Reflecting on the year that was, the first of this quest, it seems we fulfilled all of the hopes we began with. We enjoyed great meals (and a few okay ones). Great conversations. Great beer. We’ve gathered for dinner less than a week before Cindi and Adam brought their beautiful baby into the world. We had dinner shortly before Michelle and I got married. There were new homes, new jobs, travel, photography awards–we saw so much in a wonderful 2012.
The ABCs of Milwaukee Dining was a excellent excuse to gather and discuss these things over dinner and drinks.
So it was fitting that we got together one last time in 2012, only days before a brand new year. We headed to Cathedral Square–home of Whiskey Bar (yuck)–to give the downtown location of Louise’s a try. It was my pick (Shannon chose it too) and I had never been there before, though Michelle insists that she tried to get me to go to the Brookfield location on numerous occasions, which I do not recall. Half of us had been there before, and Adam didn’t hide that he hadn’t been a huge fan in the past, though he was determined to give the place a fair shake.
The ambiance fits perfectly in the Cathedral Square/Milwaukee St. area, low lights and dark hues are pretty standard and done well enough here. When you enter, a large bar fronts the east side of the multi-storied building that houses Louise’s. The bar was decently lively. The open-concept kitchen runs the length of the dining room just beyond the bar. The dining room was large and when we arrived–rather late on a Thursday–it was about half full. Shannon said:
The atmosphere was generic. There are other Italian places in Milwaukee that are much more unique–Tenutas being my favorite.
TJ and Shannon were doing a photo shoot and arrived after Adam, Cindi, Michelle and I. I had a Hoegaarden, Adam enjoyed a cucumber cocktail and Michelle and Cindi had wine.
Our waiter was kind, letting us know as we discussed getting the bruschetta appetizer, that we would be getting bread and olive oil dipping sauce. Adam can tell the next part. He said:
Our server was great. He was polite and attentive without being obnoxious or intrusive. And he realized that Nick doesn’t eat cheese for some reason and brought out separate bread for him without being asked.
We decided to order the bruschetta anyways. Maybe we should have listened to our waiter. Cindi said:
I was most disappointed by the brushetta. The tomatoes were bland and unripe.
Adam was even more specific. He said:
The bruschetta tasted like a can of diced tomatoes. No hint of balsamic, garlic, basil or onion.
When I first checked out the menu online, I knew I wanted to have the mussels. They did not disappoint! The mussels were very good, especially highlighted by the hearty, spicy broth, which seemed to be tomato-based. I actually dipped the bread in the broth, rather than the olive oil. Cindi and Michelle really enjoyed the mussels too, but not all of us felt that way. Adam said:
I don’t like mussels or oysters but I try them every time I’m with a group that orders them. Guess what? They still taste like lake water. I have no idea why people pay so much money to eat something that has a rubbery texture and tastes like a pond. This shouldn’t be a reflection of Louise’s, just my personal opinion.
Shannon had enjoyed pizza her other two times at Louise’s (the Brookfield location), so this time she opted for pasta, she said:
Since I was trying to stay away from dairy, I ordered Penne Rigate w for $12.95. The asparagus was fresh and the tomatoes were very flavorful however, overall, the dish was pretty bland. I feel confident I make better pasta dishes at home. Offering whole-grain or gluten-free pasta would be nice.
For my second beer, I ordered something they had on tap from Water Street Brewery. Yuck. It tasted like stale salteen crackers. Terrible. Luckily dinner arrived quickly so I was able to extricate the offending taste of the beer. I chose spaghetti with italian sausage as my entree. The meal was tasty, but nothing special. Every italian place can do this dish well, but the special ones do it creatively. This dish was very standard, the sausage wasn’t spicy enough for my liking.
Though Adam thinks mollusks taste like various bodies of water, he does like crustaceans. He had shrimp pasta. Adam said:
It was okay but unfortunately came with a decent sized piece of wax paper mixed into the pasta. After deciding I didn’t want to try that, I moved on to the pasta itself and it was pretty standard. Nothing Cindi doesn’t make at home in about 10 minutes time and not as tasty, either.
Cindi joined her husband choosing a seafood entree. Luckily she didn’t get the wax paper. She said:
I ordered the seafood ravioli which came in a dill sauce. Mine was actually my favorite of all that I sampled. However, I kept comparing it to Casa Do Giorgio’s seafood ravioli which has an incredible tomato cream sauce. It just melts in your mouth. Go there if you love seafood and Italian.
Michelle followed the ravioli trend. She said:
I really liked the asparagus mushroom ravioli. There were other things on the menu that also looked interesting. I don’t go out for Italian food often so maybe that’s why I liked Louise’s. It reminded me of a nicer Olive Garden, and I actually really like The Olive Garden.
Though TJ had ravioli too and agreed with Michelle’s Olive Garden comparison, for him, it wasn’t a good thing. He said:
Chain-like Italian. I had the Chicken Ravioli alla Romano with Shitake Mushrooms. Not much taste but had a bit of spice to it.
Personally, I was reminded by Carrabba’s, down to the bread with olive oil dipping sauce. We were all pretty underwhelmed by Louise’s. So much so that we skipped dessert all together. Cindi was shocked when she saw the bill. She said:
Overall, I was surprised by the cost of our meal at $75 for the both of us. Aside from the mussels, I didn’t think the meal was worth that.
Adam agreed with his wife. He said:
For two entrees, part of two appetizers and three drinks between Cindi and I, the total with tip came to $75. I was disappointed that that $75 wasn’t going towards much better food. This was the first time since starting this adventure that my mind wandered to some of our other “L” options during the meal and specifically when the check came.
You probably won’t have a bad meal at Louise’s, nor will you have a meal that blows you away. It was a rather inauspicious gustatory ending to a year that included a lot of great meals and milestones.
And maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe our pallets were opened by this quest … or maybe, as was suggested in many of our reviews, Louise’s just has a pretty bland, standard (read: Americanized) take on italian food. Maybe it is a little of both.
Either way, none of us suggest you should run there for dinner tomorrow.
Here is to an excellent 2013! More food. More friends. More fun.
Ratings for Louise’s Trattoria were, as follows:
Louise’s cumulative rating: 5.2
Visit Louise’s online here.
Photos courtesy of TJ UTTKE PHOTOGRAPHY
Losing nominations for ‘L’ were La Reve (Michelle), Leff’s Luckytown (TJ) and La Merenda (Adam and Cindi).
Introduction to the ABCs of Milwaukee Dining
AJ Bombers: 6.8
Beta by Sabor: 7.9
Comet Cafe: 7
Eatery on Farwell: 6.2
Fajitas Grill: 5.3
Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub: 7.5
Irie Palace: 6.2
Jow Nai Fouquet: 6.9
Louise’s Trattoria: 5.2
WHERE ARE WE EATING NEXT?
One of these restaurants was selected for our next dinner … Which is it?