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Chow Down In Milwaukee

Restaurant Reviews

2Mesa Is Your Home Away From Home

This was one of the most eagerly anticipated food reviews I have done. Not only was it planned in advance, at a place I had not only never been, but never heard of before, it was also Mexican food which is always a plus, but most importantly, Margie and I were having the honor of meeting the creator of this wonderful site, Amanda and her boyfriend Justin.

The weather on this day was quite cold with a temperature right around zero degrees. This made the prospect of some spicy Mexican food sound that much more intriguing. The location that was chosen for tonight’s gathering was 2 Mesa located at 4110 w. Martin Dr.

Arriving slightly early, we went inside to get a table. When you enter 2 Mesa you immediately feel welcome. In addition to being a converted house, there is a feeling of being in someone’s home. The staff treat you as if it was their house you were being shown to.

“There are two tables in my opinion,” says Chef Michael Flecker. “Your table at home and your table away from home, but they are both yours. I want my food to be at both.” That is why 2Mesa also offers a To Go option, which “makes life tasty.

Jennifer was our server who arrived a very short time later. Not only did she continue the theme of great hospitality but of being informative as well; 2 Mesa does a great job informing their employees. Ironically, there were two things that struck me as we began our experience at 2 Mesa.

First was the amazing decor. The walls are painted with some of the most lively and vibrant colors were adorned with a mix of inspirational sayings and black and white pictures of Mexico. In the room in which we sat there were a few Day of the Dead statues. There also seemed to be an accent on floral decorations that blended seamlessly with everything else. Whoever decorated this restaurant did an amazing job and should be commended.

The other interesting aspect of 2 Mesa was the multiple levels. You entered on one level and the room we ate at was on another. There was a winding staircase leading to what we are told was the chef’s office and soon to be a private party room. The restroom was off to the side on a level somewhere between the two. This may sound confusing, but I found it to be completely charming.

After Amanda and Justin arrived, our server Jennifer was right there to not only greet them, but to inquire if any of us would care to indulge in a beverage. She then proceeded to offer several options from memory. Again, I compliment 2 Mesa on the training of their staff.

Amanda and Margie both ordered margaritas. I like the fact that 2Mesa offers their Margaritas both blended or on the rocks – so you have the option. They also offer three different flavors: the traditional lime, strawberry or mango. The presentation of the margaritas was top notch. Justin and I ordered beer; he a Miller Lite, me a Modelo. The beer was cold and each came with a chilled glass.

We started with an appetizer of Queso Fundido, a small skillet served with a blend of five warm melted Mexican cheeses, with the addition of red bell pepper and jalapeno. The jalapeno didn’t add much heat, so even if you don’t care for spice, this dish is still OK for you. The texture of the Queso Fundido was almost gritty as you get from some cheese. Though the texture was perfect for sticking to a chip. The roasted red peppers were cut a little too large to make eating them practical. Still with a quick slice of the knife things became more manageable. The flavor was a little bland for me personally. In hindsight, mixing in a little salsa would have been a fabulous idea.

One thing that puzzled me was it was served with only 5 tortilla chips on the side. Looking around the table and noticing there were four of us, I was beginning to plot how I could bargain for the extra chip.

Just then, as if reading my mind, Jennifer returned with a basket of chips and two different salsas. Relieved I would not have to lose in an arm-wrestling contest to the other three people at the table, I began to dig in.

That leads us to discuss the chips and salsa. The chips were light and crisp. They were not greasy which I like. They were the perfect texture for both Margie’s liking and for dipping in salsa. They were a little thin for my liking or to work well in scooping up the melted cheese. How you like your chips is a personal issue I suppose.

The salsas were another matter entirely. I first tried what Jennifer told us was the mild salsa. It was full of flavor and did a flamenco of freshness in my mouth. I am not sure if 2 Mesa sells their salsa to go, but if they do you could make no mistake by taking some home with you. The spicy salsa had its own unique fun. Upon entering your mouth, it tasted almost like a mild pasta sauce, but then slowly the heat began to rise. A mere 30 seconds after putting this delight in my mouth I was sipping water but enjoying the heat. Never did the feeling become too much.  The hot one definitely had an afterbite,; it doesn’t hit you right away. Both salsas were perfection.

Collectively, the menu offered options for everyone and featured various cultural dishes and quality ingredients. Our dishes ranged from Margie’s traditional Mexican Chimichanga to Justin’s ‘German’ Chicken Schnitzel, and from my Beef Short Ribs to Neil’s Torta, which turned out to be presented as a hot sub with American French Fries. I would like to group them in to two distinct categories, everyone else’s and mine.

We will begin with Amanda who ordered the Beef Short Ribs. served with buttered fideo, or Mexican noodles, and sautéed spinach, rice and beans. Let me begin by saying the presentation on all three of my dinner companions’ plates was perfect. There were colors, the variety, and the placement, all done to perfection. Amanda was gracious enough to allow me to sample a piece of her meat. It was so tender you did not need a fork.

As Neil pointed out, the beef short rib was as tender as could be, the best short rib I have ever had, by far. The beef short rib is slow cooked and simmers delicately in its own juices which are also used to concoct the hearty gravy for atop the large fist-sized portion of short rib.

The sautéed spinach was not at all oily; instead the moisture came from a nice zesty lemon flavor and a fabulous hint of garlic. This dish is also served with your choice of either flour or corn tortillas, which are served hot and steamed – I chose corn. I was happy I was given the tortillas and took advantage of making myself beef tacos with the spinach and the hot salsa that was served with the chips. I had at least three tacos and they were delicious.

I have to say, I was astonished at how buttery their noodles were – like instead of boiled in water they were cooked in butter (if that’s even possible). I had a few twirls of the fork, and also tried to die down the intense butter taste with the beef – I did not succeed.

Next was Justin who ordered Mexican Style Chicken Schnitzel. My first reaction upon seeing this on the menu was “What the….” Described as Organic, locally-grown chicken breast, lightly breaded and crispy. Topped with a chipotle crème sauce prepared by the chef, and served with rice, beans and sautéed spinach. Once again, the way in which this dish was presented showed care and creativity.

Justin thought the crispy breading on the outside of the chicken was a great thickness and had a nice flaky finish. The chicken wasn’t too thin, was cooked just right, not too dry and no fat. He could appreciate the sauce he did taste, but thinks this dish would be better with more of it drizzled over the chicken. Overall, he thought this was very warming, inviting, and something he would love to have cooked for him again.

Next was Margie who ordered a Chimichanga. This a crispy crust of flour tortilla filled with rice, cheese, and your choice of chicken, beef or pork. Margie chose chicken. In addition to the rice and beans that were served with the other dishes, this also had a small salad with a delightful balsamic dressing. Unlike Justin, Margie found the chicken inside the chimichanga to be slightly dry, but the overall flavor was very good. Adding some of the wonderful salsa was a splendid idea. Margie also ordered a side of their guacamole. Great texture and flavor for that as well. Very fresh and creamy, everything you would want in your guacamole.

The beans were a great texture. Not only were they creamy like refried beans but had several whole beans to give them a hearty texture. May have been some of the best beans I have tried to date. The rice was light and fluffy, but not dry as you may find in some other places that tend to rush their food.

Lastly, was my dish. I place my dish in a separate category for several reasons I shall get into momentarily. I ordered the California Torta. I became a big fan of these sandwiches several years ago and look forward to trying different versions everywhere I go. This one was Grilled organic chicken, avocado, apple smoked bacon, Oaxaca cheese, fresh tomato and lettuce. It was served with a side of Mexican fries. When the plate was placed in front of me, I realized all the time spent on creating the amazing presentation on the three former dishes was saved on this one. I also noticed that the fresh baked Mexican bolillo bread was in the shape of a hoagie bun. Every torta I have enjoyed has always been served on a round bun, but I was open to trying something new. My first bite indicated it was indeed fresh baked and had a very good flavor. The ingredients inside, although fresh and all great texture, lacked flavor. I would have described this sandwich as more of a chicken Malibu sandwich than a torta. There was no spice to be had and was assisted greatly by adding a good amount of the great salsa. The Mexican fries were…well…fries. They were crispy and good, but nothing about them was Mexican. On a table full of food full of great flavor and appearance my dish stood out for its astonishing lack of both. I would stay away from this dish when you visit 2 Mesa.

Overall, I can say from both and atmosphere and service standpoint, 2 Mesa was as delightful as they come. You felt welcomed and valued as a guest, not a customer. With every interaction you were greeted with a smile and helpful information. The care in which the dishes are put together shows in almost every entrée. In something as simple as rice and beans or their amazing salsa you can tell they not only use great care in preparing the dish, but the finest ingredients as well. I look forward to a return visit to 2 Mesa with an opportunity to try other amazing culinary creations with such wonderful company.

 

Dualy writtin by: Neil Panosian and Amanda Landowski

A Tropical View in the Heart of Bay View

Last week my beautiful lady, Margie, surprised with a date in Bay View. Knowing that I can be the poster child for Seasonal Affective Disorder, she decided to take me somewhere with a tropical theme to help take away my winter blues. Her choice was the aptly named Sabor Tropical. Described as a Latin American restaurant, it is located at 2258 south Kinnickinnic ave. I found it hard to believe you could find a tropical view deep in the heart of Bay View. From the street you notice Sabor Tropical’s colorful sign and large windows, creating a fun open atmosphere.

Once inside you are surrounded by bright colors and decorations that certainly give the required Latin American feel. Within seconds of entering we were greeted by a young lady who introduced herself as Nereida. Full of energy with a rather large smile across her face, she showed us to our table as she conveyed the many wonderful aspects of the restaurant we now found ourselves at. Being that it was a cold evening in Milwaukee, and I had consumed an entire cup of coffee on the way there to warm up, my first stop was the restroom. The walls were a deep blue with a model ship above the sink and a palm tree next to it. The bathroom may have been one of the cleanest I have been in recently. We were off to a good start.

As I made my way back to the table to join Margie, I appreciated all the colorful paintings placed throughout the dinning area. The area in which we sat had a wall that consisted of sparkling crystals and white curtains. It certainly did give a classy upscale feel. We shortly learned that our new friend Nereida would also be our server this evening. Considering my fondness for people who smile and have a generally pleasant disposition, this was greeted as rather good news. We made great use of the cocktail menu where I ordered a pineapple mojito and Margie a mango flavored one. I watched as Nereida went to make the cocktails as well. They came back to the table in short order served in a pint glass with fresh mint and a lime. We both found them to be full of flavor and quite refreshing.

It was finally time to make some decisions regarding the menu. Sabor Tropical is one of the places where the hardest decision is picking one thing and sticking with it, as everything sounded amazing. As an appetizer we chose tostones rellenos. Described as Caribbean signature mini baskets stuffed with your choice of grilled steak, braised pork or spicy chicken and topped with aji Amarillo chimichurri and avocado cream. After ordering I was wondering if I was going to see Nereida disappear into the kitchen to cook them as well, but apparently, they had someone else designated for that task. When they arrived, the presentation could not have been any more mouth-watering. I found the mini baskets provided a little too much resistance. The steak melted in your mouth with every bite. The sauce was great but could have included a little more spice.

Next, we received our entrees. I can safely tell you this was a very difficult decision. With a good deal of advice from our friendly hostess/bartender/server we made two great decisions. Margie ordered the Aguagate Relleno Which was a stuffed avocado with chimichurri skirt steak served with manposteado rice topped with Caribbean tangy aioli. There was nothing about this dish that was not amazing. Again, the presentation was a work of art. The avocado was fresh and a great color. The steak inside was again cooked perfectly. The manposteado rice featured bacon and beans. Perfect for those who like a very rich flavor.

I ordered the Churrassco Argentino a 10 oz certified angus skirt steak cooked any way you would like and served with your choice of chimichurri sauce, or shiitake mushroom sauce or rosemary thyme garlic infusion oil. I chose the first option which was amazing. The skirt was done to perfection. The flavor was one of complex seasonings that made your mouth have the same joy your ears received from the Latin American music playing throughout the restaurant. I ordered two sides. Puerto Rican rice and Mofongo. The rice had an amazing flavor, but I felt was missing green olives. A personal preference that should not dissuade you from ordering it.

The mofongo is a side of fried green plantains smashed with salt, garlic and oil. The look and texture of this dish were not inspiring. Once a forkful hit my mouth my opinion, as well as my taste buds did a complete 180-degree turn. If we had not been going directly to the movies after this, I would have ordered a side of this to go. It struck me as something you would wake up in the middle of the night craving. A few hours later my suspicions were proven correct.

Lastly, came dessert. Sabor Tropical does not make this decision easy either. I would have liked to have one of each of the four options. We settled on a dish called Pastel Borracho. It won for no other reason than the word ‘rum’ was featured in the description. It was a mini bundt butter cake, anejo dark rum sauce, vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream all topped with carmel and hot fudge. Once again, their ability to serve you a dish that looked as amazing as it tasted was unbelievable. My only suggestion would be to add a little something to make the cake a little moister. The flavors could not have blended any better. The rum was not over powering, but still very present. It was light with the perfect amount of sweetness.

I would recommend Sabor Tropical to anyone would like a culinary escape to Latin America without leaving the city. The atmosphere is fun, colorful and includes some great Latin music. The service is friendly and attentive without being over-bearing. The food is presented in such a creative manner your mouth will be watering before your first bite. The taste, however, will make sure it stays watering until the very last bite. I am going to return to Sabor Tropical with more people for no other reason than being able to try even more items off their amazing menu.

 

By: Neil Panosian