Less than three miles from our Town of Lake homes, in a non-descirpt single story building across from a 1950s antique shop and a couple buildings down from a comic book store, is one of Milwaukee’s most buzzed about new restaurants, Odd Duck.
Which is why it was no surprise at our last dinner when six entries were put into the hat and they all read ‘Odd Duck’ (although two had drawings of ducks on them–good work TJ and Cindi). It was TJ’s entry that was selected, which is appropriate since he and Shannon are the only two who have been there and have sung loudly the praises of this small plate (tapas) establishment.
On a cool March Monday, the seven of us (including Marilyn) made the short drive. Even on a Monday, reservations are strongly recommended (Shannon notes– If you don’t know you’re going well in advance, call in an hour before hand and put your name on the list.) and when we arrived, the room was bustling.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside but is very cozy and bright on the inside.
Every table was full on a Monday night—making it a loud, vibrant atmosphere. When you walk in, you see a long bar to the right and a plethora of tables for everyone else. Sadly, there were no booths; we were at three long tables pushed together.
The beer menu offered a fine selection of craft beer. I had the Lakefront Anniversary Beer and a Barleywine and the cost is in line with what you would pay at most upscale restaurants ($4.50-$5.50). As our drinks came out, we began to determine what items we wanted to order–one of the most fun parts of small plate dining is hearing what your friends will order. Adam said:
The first thing I noticed when looking at the menu is that it is divided neatly in half, separating meat and vegetarian options. There are equally as many vegetarian options as meat, which is nice for vegetarians, vegans and Michelle.
To start, we each ordered a dish. The food came out pretty quickly, about three dishes at a time.
Among the first items out were Cindi’s choice, fried green tomatoes. She said:
My mom’s are waaay better.
Usually, two or three staff brought out the items at once. The coordination and efficiency was impressive and personable. Adam said:
The hostess and servers were very polite and complimented our cute baby–obviously an easy way to get over with any parent.
Everyone loved the shrimp bisque, well, what there was of it. Adam said:
It tasted very good. However, they choose to serve it in a flat, wide bowl so it is pretty much room temperature by the time you eat it. It is also a comically small amount–it’s seriously about 7 to 8 small spoons worth–for $8.
Another of our early favorites was TJ’s choice, the Sauteed chicken, although he was not a big fan.
The tarragon sauce was so rich and flavorful and was paired perfectly with the smokey, robust beans. I could eat it forever!
Our waiter was very helpful, offering recommendations and ideas of what to expect when we ordered something. He told us that the Fried Monkfish, something I never would have ordered myself, was like lobster.
He was right. The monkfish was very interesting, like lobster, it was very buttery and light, but the fact that it was fried added another interesting texture and taste to the mix.
Though the food was excellent and interesting, Adam and Cindi both noticed a theme. Adam said:
I enjoyed a number of the other meat dishes as well, I just wish there had been more starches that were served with them. It seemed as though most of the meat dishes left you with a pool of sauce, which may have been good with a pasta or a bean or a potato depending on the dish.
Michelle’s beef shortrib was a good example of that, although the olive tapenade accompanying it was pretty amazing–salty and complex.
Our dishes kept coming. Michelle said:
I would have been okay with it coming out a little slower to enjoy the food a little more.
The last of our first round of orders was seared scallops, my choice. They were asian fusion inspired. They melted in your mouth, but the flavor additions were just okay. I feel like most scallops are wrapped in bacon these days–a delightful pairing to be sure–but it was good to try this style.
The waiter informed us that we should order more plates immediately, as to not “interrupt the flow.” I don’t know if I would agree that a break would have been an inturruption, but naturally, we were still hungry and interested in a number of other dishes, she we decided to push on.
Our selections for round two were even further out there. We trusted that whatever we tried would be interesting and good. Marilyn probably loved the carrots more than the rest of us, but they were interestingly sweet and they seemed almost honey-glazed.
Michelle liked this round, as we chose more vegetarian items. Including one that she chose and loved. She said:
I was also one of the people that wanted to mushroom spring rolls, and they were tasty and what I’d expect.
Shannon probably loved the sauce more than the rolls. She said:
I loved the flaky wonton wrapper and sauce. I could have eaten the sauce plain. Okay, fine. The sauce was so good, I ate it with a spoon.
Like with the other tapas places we’ve visited, the conversation was lively and focused on the food. It was actually a lot of work passing around all the items after you cut off your own portion. I love small plate dining, but I don’t think I could do every meal this way, I wouldn’t know what was going on with anyone, only what they thought about their food.
I did know that TJ had tried the beef tenderloin before and loved it, so I was eager to try it. It was very flavorful and I especially loved the sweet chili sauce that came on top of it, though I’m not certain I would have eaten it by itself.
It was another dish that could have used a starch. Cindi said:
A lot of sauce was frequently left behind and it would’ve done wonders to have had rice, polenta, bread or potatoes to accompany these dishes.
We decided to order the Korean Pancake, which featured clams and pork belly. This is NOT something I would have normally ordered, but all the food had been good so I was eager to try it.
It was incredible–one of the best things I’ve enjoyed on this quest, the Pork Belly–one of my friends calls it sexy bacon–tasted like a mix between bacon and sausage. The whole thing was savory, with a lot of complex flavors intermingling perfectly. Wow!
Michelle, Cindi and Adam agreed, calling it their favorite as well, but it didn’t please our whole group. TJ and Shannon didn’t love those “weird green pancake things (her apt words).”
Our last dinner item was duck confit flautas. Adam loved them, while Shannon didn’t. I wasn’t much of a fan either.
As the photos illustrate the presentation of all of the items we ordered was top notch. Simply put, this was beautiful food. The prices were fair ($7 to $11 on average) and in-line with most area small plate places, although, on a few occasions, the portion-sizes left something to be desired.
We were full, but felt obligated to order dessert.
We opted for two desserts, one conventional and one more speculative. Everyone loved the flourless cake. Adam said:
I think for a group that is really good about sharing, people were left wishing they could have been more selfish when it came to finishing that.
Flourless chocolate cake seems to be a theme for us. Purple door’s salted caramel ice cream complimented this beautifully.
Shannon would go to great lengths for this dessert. She said:
I love it so much, I’d eat it out of the garbage.
Our second dessert, baked brie, didn’t inspire that kind of devotion. It was actually on the regular menu, although our server told us it had been ordered as dessert before.
Shannon gave Odd Duck the highest score any of our restaurants on this quest received. She said:
I rate it a 10 because it’s my favorite place in Milwaukee right now. I’d go back for my next meal. I’ve also recommended it to a lot of people. It’s a good date place, but also casual enough for just dinner.
The rest of us didn’t love Odd Duck as much, but we all gave it high marks and would recommend it to others. The experience made Adam think about this style of dining. He said:
Sitting there, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more room Milwaukee really has for tapas-style dining establishments. It seems as though a new tapas restaurant opens every other month and eventually something will have to give. I think Odd Duck’s location and food will bode well for them in terms of longevity, but others probably won’t be so lucky. La Merenda is still king for me.
Shannon bears out a universal truth about small plate dining. She said:
Half the fun of going with a big group, trying a lot of things you normally wouldn’t and learning more of what you like and don’t.
Ratings for Odd Duck were, as follows:
Odd Duck cumulative rating: 8.2
Visit Odd Duck online here.
Photos courtesy of TJ UTTKE PHOTOGRAPHY
Losing nominations for ‘O’ were: None, we all picked Odd Duck. TJ’s submission was selected.
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
Newsroom Pub: 5.4
Odd Duck: 8.2
WHERE ARE WE EATING NEXT?