By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published May 17, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Shawn Heine had monkeys strolling through his backyard at his last job. That was in Playa Guiones, Costa Rica, where he was cooking at the Beach Dog, a waterfront cafe.

He knows the flora and fauna will be a little different in the Third Ward, but Heine is calling his new gig the job of a lifetime. He is the executive chef of Milwaukee Sail Loft, which recently opened in the rustic modern space formerly occupied by Riptide at the mouth of the Milwaukee River.

Heine has had other good kitchen positions. A graduate of the prestigious culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales University, he has been the sous chef at Fulton's on the River in Chicago.

But Milwaukee Sail Loft owner Jeffrey Reinbold gave Heine the opportunity to shape the menu with him at a new restaurant, and that is a big deal. The Sail Loft offers customers one of the most spectacular restaurant views in the city, and the two men are promising food that is as good as the scenery.

The Great Lakes bulk carrier Saginaw was sliding past the bistro, almost close enough to touch the hull, when we sat down to talk about the new dining venture. "We're a harbor front destination focused on great food," Reinbold said. "We are offering fine dining quality with an everyday atmosphere."

In other words, jeans, shorts and T-shirts are just fine.

All of the meats and seafood are fresh, and most are grilled. Declaring a commitment to healthy eating, Heine is placing the kitchen's deep fryer in semi-retirement, using it for only a few obvious items that need to swim in fat.

Milwaukee Sail Loft is emphasizing local sourcing of food and is striving to be environmentally friendly. Bay View's Sweet Water Organics, the indoor urban farm based on an aquaponic agricultural system, is providing perch and greens. The new restaurant is grinding its own meat and having its fish shipped in whole, enhancing freshness.

Small plates at Sail Loft include a pile of Rhode Island calamari served over pico de gallo and under a lemon-basil aioli ($10), a rotating selection of fresh shucked oysters (market price), and a seared tuna tower consisting of thinly sliced sushi tuna, a sesame crisp, Asian slaw and a teriyaki glaze ($12). Half pounds of Little Neck clams ($12) and peel and eat shrimp ($9) are also available.

Two varieties of chopped salads -- charred tomato ($8) and Cajun chicken ($10) -- lead a choice of six plates of greens.

Milwaukee Sail Loft is open for lunch seven days a week. A build-your-own burger feature ($10) gives customers many options plus one side.

Diners begin by picking beef, bison, turkey or a balsamic marinated portabella mushroom. Numerous cheese choices range from blue to Buffalo mozzarella.

Add avocado, sauteed mushrooms or caramelized onions. For 50 extra cents you can augment the burger with roasted red pepper, grilled asparagus or onion straw.

A fried egg, Nueske's bacon or shrimp can be added to the pile for a buck. Stuff it all into a pretzel bun, potato roll or brioche.

Entrees include herb-crusted, crispy-skin red snapper with grilled asparagus and basmati rice ($25), chicken piccata over linguini ($16) , and a seafood diablo consisting of fish, clams, mussels, calamari, and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce served atop angel hair pasta ($20). Tofu can be substituted for the chicken in the piccata.

A lobster boil, available on Saturdays and Sundays, consists of a one and a half pound Maine lobster, a dozen Little Neck clams, and half pounds of shrimp, mussels and Andouille sausage along with corn and red skin potatoes. "It is a grand dinner for two or light fare for four," Reinbold said. The price is $70.

At the attractive bar just inside Sail Loft's front door, 10 beers, ranging from classic Schlitz to the Belgian style Goose Island Matilda, are on tap. Four house wines are sold for $6 a glass, and the majority of individual glasses are under $10.

Reinbold, who has silent partners in Sail Loft, did some remodeling of the Riptide space, installing 12 booths, a new bar top and a variety of tables to accommodate different sized groups. A brand new bar was built for the outdoor patio, which seats 115. When the patio opens, the size of the restaurant doubles.

Milwaukee Sail Loft has eight boat slips that offer such dockside amenities as ice, electricity and waste removal. Boaters can order ahead for food to go.

Reinbold previously spent time in various positions with the R.C. Schmidt group of restaurants, working at The Harp and Trinity Three Irish Pubs, and his family's involvement in the local tavern industry goes back several generations. The St. Paul Avenue bar that is now Sobelman's was once owned by relatives, and his grandmother lived in an apartment above the saloon.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.