Trocadero, 1758 N. Water St., underwent a major facelift earlier this year which not only changed the interior and patio, but pulled out much of the French influence from the menu and pulled in the trademarks that Diablos Rojos Restaurant Group has built into its Café Hollander and Café Centraal locations.
Gone are the pâté and cornichon platters and croque-monsieurs, replaced with skinny sweet potato frites ($6), blackberry turkey sandwich ($10) and a selection of Belgian beers and other alcohol options that rivals the food menu in size and scope.
The patio space is now heated year-round and seems to have maintained its status as the place to be if you're eating outside in the Downtown area. The interior has readjusted the front entrance to the Water Street side, with the smaller bar returning -- a welcome throwback to its infancy in 2001.
I had been to the old Trocadero numerous times, and while I was never totally blown away by the food, it was consistent. I have been a long-time fan of the white sangria and the open air patio, and always walked away satisfied.
So, I was disappointed with my first visit to the new, more internationally-spun Trocadero Gastrobar. The food selections are limited and many old favorites are gone, but I still believe change can be good. I'm just hoping it will get better.
I do find the daily breakfast (beginning at 8 a.m.) attractive, and something for which I would likely venture back, especially since their Frenchie Bloody Mary remains one of my favorites.
For an appetizer, we sampled the smoked trout plate ($11). Chunks of meaty trout were fanned out with too many capers on top and served with quarter-inch slabs of herbed crostini -- a bread that was far too robust for the trout and overwhelmed its gentle smoked flavors.
Chive cream cheese and apricot preserves were good pairings for the fish, but the plate would have been far more successful with water crackers, apple slices or paper-thin versions of the crostini to let the trout shine through.
Red devil chicken ($15) sounded fantastic; marinated in srichacha, seasoned with ancho chili rub and then dredged in a buttermilk batter with smoked paprika. I was expecting great things from this dish.
Unfortunately, my pieces were bone dry, so much so that the chicken actually striated with each bite. The sides of Latin slaw and Spanish rice seemed to foil each other. The slaw was great and flavorful and added some much needed moisture to the plate, but my rice was overcooked and mushy.
My dining companion tried the blue agave burger ($11), which, again, sounded phenomenal on paper. The burger was glazed with a tequila sauce, served with queso fresco, pico de gallo, avocado, chipotle aioli and leaf lettuce. It should have been spectacular, but failed to impress.
It was again quite dry, and didn't carry enough aioli or pico de gallo to quell that dryness. The frites that came with it had spent a bit too much time somewhere out of the fryer and were limp and tepid in temperature.
So went my return visit to the new Trocadero, which I cannot yet say is "improved."
Given Diablos Rojos Restaurant Group's success, however, I emphatically hope that will change in the coming months. The concept of the new Trocadero is excellent, but in my experience, the execution is poor.
I'll give it a little time to iron out the details before venturing back -- and with the patio heated all year long, I'll have plenty of time to do so.
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.