberry compote ($9).

Other dessert options ($9) include lemon polenta cake with Earl Grey mascarpone, fresh berries and raspberry sauce; passion fruit creme brulee with horchata ice cream and toasted coconut; and ancho chocolate mousse with meringue kisses and hazelnuts.

Diners can expect an ever evolving menu – featuring a combination of humble favorites and more luxurious offerings – says Cao, who adds that offerings will be dictated by what’s fresh and available in any given season.

Libations

A wine list curated by General Manager Amber Patt mixes familiar food-friendly selections with more unexpected offerings from California, Austria, Spain, France, Italy and South Africa with by-the-glass pricing in the $8-14 range.

Meanwhile, a bourbon collection developed by Assistant General Manager John C. (JC) Ayer features rarities like Rittenhouse Rye, Pig & Whistle and Pappy Van Winkle. Tap beers ($6-8) focus on a variety of craft brews, including standards like Spotted Cow alongside Lagunitas IPA, Dogfish Head brown ale and Founders porter on tap, along with nearly 20 additional beers by the bottle ($4-11).

Cocktails ($8-12) tend toward creative takes on classics like the negroni, old fashioned, last word, pink lady and bourbon basil smash.

Atmosphere

The first thing diners will note as they enter the restaurant is the vibe. Contemporary house music – with its pitched down vocals, psychedelic soundscapes and groovy basslines – plays on the sound system. Adjacent to the doorway, a lounge area with white leather couches and contemporary lighting provides a place for diners to linger while enjoying a cocktail. Meanwhile, a bar to the right offers both bar-side and high top seating against a backdrop of birch trees from which glowing deer torsos peep.

The overall feel of the upscale dining area captures both organic and industrial elements, coming together to showcase a feeling of opulence contrasted with wood and metal.

A mezzanine, with a stylishly rusted rebar railing, offers second floor dining complete with a Las Vegas-esque canopy of trees with LED-lit leaves.

Other elements – including lighting fixtures reminiscent of birds’ nests, and a live, trailing plant growing from a metal sculpture on the wall – juxtapose soft natural elements against modern manufactured goods.  

Bistro Z will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to close, with a limited menu available at the bar between 4 and 5 p.m. and dinner served from 5 to 9 p.m.

Beginning Oct. 20, the restaurant will also be open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with Sunday brunch following beginning Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.