The InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel is not shy in the way it has quite literally projected itself onto the Downtown hotel and entertainment district, and its two social venues, ZenDen and Kil@wat, blaze new trails for kitschy, contemporary and upscale trendy décor.
The hotel screams "big city" and is poised for socialites and business travelers alike, with an entryway flanked by friendly doormen and reception staff who make you feel welcome as well as awed upon entrance into the former Wyndham Hotel.
Kil@Wat, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., is situated on floor two of the venue with an incomparable dining view of Downtown from above. The mood here is upbeat; the music and the colors intense. Tangerine booths are accessorized with lime green napkins and stainless steel water pitchers. Plates are angular and eye catching, even the water glasses curve to fit nicely in one’s hand, and the dining chairs proffer stainless handles for easy movement and unique detail.
Our initial entrances to Kil@Wat catapulted us back into memories of places we have dined in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, where the splashes of color and attention to detail make one expect the utmost in a dining experience; but those high expectations created upon entry are potentially Kil@Wat’s biggest obstacle.
As a new restaurant, it struggles with consistency both in service and in food quality, and while the menu is priced reasonably compared to other venues within walking distance of the popular Downtown theater district, the flavors fall short of the excellence one would expect from its preeminent interior design.
Service at one visit to Kil@Wat was exceptionally timed and attentive, a second visit yielded less than average service, with long waits, confusing table clearing procedures (my dining companion was left to eat his entrée with a dessert fork) and poorly timed delivery of courses.
The menu at Kil@Wat offers nine sections: Spark, Cool, Flow, Ambient, Synergy, Component, Sizzle, Green and Illuminate. Cool is cold appetizers, green is salads, flow is soup, etc.
Our first visit brought with it a good cheese plate ($11) with balanced combinations of varying goat's and sheep's milk cheeses and a lovely sharp Wisconsin cheddar. A whitefish special ($19) was served with a crisp and innovative haricots verts based on pickled green beans and roasted red peppers, tossed in a light vinaigrette that really made the dish something special. Sour and spicy shrimp ($19) again showed great originality, pairing the fresh shrimp with black rice and Kil@Wat’s Asian slaw, and while we did not care for the sauce, the dish was more than respectable.
A second visit left us with less impressive foods. A combination plate ($10) of marinated olives, goat cheese stuffed spicy baby peppers and Thai meatballs with Sriracha sauce left much to be desired. The meatballs were overbrowned and dry, and the peppers were uncomfortably hot, and needed something to balance their heat and really make them shine.
Crab and potato tots ($9) were underwhelming, dredged in far too many potato flakes and with a chipotle ketchup that tasted like bottled barbecue sauce. The prime ribeye ($33) however, arrived perfectly cooked to medium rare temperature with a very good horseradish cream sauce, and a superb serving of roasted root vegetables.
An accompanying order of the trio of mashed potatoes ($9) was also very good and unique, offering Yukon gold based variation on the old classic, one with kalamata olives. But a Thai special with vermicelli noodles and shrimp ($18) was virtually tasteless, save some extraordinarily hot Thai chilies of which our waiter needed to caution us beforehand, a precaution I felt was quite risky on the part of the restaurant, for the chili could easily bring tears to the eyes of one who tried to eat it in whole, if not something worse.
But it is that edge and willingness to take risks that will either make or break Kil@Wat. It isn't afraid to step outside the box, and that alone gives it the ability to make its mark in the Milwaukee marketplace.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.