There’s no shortage of articles and television shows that showcase the dishes that chefs love to cook at their restaurants. But, what do they love to eat at the end of their exhausting 16-hour days? Or on their days off? In this series, we ask Milwaukee area chefs to share their favorite dishes – both from area restaurants and for eating at home. In this edition, we talked with Chef Zach Espinosa of Mr. B’s Steakhouse.
"The way I eat is based, to great extent, in how I’ve forged my identity as a chef," notes Espinosa. "Having worked at Harbor House – and even now at Mr. B’s – the mentality is all about finding the best seafood and sourcing the best meats. You try to do as little as possible and really let those ingredients speak for themselves. We’ve done the difficult work of creating and nurturing the relationships that allow us to give guests the best of the best."
Espinosa says that background informs the types of dishes he looks for when he dines out.
"It’s about finding simple dishes where great ingredients are the star," he says. "You don’t need 17 components to create a delicious dish. Less is more. It’s simpler, cleaner. And we eat that way at home, as well. When you spend your money, it’s about eating what you like and really enjoying the experience. And for me, that’s about great ingredients complemented by a small supporting cast of ingredients."
Roasted cauliflower salad at Story Hill BKC
"There’s something so refreshing about it. It’s got this beautiful texture and flavor from lightly roasted cauliflower and then a little bite from the Montamore cheese. I don’t know what it is, it feels so luxurious to me. It’s not just a salad. The cauliflower is slightly nutty, and the almonds really enhance that. There’s beautiful texture and a greenness about the pesto that’s light, but super herby. It’s really harmonious, super balanced and no ingredient takes away from any of the others. For me, it’s beyond seasonal. It’s such a great dish, and maybe it’s a bit autumnal by nature, but it’s so good."
Grilled octopus salad at Tofte’s Table
"We’re really fortunate that Tofte’s Table is within walking distance of our house. It’s an amazing restaurant, and it’s so great to see that they’re busy all the time. The area is so lucky to have it, and we love going there. For a while, we were going there so often the bartender knew exactly what we wanted.
"I love octopus, but it can be difficult to find it prepared well. He [Chef Jason Tofte] does everything needed to prepare that octopus and treat it right. It’s meaty, but not chewy. It’s so delicate, and you can tell it’s treated with respect. I know what that takes to keep it fresh and really give it proper attention. It’s a really simple dish, but it’s always spot on. It’s great because it adheres to that sort of tapas mentality. You get a bit of crusty bread, a little vinaigrette and a nice piece of octopus that’s perfectly charred with a bit of cheese, it’s borderline magical."
65-day dry-aged prime bone-in ribeye at Mr. B’s
"One of the things I did when I came to Mr. B’s was to expand the offerings from prime cuts to dry aged. One of the things I brought in was this ribeye, and it’s something you can’t get anywhere else in the city. I think 65 days is the sweet spot for dry aged meat. There’s a really pleasant, earthy aroma that’s a bit like mushrooms or foie gras. It’s not overbearing or completely distracting. You really get the optimal texture from the steak. It’s like butter. Ribeye can get a bad rap for being too fatty or having too much connective tissue, but the aging really makes a difference. Even the fat has such an intensely rich flavor; it’s something unique. It’s something I really love to eat. It’s a definite splurge. I don’t eat $60 or $70 steaks very often, but if I wanted to treat myself, this would be it. I honestly wish more restaurants had things like this. It’s something I would totally order."
Ultimate comfort food
"Katie [Zach’s wife, a certified sommelier] makes this amazing lasagna. She makes a sort of hybrid bolognese sauce with pork, beef and ground veal, and then she incorporates some of the homemade tomato sauce that I will make with tomatoes from our garden. Part of the emotional attachment to this is that she tends to make it for a celebration of some sort. It has this truffled bechamel that’s gooey and perfect with this great touch of flavor from white truffle. And that’s paired with this very homey acidic tomato sauce that’s made with tomatoes that we grew. Lasagna is a very comforting dish. It’s time consuming, and I think it’s a really precise art. It’s romantic to me, because it’s always something we’re eating for a special occasion. There’s always wine. There’s usually family. And there’s always this magic moment of silence while everyone is taking their first bite. It’s the best; it’s everything worth loving about food and eating."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.