Back when Odd Duck first put down his webbed feet at Bay View – 10 years ago! — he slipped into the first-choice position almost immediately. With a pool of future kitchen talent, it was one of the few local places to get woodworking friends out: “Next time you go to Odd Duck, take me along!” they would tell me. This kind of good. The restaurant menu of often changing small plates to share reflecting the season was unexpected, imaginative and well executed. And in many ways, it still is. Just now, 10 years later, the bar is higher.
The restaurant’s new space at Walker’s Point (the former Meraki, another small-plate company) is bright, energetic and much bigger – with an imaginative menu that offers good food but doesn’t quite reach the standard of dining. excellence that is expected of the restaurant.
Part of Odd Duck’s magnetism was that he consistently exceeded expectations – in ancient digs he did so despite having a very limited kitchen. The new space opens up a wealth of menu possibilities, co-owner Ross Bachhuber said when announcing the move. There is a larger kitchen and new equipment, including a wood oven.
There’s still a lot of creativity here, but many of the plates I ordered just needed a touch more (or less) to really fly. Nonetheless, there’s plenty to savor, including top-notch, passionate and experienced service staff.
One thing that Odd Duck has done very well historically is to make you forget where you are. I’ve had many great nights feeling lifted by the food and drink. I kinda feel that in the new Walker’s Point space, sitting in one of the rows of banquettes, my words lost in the decibel level of the full, frenetic dining room. Around me, people are pulling oysters and making Korean lettuce wraps.
I dive into a plate of pardina lentil-crusted carrots, a star among vegetable-based menu items. The tender sticks are strewn over a thick lentil stew, a lemony cilantro sauce called zhoug, candied lemon and onion sumac ($11) – the whole creation blowing like a gentle Middle Eastern breeze. Another highlight is the matar paneer ($12), a nutty, sweet and spicy fusion. The tender rice cakes of this Indian dish rest in a cashew and coconut curry sauce with cubes of homemade cheese custard.
One dish that looks promising but fails is chochoyotes (tiny Mexican masa balls, $18), which contain the precious and seasonally short-lived morel mushrooms. The earthy mushroom funk should be more of a centerpiece of the dish, but it gets lost in the dominating black bean mash, queso fresco, pickled onion and avocado.
What I love most about the tempura oyster mushroom dish ($12) is the sliced tsukemono cucumber, a crisp counterpart to warm, meaty mushrooms in a mustard-miso sauce. My least favorite is the thickly sliced, assertive furofuki daikon radish, which detracts from the more nuanced flavors.
Meat and fish dishes, on the whole, are the most popular here, and one of the best is the suckling pig quesabirria tacos, which, with their cheesy meat filling and consumed, pays homage to fashionable street food. They are delicious – so delicious I want more! Each of the four tacos, on handmade corn tortillas, went in two bites. The dish called Trout Salad Under a Fur Coat ($12) is a savory mold of smoked trout, creamy potato salad, egg, carrot topped with fish roe and a crispy hat with a mixture of super sweet flavors. And what I love most about tender lamb rendang (a Malaysian curry) is the delicate fillet-like jala roti ($16). I dip these mini pancakes in the meat in sauce and savor the deep notes of chili, lime and coconut.
The most substantial and shareable dish on the menu, Korean ssam steak ($34) is a buildable mix of grilled flank steak, creamy potato salad, garlic sesame spinach, sticky rice, banchan of bean sprouts (a simple salad), jicama kimchi, sweet-salty ssamjang sauce and bibb lettuce leaves. The wraps you make with these ingredients are a little tough to eat, but tasty – the koji-marinated beef in particular.
Despite a few dips in the meal, Odd Duck still finishes it off with a stellar dessert, a rich and creamy vegan cashew cheesecake with crispy crumble, blueberry sauce and candied lemon ($12). The last bites I eat slowly, thinking about the fallout from COVID and the challenges of moving to a new place. Beyond our sponsorship, perhaps the greatest gift we can give to the fragile restaurant industry is to manage our expectations – and to be merciful.
939 S. SECOND ST. | 414-763-5881
Hours: Tue-Sat 5pm-10pm
Prices: Snacks $4 to $6; small plates to share $10 to $34
Service: Enthusiastic, connoisseur of the menu, attentive
Reservations: Recommended, but walk-in accepted in the bar/lounge
This story is part Milwaukee MagazineJuly issue.
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