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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Eatin' in Milwaukee

I spent last week in downtown Milwaukee and managed to get home on Friday despite the foot of snow that fell that morning. While I was there I tried a few local eateries of note.

* Mader's - Often considered the best German restaurant in the country, it's been open for 106 years. The photo wall of famous visitors rivals that of any restaurant in the country. JFK, Reagan, The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Paul Newman, to name a few giving you an idea of how long Mader's has been a place people go when they're in Milwaukee. The place is decked out with lots of dark, manly wood and real Frederick Barbarossa era weapons and armor to give you an even more Teutonic vibe.

One thing I always forget about real German food since I only have it every 5 years or so is that I really don't like it that much. It's too sweet, for one thing. I had the sauerbraten with spätzle and red cabbage. Sweet gravy was served over the meat and topped with dollops of sour cream and raisins. Even ignoring the sweetness I thought the beef was really tough for something that was supposedly marinated for 12 days and cost $25. It wasn't any better than a rump roast left in the crock pot about an hour too long. I did like the spätzle which appeared to have been pan-fried after cooking to give it a little bit of crispness and extra flavor.

* The King and I is a relatively old Thai restaurant, Zagat-rated and all that, just a few blocks south of Mader's. I used to alway order Pad Thai at Thai restaurants because I love it and I like to see how it varies and compares regionally but lately I've taken to ordering larb gai everywhere I go. The larb gai, which is basically a chicken salad seasoned with chili, fish sauce and lime juice, was the best I've had. I asked for it medium spicy and it was just spicy enough to make me sweat but still be enjoyable to eat. What set it apart from others I've had was that it contained the coarsely ground toasted rice that is supposed to be essential to the dish but is commonly left out.

* I was working in one of the biggest Mexican neighborhoods in the country so one day for lunch I asked where I should go for the best tacos and by tacos I meant the little soft corn shells topped with a wide variety of meats, onions and cilantro. The unanimous answer was Los Comales. It is actually somewhat of a chain since there are numerous locations in Chicagoland as well as the one in Milwaukee. I didn't know that until I googled it though, because when I walked in it was packed at 11:30 and I was pretty much the only person in the place with English as my first language and they didn't take credit cards. It's a good thing ordering food is one of the first things you learn in a Spanish class.

I had five tacos, two al pastor, two barbacoa and one lengua. The pastor and barbacoa are similar to what I've had at Super Taco, La Mexicana, El Chaparro and El Comal, but the lengua was out of sight. I've only had lengua served in little chunks but the lengua at Los Comales was sliced, long and thin, and very tender.

There were two bottles of salsa on the table. The green tomatillo salsa was fairly mild and not too exciting but the red salsa was smoky like I like and spicy without being overpowering. What was really cool was that each table had a huge tub full of curtido, fresh pickled jalapenos, carrots and cauliflower that you pay $3 a jar for at the grocery store.

If I ever go back to Milwaukee, which I wouldn't mind at all, I'll probably hit at least one of these places again. For you bikers out there, I drove by the Harley museum everyday and it looks like it'll be open by late summer. It's a pretty impressive building.

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