In Dining

La Merenda's winter menu boasts roasted beet salad, fresh Rushing Waters trout and mussels. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

In Dining

"We try to buy as much local food as we can," chef Sandroni says. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

In Dining

Ash's favorite fall foods include earthy squashes, mushrooms, root vegetable, "spices that warm the heart" and game meats. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

In Dining

Squash ravioli takes a classic Italian recipe and adds Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and sage brown butter to make a rich and creamy cool weather meal. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

Chefs embrace seasonal foods for fresh fall eating

(page 2)


Robin Kasch, owner of Café Manna, 3815 N. Brookfield Rd., is another RSA member and rolls out a newly expanded menu in the next couple weeks.

Hearty highlights include three-bean chili, made with three beans, mushrooms, onions, sweet corn, green chilies and vegetable protein.

"I affectionately call it the meat-lover's vegetarian chili," says Kasch. "Nobody can tell the difference. It is so thick and the vegetable protein that's in there has the consistency of ground beef."

Many of the restaurant's original recipes were from Kasch's personal stash, and she works closely with her team of chefs -- Sandor Csiki, Ben Cullen, Joslyn Killey -- to create seasonal selections, such as the new flatbread pizza -- sun-dried tomato pesto or basil pesto atop a crunchy, crispy piece of flatbread, with toppings of your choice.

The Jamaican-spiced burger has been turned into a loaf with a demi-glaze and roasted vegetables and whipped potatoes, and acorn squash has been stuffed with a vegetable risotto, and surrounded by steamed spinach.

"I'd love to do it year-round," she says, "but of course, squash isn't a year-round thing. We are part of the RSA and I want to support local farmers, so whatever is part of the growing season is what we will have at our disposal."

Supporting local farmers is great and reducing food's travel is significantly gentler on the environment -- as well as your pocket book -- but there is another big reason chefs pay attention to yearly patterns: in-season food tastes better.

"It is so important that you cook seasonally for a few reasons," says Intercontinental Milwaukee's executive chef Robert Ash, who has been at the helm of Kilawat for the past two years.

"You obtain the freshest ingredients out there at the peak of their freshness and they are so full of flavor. Would you buy a watermelon in the middle of winter? The same goes for fall ingredients. We buy apples, pears, squash and wild game in the fall from local vendors that really showcase the high quality -- flavors become more prevalent when they are harvested during the proper season."

Ash alters his menu two or three times a year and some of his favorite fall foods include earthy squashes, mushrooms, root vegetable, "spices that warm the heart" and game meats. Last week he unveiled his fall-times feasting items, which include a scallop dish with a herb-infused parsnip puree, porcini mushrooms and a red wine glaze, a Strauss lamb osso bucco with a barley risotto and baby root vegetables, and Wisconsin cheese fondue.

If you're looking to dine out this coming holiday, he has put together a Thanksgiving menu for Thursday, Nov. 27 that features organic turkey ravioli and Labelle Farms duck confit for starters, followed by porcini-rubbed Strauss lamb loin and Diestel Farms turkey breast and finishing with a spiced pumpkin tart for dessert.

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Talkbacks

Foodluvr | Nov. 11, 2008 at 12:07 p.m. (report)

I recently ate at La Merenda and loved the menu and food, but the service was definitely lacking. Our server was not familiar with the menu or ingredients of certain items and was not helpful when it came to wine selection. Our plates were not cleared the entire time we were there. We had to ask the bartender for our drinks and we literally saw our server twice. Very annoying, considering we were looking forward to the service matching the food, and gratuity was already included on the bill. I would not have given him the gratuity that was already included on our bill. He definitely did not deserve it. I would eat there again in hopes we would have better service because the food is amazing!

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mkechic | Nov. 7, 2008 at 2:07 p.m. (report)

I agree that the food at La Merenda is amazing. We've been going for over a year, and although it's one of our favorite spots, we've noticed a decline in service lately. We recently had to wait almost 10 minutes to be greeted!

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outtatown | Nov. 6, 2008 at 2:23 p.m. (report)

Peter is a great chef: Milwaukee is lucky to have him on the dining scene. People should take advantage of his creativity and use of locally sourced/ seasonal menus... these are usually available for a much higher price than you'll pay at La Merenda. FYI, his last name is misspelled in the article.

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preppiecurler | Nov. 5, 2008 at 12:54 p.m. (report)

This article was nice. However, your assumption of Sysco- bad. Sysco has a lot of new offerings geared toward Chefs looking for speciality/organic and some local offerings. You would be surpised!

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