Photos by Allium
Allium┃2101. N. Prospect Ave, Milwaukee, WI ┃414.287.2053┃Hours: Sun, Tu-Th: 5-9ish, Fri-Sat: 5-11ish, Closed Monday┃Bar Open Late
“What are we doing tonight?”
she asked as I loaded my things into the trunk of her car in the train station parking lot. “I don’t know. It’s your city,” I slyly replied, frustrated by almost missing my train from Chicago and being forced to take the only seat available, which was crammed next to a woman who must have been the inspiration for the work of Fernando Botero. Being quite hungry, my mind instantly wandered to my most basic human desire: I wanted to eat, and it had to be delicious.
Tempted to give into my ethnic desires and suggest tacos, I instantly denied myself, thinking of the last time I made that mistake. Let me state for the record that I have had better Mexican cuisine in Canada than I have ever had in Milwaukee–think flour tortillas and ground beef and chimichangas paired with watered down margaritas or piss water (otherwise known as Corona).
I am a man of very few passions, but food is my ultimate passion. It’s an expression of man’s conquering of nature, the triumph over beast and plant. Food is human fuel, food IS life! So show some respect and don’t force people to consume such culinary abortions. My mother told me about this new tapas restaurant on the east side. My interest was piqued, the plan was made, and I was to consume as much Jamòn Serrano and Manchego as my stomach would allow. Off we went.
The restaurant is located in a gorgeous building that once housed a bakery. Its visage looks like a mixture between villa in the italian countryside and an opulent post office in Vienna. The large windows and moldings are the start of the culinary joy ride that you are about to subject yourself to, and–Is that a gothic cherubim i see adorning that window?
As you walk into the deep red dining room, you are instantly transported to a small cafe next to the Seine River. The tea candles adorning every table and shelf-like surface give the space a glow that I have never seen outside of church sanctuaries. The high bar is inviting and made with a deeply-hued wood that must have been recovered from a tavern from Milwaukee’s illustrious past. Behind the bar there is a placard giving the history of beer in Milwaukee up to 1976. Ambiance is not lacking. The walls are adorned with paintings from a local gallery which added to the “Seine cafe” feeling. The dining space is comprised of intentionally mixed dining tables and chairs in random pairings of two here and there.
As gorgeous as it was, it was not a tapas restaurant in the traditional sense. In other words, it wasn’t Spanish food. There was no sangria or hanging legs of Jamòn Serrano or Gypsy Kings blaring from the sound system. What was experienced was something that can only be described as something purely Milwaukee: a gorgeous variety of Wisconsin tapas, locally-sourced ingredients, coffee and alcohol.
The menu, much like the furniture and architecture, is not lacking in variety–Spanish sausage combos and prosciutto-wrapped dates, artesian white pizzas and fresh mixed green salads with Wisconsin cheese combos. The drink menu was just as diverse as their food menu, from locally sources brews to imports, and a wine list I personally never expected. If you are looking for a suggestion, get the Spanish Sausage Combo (Wisconsin made) with the Wisco Salad and pair it with their house Malbec–All a beautiful light meal perfect for sharing with your date. Even though it was truly not what I expected, it was the perfect meal.