Thursday, December 10, 2015
Milwaukee, WI Edition: Ardent
Ardent is one of the restaurants I was most looking forward to in Milwaukee. It was named one of the 15 best new restaurants in the Midwest by Conde Nast Traveler, and Justin Carlisle was a James Beard finalist for Best Chef Midwest.
A few things: You have to make a reservation; it's a very small restaurant. And when you make the reservation, you supply a credit card that will be charged $30 per person if you cancel with less than 24 hours notice. There are two seatings: between 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., and then between 8 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.
The restaurant itself is adorable. It has this sort of ease of elegance. It's located a little below ground level with little markings beyond the "A" on the door to designate its existence. There are only a handful of tables inside, and neutral toned shawls adorned the backs of chairs if you need some added cozy warmth. There was a sliver of a window open to the kitchen, so you could see the chefs working away.
As soon as you enter the restaurant, you know you're in for an experience. It's not just a meal. It's a memory in the making. The service is impeccable, the little touches do not go unnoticed. For example, they brought me a phone pillow. A PHONE PILLOW, they said, in case there are any spills. It's a plank of wood with some burlap on top.
Tony and I ordered a bunch of different courses to split. You're ordering one-word dishes with little context - just a hint of what that plate is. So, it's a bit of a surprise. You can opt for the eight-course tasting menu, but it's a little pricy, and this way we got to pick and choose. The first amuse bouche from the chef was this little cheese puff that had a creamy cheese inside with shaved cheese on top. It was a nice savory - a bit nutty - bite that really set a great tone for the dinner. For each course, the chef comes out to describe it. The very personal attention makes for a really engaging dinner.
The first plate we dug into was "Milk," which said "Pain Au Lait, Muenster Cheese, Cultured Butter." What it really is is a small roll, a house-made butter from the milk of Edelweiss Townhall Creamery’s grass-fed farms and a house-made fresh Muenster cheese. It all had a very fresh, light air to it, which was very tasty.
The next plate was "Corn," which said "Black Lime, Farm Cheese, Urfa." This actually ended up being a ravioli with a very soft cheese inside that had a sharp flavor. The sweetness of the corn really balanced it out.
Next up was "Game Hen," which was described as "Vegetable Kraut, Schmaltz, Mustard." This, while not initially what I gravitated toward, ended up being my absolute favorite dish. It was super moist and flavorful. The kraut had just a hint of bitterness. A very solid plate of food.
Next was the "Beef," complete with "Panzanella, Tomato, Black Garlic." This was cooked very well, and the salad had a delicious dressing that I couldn't stop myself from sopping up with the beef. Each bite was thoughtfully prepared, and artfully paired to enhance the flavors of each element.
Finally was "Apricot" with "Cream Cheese, Coriander." This was our dessert of sorts. You thought I was going to order the caramel thing, didn't you? I would have, but I had forced Tony to eat about 15,000 caramel things at this point so we went for this lighter option. And it was totally delicious! The meringue blew my mind. I friggin' love meringue. It was simple, refreshingly sweet and a very nice ending.
But, wait, there's more!
These complementary little mini vanilla cream puffs were a great finale. I love the little gifts from the chef, and I love a petit fours.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE.
And this is literally the best idea ever. You know how you leave a restaurant, and sometimes (if it's really REALLY good) you can't stop thinking about how amazing it was? Well, Ardent goes one step further and gives you these mini muffins to take home and remember the next morning how great the place is.
Everyone, do this. Best. Ever.