Unlike our first adventure at AJ Bombers, not one of us had been to Beta by Sabor, so we were all excited to try something new. I think we all went to the menu in the days prior to our dinner, and we all had our eyes on certain dishes.
Beta by Sabor is located at the same location as Sabor, on Water Street, between Wells and Mason. Unlike Sabor, which traffics in meat and lots of it, Beta limits its selections to small plates, made for sharing. Dinners like this are perfect for a group of friends looking to go out, have a fun time and experience a cacophony of tastes and flavors. Adam says it best:
The dynamic of passing around plates of food that other people chose encourages conversation and trying new things that you might never try yourself.
This has certainly been true for me in the past at some of the other excellent small plate restaurants in our area including Generations (in Waukesha) and La Merenda (in Bay View).
The inside of the restaurant is vibrant and attractive and the main room in Beta features a giant wine cellar. We were seated quickly (we had reservations) and we sat against the wall, half of us in a cozy booth, the other half on comfortable chairs. Shannon describes it this way:
The decor and ambiance are hard to describe. It was loud (social event), and dimly lit but very comfortable. I’d recommend it for groups of friends or families. I can also imagine this being a good date place.
Several of us had drinks. Michelle’s General Lee had a giant circular ice cube that I just knew I’d end up eating. It also had blueberries that were soaked in bourbon that the chef referred to as “Bourbon gushers.” Michelle said:
I especially enjoyed my General Lee cocktail with bourbon gushers! 🙂
Shannon had a Grapefruit Gimlet that “was good and got even better as it went down,” and was, for some reason, in a cocktail glass.
Despite having seen the menu before, it took us some time to decide what to order. We chose to start with two orders of “Toast and “Jam.” The toast was toasted excellently, and was garlicky and delicious. Both jams were so good that I had a hard time deciding which one to smear on the bread. For obvious reasons, I didn’t indulge in the cheese plate, but everyone seemed to enjoy it and this pairing was a great way to begin our dining experience. I chose the Saffron and Crab Aioli while Cindi chose the Blueberry Jam.
The first dish that arrived was the Seared Scallops (Michelle’s choice). Our waiter, Kevin, was very helpful identifying items that would be too small for our group size. He warned us about this dish being small, but we went ahead and ordered it and it was delicious. The fried banana and bacon puree was out of this world and the scallops were buttery and peppery and just perfectly cooked. This dish was Shannon’s second favorite. Michelle said:
I had seen this dish online and was really excited to try. It was my favorite!
I’d never had Pork Rinds before, they were okay, but I could taste the nacho powder, yuck. Cindi ordered these and people around the table seemed to enjoy them, but they seemed more like an appetizer than a dinner item. At some point, our waiter noticed my open notepad where I’d jotted “Beta” and his name. Michelle tried to make me put it away, but I wouldn’t. Eventually he asked us in a polite way what we were up to. We told him about the challenge and it seemed to make and impression on him.
This dish, Adam’s choice, was NOTHING short of amazing. It was my favorite item from the entire dinner! The tuna and beef were equally good, but the pickled horseradish really made the item zing. Putting the grouping on top of the delicious artisan bread really set it off.
The food wasn’t more expensive than a pretty typical night out, though we may have been tempted to order more just due to the way it comes out in parts. Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun trying and then talking about each item.
TJ ordered the BBQ’d Turkey Tail. The BBQ was super tangy and the meat fell of the bone. Also, the potatoes at the bottom of the plate were fried perfectly. I only had a little because there was cheese sprinkled over the top and I had to avoid it.
Our waiter was really good at explaining the “need-to-know” things about each item and he was really friendly. Shortly after we told him about our quest, the manager came over and suggested we come to Sabor when we get to ‘S.’ He was very friendly as well, and interested in where we’d been and where we are going next. The service was super.
Though we all enjoyed aspects of each dish that came before. The last two dishes we enjoyed seemed to be enjoyed most collectively.
My favorite was also the savory chicken and waffles that Shannon ordered. Pretty, pretty perfect combination of sweet and savory and down-home comforting deliciousness.
The mix of gravy with the whiskey apple syrup, fried chicken and waffles- it was such a perfect mix! It had a very southern, down-home taste that really hit the spot for me.
I’ll be going back for the chicken and waffles alone.
An interesting pairing to be sure. The veal was incredible, and the halibut cheek wasn’t bad either. I appreciated Shannon’s ethical stance against eating the veal. It meant that I wasn’t the only person who didn’t eat something.
You didn’t even need a spoon to cut that veal; you could breath on it and it fell apart.
As dinner wound down, someone brought over a frozen alcoholic drink featuring melons. It was pretty tasty, and we didn’t know if they gave it to us because they had extra for the large party that was taking place or whether they did it to get a good review. It was probably the former, we have a lot to learn about being critics. Either way, it was a nice touch.
Any doubt that we’d get the ice cream was dispelled before dinner even began when Cindi said she wanted it! Despite not being pregnant, I craved it too and excitedly seconded her suggestion. The ice cream was made in front of us with liquid nitrogen and it added to the feel that this was an experience, not a mere dinner.
The ice cream experience was pretty fantastic and unique. Not only was the experience one-of-a-kind, so was the chef AND ice cream itself. Who can complain about chocolate-cherry-bacon-bourbon ice cream created specially for you by a man with a perfectly stellar handlebar mustache?! It was my favorite part of our time at Beta.
Ordering ice cream could not be more entertaining. I loved everything about it from the science lesson to the fact that they plop down that giant metal mixing bowl right in the middle of your table.
As we talked to the chef and stuck our hands in the liquid nitrogen, he talked to us about what we had ordered, mentioning things before we did. Michelle was very impressed with him and the ice cream.
The ice cream demonstration was excellent!
Adam debated his rating, settling on an 8, he said:
I would rate it an 8. Our server (even though he did a great job in the face of Nick’s notepad) called the ice cream ‘scream’ and I was forced to deduct half a point out of principle. However, I was pretty full when we ate dessert and not able to fully appreciate how good the ice cream was. Cindi and I were able to take some home and upon second tasting, it is really, really good. Based on how good the ice cream was alone, I bumped the overall score back up to 8.
There is no exaggerating how good the ice cream and the experience was. We arrived for our reservations at 8:15 and didn’t leave until well after 10:30! The whole time we enjoyed the atmosphere, the company and, most importantly, the delicious, diverse and creative menu. The ice cream was a perfect bookend to an excellent culinary adventure!
We even had enough ice cream left to take two large cartons home. Though the ice cream adventure was $35, it was actually a pretty great deal!
Though everyone else was now full… I managed to get that ice cube into my mouth!
Following Beta, we headed to The Palm in Bay View on Kinnickinnic. They have a large and excellent beer selection, including a couple of expensive sour beers and some of the hoppiest IPAs in Milwaukee. The conversation about our great dinner continued!
I think we’d all recommend Beta by Sabor. I also believe we had the perfect group size, which allowed us to enjoy a wide variety of great dishes.
Beta by Sabor cumulative rating: 7.9
Also, we all learned a little something that will help us as this quest goes along. Cindi summed it up best, she said:
Admittedly, I would never have chosen to gone here. It seemed like the kind of place that might cover up mediocre cooking with fancy waterfalls, dim lighting, and modern decor. It proved me wrong and made me a little more open-minded. I appreciate their willingness to try something unique but not at the expense of great flavor and plain old great cooking. I’ve already recommended it to my parents and their friends.
I’ll give TJ the last word:
To me Beta was more about going out to eat, it was a night out and an experience. There isn’t a much better time than when you can share food and great conversation with your friends. I wonder if we got “special” treatment but if not, what a place. Made you feel really special.
A sweet, fleeting feeling…
Losing nominations for ‘B’ were Bel Air Cantina (Adam), Botana’s (Cindi), Blue’s Egg (TJ), Beans and Barley (Shannon) and Balzac Wine Bar (Michelle).