There are bars that serve food, and there are restaurants that have bars, and somewhere in between there is the Wind Rose Wine and Martini Bar, 308 Franklin St., Port Washington, which carefully blurs the line between the two.
In what appears to be an endeavor to be all things to all people, the wine and martini bar area is modest in size compared to the lounge and formal dining areas, and features a live pianist, clarinetist, and a television showing the latest sporting events.
The martini list is substantial and innovative, with variations including caramel apple, a cherry cosmopolitan, and the Wind Rose house martini (pricing varies, $7 and up), and the wine list respectable, but more respectable is the food, done simply and very well in this Port Washington night spot.
While the cuisine may look overtly adventurous at first glance, the flavors here are very well-balanced and whereas items like coriander/cilantro and pomegranate are sometimes overpowering, at Wind Rose, they are used to artfully and subtly create balance.
The restaurant offers a good selection of appetizers to complement their aforementioned specialty cocktails. Coriander-sesame crusted shrimp ($13), apricot glazed scallops ($12), and escargot au Riesling ($9) were all delightfully fresh and offered just enough spin on the traditional to make them excellent. Apricot glaze peaked out just a bit beneath the bed of sautéed vegetables and shellfish, which were seared to perfection, offering a faintly sweet complement to plump scallops and green beans. The escargot were rich and delicious in a delicate yet garlicky butter wine sauce that made a heavenly dip for the accompanying crostinis, and the shrimp were sautéed to pink perfection and drizzled with a delicate cilantro aioli.
Soups and salads at Wind Rose also shine. The soup of the day ($3) was a chicken and vegetable in a curry coconut cream on one visit, and tomato basil on another, both of which were exquisite. The house salad ($3) ranked with the best of mixed green compilations with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette and a smattering of fresh parmesan cheese; spiced walnut and pear salad ($6) paired the same vinaigrette with bleu cheese, spiced walnuts and pears for wonderful flavors and textures that made the salad tempting enough to order as an entrée (diners can add chicken ($12), or shrimp or scallops ($15).
The entrée selections here are limited but again very well done, and every evening showcases a special appetizer and dessert in addition to an entrée special. Black and bleu tenderloin ($32, market price, so it may vary) arrived perfectly medium rare encrusted with peppercorns and garnished with a mild, rich blue cheese that was divine when swirled into the port wine reduction sauce surrounding the meat. A maple-ginger glazed salmon ($21) appeared over Asian slaw with a wasabi aioli that was unique enough to really bring out the flavors of the fish without consuming it with heat. Pomegranate, sage and walnut scallops ($27) were also very good, with a roasted garlic and mushroom cous cous and a walnut sage butter that sent sweet and savory flavors throughout the dish.
True to form, desserts at Wind Rose feature careful twists on the traditional, with just a hint of unique flavors and flair. Crème Brulee of the day ($7) carried traces of cherry and vanilla, while a flourless Kahlua espresso cake ($7) came with cinnamon whipped cream and pears. And while I much preferred the pianist to the basketball game, perhaps the bar/restaurant identity at Wind Rose is yet another attempt on their part to find the same harmony in entertainment that they showcase in their food. Regardless, the restaurant is definitely worth the stop if you are in the Port Washington area, for wine, martinis, and some of the area's most delightfully balanced cuisine.
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.