OK, before we get started we should probably explain exactly what it is we're doing here.
Basically, this is a food blog. We're going to review restaurants both new and old, familiar and maybe less so – and we might even branch out from time to time to cover locally produced food products. The key to this blog, though, is it'll be written both by me and my friend Savanah Ladd, by way of email messages. We'll visit a restaurant (either separately or at the same time) and then email each other back and forth discussing our experiences, our likes, our dislikes, etc. It'll be informal and conversational and, we hope, fun and interesting.
To ensure this blog got off on the right foot, we chose to eat at Odd Duck. Since opening this past April, this little Bay View hot spot has captured the hearts of Milwaukee diners like few other places. The praise was immediate and almost universal.
Since this was Savanah's first time eating at Odd Duck, I'll let her start us off. – Evan
Well hello, Evan! I indeed just got back from my first visit to Odd Duck. Honestly, I knew I couldn't dislike an establishment with a name like that. It's so fun to say, right?! Anyway, as it turns out, the place has even more to offer.
Before going to Odd Duck, I spoke to a few friends (including you) who had dined there before. The way they described the food reminded me of Braise or La Merenda, both of which I enjoy thoroughly. After tonight, I would say that I can see the similarities, but Odd Duck definitely has its own style that sets it apart.
One thing I noticed, which I thought was cool, was that there was an expeditor stationed outside the kitchen. He looked over every single dish before it went out. Fancy, right? It made me feel like they were really taking pride in what they were serving me.
Speaking of dishes, thanks for sending me the list of things you ordered during your dinner there last night. Was there anything you didn't try?
There were one or two things, maybe ... In my defense, there were four of us, so nine small plate dishes is hardly excessive. That's like 15 bites of food per person – and when I put it like that I feel like I should be commended for restraint.
But in all seriousness, that's about average for the few times I've been there, and I've never walked away from the table feeling overstuffed. I really enjoy the tapas dining experience for that reason. How else could someone eat beef tenderloin, scallops, ribs, corn bisque, stuffed peppers, beet salad, steamed mussels, bacon-wrapped dates, baked broccoli and chocolate cake and not want to die afterward?
Of that feast, it's hard to pick out a favorite dish – there really wasn't a single "bad" item. The baked broccoli was a tad underdone and the sweet corn bisque was perhaps a little thick, but they were both still absolutely delicious. But if I must choose (and I don't know why I must – this is our blog, after all), I'd pick the Hong Kong beef tenderloin with roasted baby peppers and sweet chili sauce. Those little chunks of beef (I think there were six of them) were beautifully charred on the outside yet remained a perfect medium rare on the inside. And that sauce! Obnoxious foodies throw around that word "umami" a lot, and I really don't know what it means. But I have a hunch that the accompanying sweet chili sauce is what that word is all about. It's so complex – striking a seemingly impossible balance between sweet, salty, spicy and slightly bitter – and just the perfect complement to that blackened beef.
Speaking of delicate balances, I'd be remiss not to mention the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with gouda. Just read those ingredients again and try to imagine them not being delicious. It's not possible.
What were some of your favorites?
Well, since there were only two of us, I didn't try nearly as much as you did, but the goat cheese-stuffed peppers were definitely my favorite. It was a fairly simple combination, but the warm goat cheese complimented the crisp bell peppers perfectly. I would say that the lamb kebobs were my least favorite. They were a bit chewy, and the plate only included two small skewers. The saving grace though, was the yogurt sauce that came with it. Like you said, the sauces at this restaurant are really exquisite. It seems that every dish comes with its own unique and complimentary sauce, which brings out the flavor rather than distracts from it.
Also, something amazing happened while we were there that I feel I must bring up. When my boyfriend got up to use the restroom, he took the napkin from his lap and placed it on the table.
While he was gone, a staff member actually came over to our table just to fold his napkin. I've just ... never experienced something like that before.
How was the service while you were there?
Yes! I found my napkin all beautifully folded and twisted upon my return from the bathroom too. That's a new thing. And while it's pretty silly when you really think about it, it does show diners just how much attention they're paying to every single detail (just like the visible expeditor you mentioned earlier).
I'm glad the lamb wasn't very good. Well, not "glad." Let's say relieved, because I was this close to ordering it, but instead opted for the pretzel-crusted scallops (a recommendation from our waiter-in-training whose name I forget but who did a great job). They were nice and perfectly cooked, but nothing really worth writing home about. And I'm totally with you on the stuffed peppers, though would it have killed them to remove the stems?
Overall, service was flawless. I'm curious, though: how many dishes did you order and in what sort of arrangement did they get served to you? I ask because the first few times I went to Odd Duck, I found the service to be way too fast. We'd order a bunch of dishes and within five minutes four of them would be at our table. We'd be in and out in less than an hour. After a few experiences with this I started to ask the waiter to please slow it down a bit and only bring one or two dishes at a time, which made the whole experience much more enjoyable. A plate would arrive, we'd pass it around the table, each taking a bite's worth, and as we were finishing up a new dish would be set down. Perfect.
This most recent time, though, I forgot to mention this to the waiter and three dishes arrived almost immediately. I was worried we were in for another dining sprint, but thankfully things slowed down with the remaining five dishes. I don't know – maybe it's just me.
Yes, I did get a little anxious when I saw how quickly the first plate came out. Altogether we ordered two small plates, one large plate and dessert. Our waitress served us the small plates first, then held off until we were finished to serve the large plate. It worked out well, but I still couldn't help but feel a bit rushed.
I totally agree with you on the bell pepper stems! I just ended up eating them because I'm lazy. I suppose it does say something about us that we can't be bothered to cut the stems off some vegetables though ...
I think when I do go back to Odd Duck, I will try to round up a larger group of people to go with. It was fun with just my boyfriend, but I would love to be able to sample many different plates, as you did. With so much variety in the menu, it's hard to not want to try everything.
I know we both had the same dessert; what did you think of it?
You'll have to excuse me a moment, I'm still laughing at the idea of you eating the pepper stems ... you know ... just 'cause. This blog is not off to a good start.
Okay, I'm good.
Honestly, the dessert didn't leave much of an impression on me. It was a cheesecake-filled chocolate cake roll with whipped cream and a caramel sauce. It sounds amazing, no doubt, but I found the cake a little bland and didn't get much of that rich cheesecake flavor you'd expect. I ended up just mixing bites of the whipped cream (extra thick, just how I like it) with the caramel sauce and that was fine by me.
Looking back through this, we definitely picked a lot of nits, but overall we both thoroughly enjoyed our experiences. As I said earlier, Odd Duck took the Milwaukee dining scene by storm, and most impressive to me is they didn't seem to suffer any of those restaurant growing pains. They came out of the gate as a well-oiled machine (their speedy delivery notwithstanding) and that's rare.
My last thought is this: As charming as the inside is – and it really is – their back patio is great. Quaint and rustic and shaded by a few towering trees, it's a lovely place to enjoy a meal.
Any parting thoughts?
I do love my desserts, but the chocolate cake roll didn't do too much for me either. The cheesecake center was decadent and delicious, but the outer cake portion was a bit bland. I would definitely like to try their other dessert options in the future, as they all sounded tempting.
Overall, I really did enjoy the dining experience. I think one of the things that impressed me the most was the fact that they update their menu every day to accommodate the ingredients that come in. It's really hard to top that kind of dedication.
And who knows? There may have been valuable nutrients in those pepper stems.
Evan Solochek was born and raised in Milwaukee, a lifelong East Sider
who loves nothing more than a good cheeseburger, a crisp slice of
watermelon and a generous slice of blueberry pie.
Though he works as a Communications Specialist at Columbia St. Mary's, his background is in journalism. He graduated from Boston University in 2005 with a degree in communication/print journalism. Upon returning home to be with his then-girlfriend/now-wife, Evan hooked up with Vital Source Magazine, where he learned the ins and outs of Milwaukee's fine arts scene.
After three years there, and rising to the role of Managing Editor, Evan moved on to Milwaukee Magazine. There he spent the next five years overseeing the insider section, helping maintain the website and dabbling in food writing, among other things. Working with one of the best in the business, Evan picked up the finer points of food criticism, discovered some hidden gems and even spent the better part of a year hunting for the city's best nachos. He applied these lessons to his own Cheap Eats food blog, which can still be found online if you look really hard.
Today, Evan has migrated to Bay View (like one does when they approach 30) and lives with his wife, Emily, and their two dogs, Jack and Penny.
Savanah Ladd hails from Hartland but has spent most of her adult years on the East Side. She spent five years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; her indecisive ways made selecting a major a difficult process, but she ultimately made her move and graduated with a degree in business administration.
Throughout college, Savanah worked at Alterra at the Lake, where she learned to handle large amounts of people with grace. After six years of making lattes, she decided to begin her career and moved on to an Internet marketing internship at ProHealth Care. Shortly after, she took a job as an Account Coordinator at Ascedia and still holds this position today.
In her spare time, Savanah devours any magazine or blog post that publishers are willing to print or post. She's even been known to steal her boyfriend's GQ magazine when he's not looking. Her other hobbies include fashion, food and watching the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl.