Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Green Bay Restaurant Week
A few weeks ago I was invited to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to participate in their Restaurant Week; the second time this “annual” event took place.
This time, 58 restaurants participated in the extravaganza. And it was an extravaganza, because contrary to unconfirmed reports of experiences by consumers in other cities where the meals are reportedly stripped down versions of signature dishes offered by the top restaurants in town, the meals here were indeed the best each restaurant had to offer.
To be honest, I did not have any expectations as far as the cooking expertise in Green Bay was concerned. Yes, I know, farm-to-table is the culinary mantra nowadays, but what happens once the fresh ingredients are delivered from the farm to the kitchen?
We had both lunches and dinners. The lunches were all priced at $10 per person plus tax, tip and beverage; the dinners were $10, $20 or $30 per person, plus tax, tip and beverage. Some of the better and more expensive establishments ($30 meals) also included a glass of paired wine with each main course or coffee with the dessert. Others offered $5 featured cocktails. The choices were 3 courses - soup or salad or first plate, main course and dessert. Each course had at least 3 and sometimes 4 or more alternatives to choose from, depending on the restaurant and price level you chose.
Reservations were highly recommended, especially for the smaller venues. All the restaurants we dined in were full to capacity, most of the time. Menus were available at the www.GBRestaurantWeek.com site and would have given you an idea of what dishes each restaurant offered.
We were in Green Bay for 5 days, and we tried a variety of establishments. Of all the meals, there were two dinners that were exceptional, and one 27 course tasting menu that was at an international, Michelin-starred level. The lunches were considerably simpler, but just as well prepared.
First, let’s talk about the dinner we had at A’ Bravo Bistro and Wine Bar (2069 Central Ct, Green Bay, WI 54311, 920-432-7286, abravo.net). The first item I have to mention is the quality service, very attentive and prompt, but not overbearing.
This is a rather small restaurant attractively decorated with warm colored - ocher and dark red/orange - walls and eye-catching light fixtures. There is a long bar along the wall across from the entrance, and it was fully occupied. And so were all the tables inside the restaurant. The kitchen is small and looks cramped, but the food that comes out of it is spectacular.
The offering is farm-to-table cuisine at reasonable prices. The restaurant is known as having outstanding salads for lunch. For dinner, I tried the Spicy Corn Chowder and it was thick and tasty. Then, I enjoyed the 5 Peppercorn Seared Sirloin with Merlot-mushroom glaze, rustic mashed potatoes and grilled carrots with brown butter, with a fresh rosemary stick and a nasturtium flower adding color, and the rosemary some additional aroma. The meat was perfectly cooked, just as requested. One of my companions had a delightfully creamy Lobster Mac & Cheese, with a blend of 4 cheeses topped with panko, and served with truffled toast. I tried it and it was impressive. My dessert was a scrumptious Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel served with a scoop of Zesty’s custard, topped with fresh strawberry sauce.
The wine list focuses on exceptional but affordable reds and whites with selections from some of the better wine producing areas of the world. I had a by-the-glass Argentinean Malbec, and it paired very well with my Sirloin.
The espresso was from a local roaster, La Java, and it was properly drawn and very aromatic.
Then there was S.A.L.T.
The town of De Pere, is a suburb of Green Bay where many of the better bistros, restaurants and other eating and drinking establishments are located.
S.A.L.T. at 401 Main Ave, De Pere, WI 54115, 920-336-4100, is another restaurant where the food was quite exceptional. They sit 135, and the restaurant was full on a Wednesday evening. They are famous for “modern comfort food” and offer small and medium sized dishes that can be shared at the table. The cooking techniques are global, and most ingredients are locally sourced. The menus are changed regularly but there may have been some differences between the on-line version and the actual in-house menu.
The amuse bouche was a rather spicy smoked tomato gazpacho, topped with a farm-fresh cucumber slice. Sensational... and made me think of Andalusia!
For the Restaurant Week dining they had a menu of 4 first courses, 4 second courses, and 4 desserts, to select one from each course. On the menu, they showed the local suppliers that provided the ingredients the kitchen uses.
I selected as first course the Cashew Duck, a stir-fried duck confit with sunchokes, snow peas and corn tossed with cashews and an oyster-hoisen sauce over ginger rice. Very Asian and very delectable!
My second course was Beef Chimichurri; grilled flat iron steak with a chorizo croquette, guacamole, and pico-de-gallo slaw. A dish definitely of South American origins.
The person sitting next to me had the Beer-Mustard Glazed Smoked Pork Loin, with bacon corn and grilled Brussels Sprouts, sriracha sauce, avocado and a cucumber-radish salad. She gobbled it so fast, I was amazed. She said she loved it.
The dessert was a “Summer Triffle”, a very popular British sweet of brown butter cake with lemon curd, vanilla whipped cream and macerated berries. The espresso was well made, with adequate crema.
The bar has an exceptional and very long list of local and non-local microbrewery beers; lagers, ales, and stouts from Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, California and other parts of the US. I have rarely seen such a varied selection! The wine list was small but well thought out to pair with their food offerings; Antiguas Reservas Cabernet from Chile’s Cousino-Macul, another exceptional Cabernet from Chateau Montelena in California, a Canella Prosecco from Italy, and a Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs were amongst the more noteworthy examples that also included a full-bodied Italian dry red Amarone della Valpolicella from Antonio Castagnedi’s Tenuta Sant’ Antonio, and a Luigi Einaudi Terlo Barolo from Piedmont.
Service was prompt and swift and we did not feel pressured to vacate the table.
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