It’s been nearly three weeks since Carnevor reopened in its new location at 718 N. Milwaukee St., and the buzz surrounding their new space has been palpable.
We knew that the remodel, implemented by Flux Design, would be impressive. But, it wasn’t until visiting the restaurant for ourselves that we understood exactly how ingenious it really was.
The Carnevor experience begins the moment you walk through the front door and navigate through a tunnel-esque hallway made from hand-carved wooden spires.
Larger, more pronounced "ribs," a trademark Carnevor element, are suspended above the front dining room, creating a uniquely intimate and artistic atmosphere. Meanwhile, from any seat in the dining room, you’re flooded with textures – from wavy wooden paneling to cagelike metal structures, from jagged stone to smooth reflective panels that resemble honeycomb or some sort of reptilian scales.
But, it wasn’t just the atmosphere that impressed. Armed with the knowledge that there were some new items on the menu at Milwaukee’s most renowned steakhouse, we approached our dinner with open minds, looking forward to the potential of experiencing a meal that went beyond steak and potatoes.
We began our meal with an appetizer of Carnevor's Hidden Creek Farm Mangalitsa ravioli ($13) – fresh pasta stuffed with pork confit and pork belly and served with a smoked onion pork jus – which was hearty enough to share with the table.
When we moved on to soup and salad, the classic wedge salad was fresh, crisp and perfectly dressed. Even the tomato was flavorful – not a small feat in the midst of Wisconsin winter.
I should add that, throughout the meal, our service was spot on. When our table mentioned that we’d like to share a number of items off the menu, our waiter was immediately responsive, offering first to divide our wedge salad into three portions, and then – throughout the meal – providing plenty of tasting plates and utensils to make our experience as convenient as possible.
The soup of the day was potato leek. Despite the fact that not a drop of cream was added, the soup was ultra creamy and flavorful thanks to the addition of bacon, white wine and garlic. A topping of crisp bacon, fried leeks, chives and diced baby potatoes added an additional layer of flavor and welcome texture.
For our entrees, we opted for two specials, something Carnevor is doing more of in its new location – one fish and one Hidden Creek Farm specialty – along with a steak, since it’s simply not prudent to leave a steakhouse without trying at least one.
The fish special ($32) featured six ounces of pan seared Opah (moonfish) served atop a bed of braised Napa cabbage, shaved fennel and parsnips with tender beech mushrooms and a drizzle of blood orange vinaigrette.
A 10 ounce portion of meltingly tender Hidden Creek Farm bone-in shortrib ($31) came with roasted baby carrots, smoked cioppolinni onions and a beef jus atop a bed of polenta finished with Sarvecchio parmesan.
We didn’t go too fancy on our steak choice, opting for the wet-aged bone-in ribeye ($52) au poivre. It came perfectly medium rare with a delightfully crunch exterior packed with pepper flavor.
But, since the steak comes a la carte, we did order three sides to share – the macaroni & cheese (to which we added lobster, $19), sauteed exotic mushrooms ($10) and caramelized brussels sprouts. Each was a solid choice – though the one miss of the evening may have been with the addition of lobster to our macaroni and cheese. The dish came out to the table piping hot, which was great; but, the lobster didn’t hold up well. Rather than being tender and sweet, it ended up overcooked and, as a result, a bit tough.
We skipped over the creme brulee, ricotta cheesecake and turtle desserts and headed for the shareable section of the menu where we found two we couldn’t pass up. The dessert doughnuts ($8) just barely resembled doughnuts; rather, they were light and crisp like deep fried pate choux with rich eggy centers. They were accompanied by three dipping sauces: a rich vanilla anglais, blueberry preserves and a deep chocolate ganache which was really gilding the lily.
Our splurge (and a rightful one) was the chocolate flight ($25) with its Valhrona Opalys white chocolate crémeux; Tanariva milk chocolate crémeux with a gold-gilded roasted hazelnut; and the Majari dark chocolate crémeux served with cocoa nibs and a fresh raspberry on top.
Carnevor is open Monday through Wednesday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.
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.