There is a mystery about the name of the newest entrant in the fierce battle that we can call the Milwaukee Tapas Wars.
Odd Duck, the latest Bay View restaurant, has an unusual name. My colleague, Molly Snyder, who is no slouch when it comes to ferreting out the truth, claims the co-owner of the place chose the name because it was the nickname of her little sister.
When I visited the other night, my charming server, Guthrie Neumann, said he thought it was because they wanted "Whispering Duck" but that was too many letters for the sign outside.
The name pedigree may well be the only mystery about this place. Because the sure thing is that this place is going to be right near the top of wonderful dining options this city offers.
Tapas restaurants are sprouting up all over the place. It won't be long before we probably have a McTapas menu at the golden arches.
But there is always room for excellence and Odd Duck can stand proudly next to the tapas gold standard La Merenda, and trade blow for blow and both champs will still be standing.
Odd Duck looks like a labor of love, which is is for owners Melissa Bucholz, who manages the restaurant and Ross Bachhuber, who is the chef. It's informal and friendly and comfortable. Much of the build-out of the place was done by themselves and their friends and it has a gentle feel about it.
The menu is a fascinating stroll through small plate items that seem almost to be literature rather than a description of food.
To start we had duck confit spring rolls with a sambal soy sauce and grilled asparagus with lemon and olive oil. The spring rolls were as good as I've had anywhere with a wonderfully light and crisp shell filled with a duck confit that didn't overwhelm. The subtle flavors were outstanding.
Then came the surprise of the night. Gouda stuffed medjool dates, wrapped in smoked bacon with a light balasamic glaze. The first bite resulted in an explosion of different flavors jumping around, chasing each other past my taste buds. It was an inventive pairing that everyone should try.
The restaurtant has a great selection of unusual meats and cheeses, all local, and they are happy to recommend things if you are a little overwhelmed. Guthrie recommended a sopressata, an Italian salami along with a Hook's Blue Paradise cheese. They came with crusty bread and a great homemade mustard.
The thing about a tapas menu is that it provides an opportunity for experimentation, both in the kitchen and at the table. Not everything works to perfection. But when you have a place with smart people who make food they want to eat and combine it with great service, good prices and a great neighborhood, you've got a winner.
The menu changes often at Odd Duck, but showing up and seeing what's on the table is more than half the fun of a wonderful restaurant like this.
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