Friday, August 24, 2012

Eat Local Challenge

This blog has been a lot of things.  A recipe blog.  A gardening blog.  My place to rant.  My place to be silent (for the past few weeks!)  But one thing it has never been is a restaurant review blog.  There are a few reasons for that.  Most specifically, I like to eat, and I don't like to wait to eat.  I don't want to have to be one of those people taking pictures of their food before they can eat it.

And by "don't want to" I mean "not capable of."  I've tried.  When we went on our cheese tour, for example, we had this super fancy dinner and then the next day a super fancy brunch that everyone was snapping photos of.  Except me.  I was always three or four bites in before thinking, "damn, I should have taken a picture of this.  It was pretty."

But, if you have spent any time reading my blog, you surely have noticed that I am not a food photographer.  Nor, I might add, am I a food artist.  My food is not pretty.  It's delicious, but it's not pretty.  I would not win Iron Chef because (a) I would not get any points in the plating category, (b) I would challenge Michal Simon and he would totally kick my ass, and (c) I would spend all my time cooking food for Alton because I love him and he is too skinny.

Oh, and because they are all better than me in every way possible, but we won't dwell on that.

My point is, I would make a very poor restaurant reviewer, unless maybe you sent someone else to take the pictures and didn't leave that in my hands.  And even then, I'm not sure I could be get fancy enough in my words.  I mean, how many times can you read "OMG THIS WAS SO GOOD!!" before that starts to lose some credibility.  So, for everyone's sake, I will  leave the restaurant reviews to the experts.

Except today.

I have been to Braise twice now.  The first was with my best friend Shana, who grew up here and then moved to New York City like a big fancy punk.  The second was last night for the Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge.  Both of these meals are in contention for the second best meal I've ever eaten in my life.  (The best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life was, no challenge, lunch at La Bernardin in New York.  It also was the most expensive meal I've eaten in my entire life.  I am certain it will hold both titles until I eat at the French Laundry or die, whichever comes first.)

For those of you who don't know, Braise is a restaurant in Milwaukee which utilizes exclusively local ingredients.  It's the kind of place that I would want to open if I had any desire to open a restaurant.  Which I don't.  They also have a culinary school and an RSA (Restaurant Supported Agriculture.  It's like a CSA, except the C for community is replaced with an R for restaurant.  They work with multiple farms, and you can order your produce directly from them - getting more of what you want than the randomness you might get in your CSA box. )

This is what I like to see when walking into a restaurant.

Last night at Braise was the "kick off" dinner for 2012's Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge.  The Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge is a pretty big deal to me.  It is the first two weeks of September, and it is the reason that I am currently a locavore.  In 2010, I participated in the Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge, and it wasn't that hard.  I learned some new things, I cooked some good food, and it wasn't really a challenge.  Of course, the first two weeks of September are basically the peak of harvest season in Wisconsin, but I didn't have this in mind when, six months later, I began my year long locavore challenge.  And the rest, as they say, is poorly documented, ranty history. 

I encourage you to set your own challenge.  You don't need to be a locavore to participate.  You don't need to go all in.  According to the Eat Local Milwaukee Website:

The Rules

The rules are that there are no rules. Create your own. We encourage you to set a goal that includes eating more local food than you do now. For some people that might look like “I will eat 100% locally, with the exception of salt & pepper.” And for others it will be more like “I will try one local vegetable from my farmer’s market each week.” More is a step in the right direction. Let us know what you’re doing! Send us a message

Why not give it a try?  Set a realistic goal and surprise yourself!  If you're worried that you don't know how to make this work, check out the Eat Local Resource Fair at the Urban Ecology Center tomorrow (Saturday 8/25) from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.  They will have tips on buying local food, cooking and preserving the food, and fun activities for kids.  Having been at previous Urban Ecology Center activities, I can pretty much promise that it will be a good time.  Sadly, I will not be able to be there, as I have to work like a chump.

I will be taking the challenge.  My challenge, in the hopes of overcoming some of the time management issues I have been experiencing over the past two months, is to provide you with at least one good, local, seasonal recipe each day during the challenge.  So you don't even have to do any work!  Just come here every day, I will tell you exactly what to do, and you too can eat local!  Success is guaranteed - unless of course I don't meet my challenge, in which case if you are relying on me you are basically screwed.


My meals at Braise were both fantastic.  As I said at my farmer's market demo, it's pretty hard to fail when you have amazing ingredients.  But they do an excellent job of elevating those ingredients to something spectacular.  Really, as an aspiring foodie I found this to be one of those transcendent meals.  Meals at a restaurant can be good... or average... or poor.  This was beyond words.  My general rule at a restaurant is that I don't order anything I couldn't make.  Here, there's really nothing on the menu that I couldn't make (based on the ingredients and description), but in tasting it is truly everything I aspire to be.  Plus, unlike every meal I would put on an equal quality level, the prices at Braise are extremely reasonable. On my first trip, we sat at the bar and ordered the entire Braise Bites menu.  Plus a dessert apiece.  Plus several local beverages.  There were three of us, and we left stuffed having spent less than $50 each.  Which I think is a great price for a great meal!  Especially considering we all drink like Wisconsinites.

A note on beverages.  The New Glarus Raspberry Tart is not highly overpriced.  It is the whole big bottle.  Be careful ordering it, because if your friends are real beer drinkers they may not help you finish it, and you will be stuck drinking the whole thing by yourself to not let it go to waste... which is what I do at home anyway so... I guess it's all good.

mmm... delicious.
This is where the cheese plate was when I remembered to take a picture.  I enjoy the cheese.

Tomato and Mozzarella Tart with basil pesto and tomato jam.  This was basically a tomato mozzarella salad, but better.  I remembered to take a picture before we devoured it!

Pickled Watermelon Salad with Jalapeno and Clove Honey: this was not a favorite at our table, but it was my favorite dish overall.  You've got two kinds of watermelon here: the pickled watermelon rind, and then a sort of watermelon jelly.  The pieces that, in this picture, look like watermelon slices, were more of a watermelon flavored gelatinous thing.  The texture was different, and the other two in my party were not keen.  Despite the jalapenos in the description, this also had a very mild flavor.  I personally found the whole thing amazing.  It was light, and refreshing, and on a hot night I could eat a pound of this. 

Tomato Bruschetta with Whipped Lardo.  Whipped Lardo.  I'm pretty sure that's all I have to say about this!

Duck Sausage with Kohlrabi Salad: This was another dish that we were divided on.  Specifically, the Kohlrabi Salad.  I love kohlrabi, but it was too cabbage-y for the third member of our party.

Swiss Chard Tortilla with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette and Crispy Ham:  This was the undisputed champion of our dinner.  First off "Crispy Ham" = Bacon.  This was actually a big surprise for me (not the crispy ham = bacon part, but the whole dish), because when I hear "Tortilla" I think taco shell.  But, according to wikipedia: "Tortilla (English /tɔrˈt.ə/, Spanish: [torˈtiʎa]) means "little torta" or "little cake" in Spanish; the Spanish word applies to several different foods eaten in various Spanish-speaking countries. The Spanish word is used in English for a more restricted range of foods, mainly a potato-based omelette originating in Spain, and for a flatbread made from corn or wheat originally made by Mesoamerican peoples."
This would then be the first definition, not the second.

Crispy Chicken Wings with Cilantro Chimichurri:  Yeah, we basically demolished these before I could take a picture.
 So that was my first meal.  You'll note, no dessert.  That is because we all dug in immediately and they were gone before I thought to take the picture.  So I guess the one thing I eat faster than cheese is chocolate.

My second meal, for the Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge, hosted by Slow Foods Wisconsin South East was served family style.  No ordering, we were given what they were serving.  I don't, as a general rule, order the chicken when I go out to eat, because we eat a lot of chicken in our house and I feel like it's one thing I've mastered.  Wrong again.  Everything on the menu was something that I "could" make, and yet I've never made anything at this level.  (Maybe that's why I need to go to culinary school...)

Panzanella with herbed quark:  The quark (from the clock shadow creamery) is a soft cheese and is about to replace cream cheese in my diet.  Compare to my panzanella here.  The bread was firmer, which I'm not sure how they did.  It seemed to not get soggy, even though it was soaked in the flavorful panzanella liquid.  I'm actually not sure how I feel about this, since there is something about the liquid soaked panzanella bread that appeals to me.

Roasted Chicken Breast with Potatoes and Eggplant Caviar: I'm not sure what made the eggplant "caviar," but I do know it was delicious and I've never liked eggplant prior to this.  Even when breaded and deep fried!  Shocking, I know. 

Peach Tart with Whipped Cream and Honey: Clearly there are only two bites left of this.  It was amazing.  I made a peach pie about a week ago, and it was nothing like this.  I suck at pie crust.

So, you've got a week to prepare.  Why not try the Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge?  Set a goal for yourself.  Please, contact me with questions!  Reach out to me here, or on Facebook ( , or on Twitter (@wilocavore).  If you don't live in Milwaukee, why not try your own local challenge?  If your city doesn't offer one, make your own!  Honestly, for two weeks in a bounty season, it's not that hard.  You'll probably even save money.  Don't even worry about it!  Just jump in!  You can do it!!!

***Side note about needing to go to Culinary School; I start on Monday.  I don't want to be a chef, but I do want to learn and I want to continue that learning past an Associate's Degree at MATC.  I want to be an expert.  I believe in setting goals and publicizing them, so I am putting it out there.  I'm giving you my goal, and I'm putting it out into the Universe.  I want to be an expert (THE expert?) on food preservation.  This is my goal.  And now I have all of you to hold me to it.***


  1. So proud of you! I've been waiting for the moment that I can go back to school for something in the culinary field -- precisely for the knowledge, the expertise, the validation :) Glad your opportunity is now. Will be very interested in following your adventures. Keep us posted.

  2. So here is my comments
    1) Braise was amazing because I live in fancy NYC and I can say stuff like that. All those pics in the beginning were half eaten because I too could not wait.
    2) I was mentioned in the post. I'm like a celebrity in the local food eating circles now. You all want to eat with me.
    3) I live in NYC I don't think we have enough local food to go around so enjoy it Wisconsin. There's not much to brag about but this it!!
    4)Eat at Braise
    5)Good luck at Culinary School!

  3. This was a great post! I laughed out loud. Can't wait to try Braise.

  4. Great post and I too cannot wait to try Braise. I was at the Eat Local Resource Fair and I have to say that it definitely helped to open my eyes a bit more about local eats. I will be taking on the challenge!