By Alissa Lawton Special to Published Dec 17, 2010 at 6:42 PM

My roommate's birthday was last week and to celebrate we headed out for dinner at Ginger, 235 South 2nd Street. The last time I indulged in Ginger's menu was two summers ago. Despite the heat that day we decided to eat outside on the patio. Ginger has a great outdoor space which is cut off from the rest of the hustle and bustle. Obviously, you'll have to wait a few months to enjoy it.

On that earlier trip, I ordered the "Pepper Martini." What arrived at our table was something that can only be described as green, dirty dish water. I half expected to find an old gym sock in the midst of that murky drink. I gulped, wondering if this was a joke. But I ordered it, so I had to give it a try. This drink has since been the topic of many conversations between me and my best friend's husband, who, after trying my drink, ordered at least one that night. The aesthetics are not the only aspect of this drink not meant for the faint of heart. It's a very spicy cocktail, served with blue cheese stuffed olives, and you will need a glass of water to accompany it.

Much to my disappointment, when I sat down at the table last Friday and rifled through the drink menu, I found no "Pepper Martini." With a pleading look on my face I asked if the waitress remembered the drink and if she would ask the bartender to give it a try. I knew when I saw her walking back to the table with that same muddy martini glass that I was in luck. It was the same martini I'd been dreaming about and possibly even more spicy this time around.

There were five of us out to dinner and if you haven't been to Ginger, their specialty is tapas dining. We all agreed it made sense for us each to choose one item to order and, if we were still hungry, we would just keep ordering after that. Well, we must've been starving because we ordered The Tater Tots, Fried Goat Cheese, The Grandioli Ravioli, Venison and Chorizo Ragu, Rosemary Pepper Lamb Chops, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Rosemary Mac and Cheese, Pizza 42 and Duck Nachos. Not necessarily in that order. Now that you've read that, remember, these are small plates so you really get a bite or two of each item.

I'm a vegetarian so I cannot speak for the meat dishes, but the reactions from my carnivore table mates were thumbs up all around, most of all for the Venison and Chorizo Ragu. I can, however, tell you that everything I ate that night was awesome. We later voted for our favorites and mine was, without a doubt, The Butternut Squash Ravioli. It's served with brown sage butter and hazelnuts, so, enough said. On a freezing cold Milwaukee night it was perfectly rich and warming.

As I said, the Pepper Martini was to die for, but if I'd had two I might have actually died so I opted out of seconds. As we left we all agreed small plate dining is the way to go. You get bite-sized portions of many different plates so, rather than feeling like you need a nap, after an entrée-sized portion of the ravioli, I was just happily full.

We weren't done celebrating so, after leaving Ginger, we headed to Hinterland at 222 E. Erie Street, another favorite that I haven't set foot in for over a year. For 10 p.m. it was still pretty busy in the dining room. We walked down the hall to the lounge; a dark space lit by candles and decorated with evergreens and stones. I had a Rehorst Relaxer, made with chamomile tea and agave nectar, and vodka of course. It's cold enough out that I'm drawn to drinks that hint at being warm, even if they aren't served that way. I thought it might prove to be a bit too citrusy but it was incredibly smooth, like a very light iced tea.

It was a great night filled with some great food and drinks. Time to head home to the Eastside and put on some warm PJs. My roommate's birthday was a great excuse to get a group together for tapas, but if Ginger's Butternut Squash is involved any excuse will do.

Alissa Lawton Special to

Alissa grew up on the near west side of Madison and had childhood dreams of being a veterinarian. Instead she moved to Milwaukee to attend college and attained a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from UW-Milwaukee. Previously an advertising copywriter and a marketing specialist, Alissa always preferred the writing aspect of her career.

An animal lover, a shoe lover and a white wine lover, she now resides on the much beloved East Side of Milwaukee in what she describes as an ancient apartment building full of character, but lacking sufficient electrical outlets and the convenience of an elevator.

To some she comes across as a shy wall flower, to those that know her much better she is a social butterfly, usually overdressed and wearing inappropriately uncomfortable shoes for nearly every occasion. Either way you choose to see her, Alissa has a strong desire to bring awareness to the social issues in our city while maintaining a sense of humor about herself and surroundings.