By Amy L. Carlson   Published Aug 15, 2005 at 5:39 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1}The Historic Third Ward has harbored an interesting mix of restaurants over the years, but until Riverwalk Bistro, 223 N. Water St., opened its doors, there has been a lack of true upscale dining on the airy and beautiful Riverwalk in this Downtown neighborhood.

On two recent visits, we found Riverwalk Bistro (formerly Borrego's) to be the ideal spot for a relaxing and delicious meal. On the way to our table on our first visit, our friendly host convinced us to order the cornmeal encrusted calamari ($7.95), which impressed for two reasons: the first being that I like restaurants where the staff believes enough in their products that, unprompted, they will offer suggestions to new diners; it immediately builds a patron's confidence in the establishment; secondly, good calamari is nearly impossible to find in Milwaukee, many restaurants offer versions that are too spongy or soggy or otherwise unpleasant.

Riverwalk Bistro, however, serves up a healthy portion of flawlessly cooked calamari, perfectly crusted with cornmeal, lightly fried and drizzled with the ideal amount of a Cajun remoulade and parmesan cheese. The soups of the day we sampled were a refreshing cold avocado and cantaloupe that was luscious, creamy, and surprisingly light, and a thick, hearty shrimp bisque with a sweet cream flavor and beautiful, perfectly steamed shrimp to top it off. Both soups were exceptional.

{image2}The grilled ham and gouda sandwich ($7.25) was also a favorite, with a slice of ripe tomato and a spicy country grain mustard topped with fresh spinach and served on a country bread that was buttered and toasted to precision. The southwestern sushi ($8.95) wrap was a little too salty for our tastes, featuring a house cured salmon with a mixture of vegetables and a cilantro cream sauce. We enjoyed the flavors but thought it too sodium-rich for one person to make a meal of the entire wrap. Riverwalk Bistro offers fruit as a side option, and we were pleased to see fresh mango amidst the large, sweet berries and grapes.

Dinner entrees at Riverwalk feature unique presentations and flavor combinations for seafood, chicken, pork and beef, including a menu that weighs heavily on ginger root-based sauces. We sampled a chicken and shrimp tempura ($7.95) to start with. Large shrimp and chicken fingers were presented in a toasted batter with tarragon mustard, honey mustard and ginger BBQ sauce for dipping.

For entrees, a ginger pork tenderloin ($15.95) was perfectly cooked and fanned out over a plate heaped with chevré mashed potatoes and steamed rapini and broccoli. Potato crusted grouper ($15.95) was beautifully presented with a yellow pepper beurre blanc, but the shredded potato crust on both sides of the fish was a little two heavy. An attentive server noticed my dissatisfaction and insistently whisked it off to the kitchen for another try, but I still wasn't thrilled with the overabundance of potatoes on the otherwise flaky fish.

{image3}However, in a service industry where too often a less-than-thrilled diner's experiences are overlooked, Riverwalk's approach to replacing the dish, coupled with knowledgeable and friendly servers and a clean, sleek dining environment -- both inside and along the river -- make this one of our new favorite places. For ambience, service and reasonable prices, Riverwalk Bistro is a refreshing addition to the Milwaukee dining scene.

We finished our meal with a trio of fresh homemade sorbets ($4.50) a delightful combination of ginger, coconut and tangerine, served demurely in a martini glass. These sorbets are some of the best in town, and served as a lovely palate cleanser and revitalizer, just another indication of the breath of fresh air we now have in Riverwalk Bistro.

Riverwalk Bistro is open Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information on Riverwalk Bistro, call (414) 272-4200. The restaurant's Web site is