Not Your Typical Hotel Restaurant
Tre Rivali, in the Kimpton Hotel, is adventurous, but uneven.
On June 30 of this year, the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel opened in the Third Ward on a site that used to be a parking lot. Now the dust has settled and in place of a parking venue, Milwaukee has a new hotel and a multi-faceted restaurant, Tre Rivali, headed by Chef Heather Terhune.
I come to dinner with somewhat low expectations looking to find one more ordinary hotel restaurant with predictable food. Boy, am I wrong!
When my party of four enters the front door on Broadway, we find ourselves in a lounge. After we tell the hostess we’re here for dinner, she leads us through a series of rooms that appear to have different functions. There’s a bar and another room that looks like a dining room, but we keep walking. Our hostess says, “There’s only one dining room,” and guides us to the last room in the series.
As I look back to where we started, the scene reminds me of Russian nesting dolls, those wooden dolls of decreasing size that all fit inside each other. The room where we land is cozy, contemporary, and as one of my group says, “It feels like a private dining room. We can have a quiet conversation.” It didn’t stay private for long. We came at 7:00. When we leave at 9:30, we notice every table in every one of those adjoining rooms is occupied.
As we study the menu, we learn from our excellent and knowledgeable server Sarah G. that Chef Terhune likes to play with classic dishes to make them her own. Inspired by her travels around the Mediterranean, she looks for inspiration from countries and cuisines that touch the sea. On the menu we find Moroccan Spiced Almonds, Smoked Spanish Mackerel, Pasta, and Pizza from Italy, and Middle Eastern Roasted Half Chicken. “It’s modern Mediterranean cuisine,” Sarah G. says.
The dinner menu divides into six categories: Cicheti or Tapas; Seafood; Pasta; Pizza; Vegetables; Large Plates.
From the Cicheti choices we order Paella Arancini and Chicker Liver Mousse. It’s obvious Chef Terhune put her spin on arancini, a traditional Italian specialty, deep-fried rice balls coated with bread crumbs. Most often they are filled with ragu, mozzarella, and peas. Terhune’s arancini includes saffron, chorizo, and a few peas. We don’t find the chorizo and since everyone took a bite, we all agree the traditional Italian version has more flavor. Or maybe we’re a bunch of traditionalists who don’t like chefs messing with a good thing. A scant serving of delicious red pepper sauce adds contrast but like I said, “scant.”
The blackberry compote served with Chicken Liver Mousse adds texture and personality to the mousse, but like the red pepper sauce, we want more. The mousse, more like sauce or heavy cream, needs the compote when we smear it on rustic bread. Taken together they make a sweet/savory bite dominated by the flavor of the liver.
From Vegetables we order two salads, Salt Roasted Beets with feta, Greek yogurt and pistachios, and Arugula and Mint Salad with hearts of palm, French green beans, pickled red onion, and goat cheese. We dig through the greens to find the citrus-flavored red and yellow beets and count on one hand the number of pistachios. We could rename it a Green Salad with yogurt-citrus dressing and a few buried beets.
From Hand Made Pastas we order Carbonara and Mascarpone Cheese Ravioli. I want Pappardelle with braised pork neck ragu and ricotta salata, but I’m outvoted by my friends. Chef Terhune stays with tradition with these plates and both border on addictive. The hand-cut pasta has been cooked to al dente perfection. For the carbonara, instead of pancetta, or at my house, bacon, the chef uses pork belly that’s crisp, all meat, no fat, and plenty of it. A coating of shredded parmesan adds more delicious. Unfortunately, both pasta dishes must have languished in the kitchen as they arrive in a state of tepid. That however did not prevent us from scouring our plates.
Server Sarah recommends the pizza so we order Four Cheese, fontina, mozzarella, gorgonzola, and ricotta. “We do it in a wood-burning oven using lots of different kinds of wood,” she tells us. “We get the dough from Italy.” Maybe that explains how the chef achieves the perfect crust, thin yet somehow chewy, and of course, what’s not to love about four cheeses on one pizza.
We bring high expectations to the table for dessert as Chef Terhune started her career, according to Sarah G., as a pastry chef. She tells us the chef’s fave is Olive Oil Cake with sea salt ice cream and candied orange. “To make the cake she takes out the butter and replaces it with olive oil.”
I’m sure it’s awesome, but we choose instead, Sarah’s fave, Butterscotch Budino with rosemary shortbread and Chocolate Torte, a flourless chocolate cake served with rum sabayon and shaved chocolate. The butterscotch pudding has dense rich flavor from brown sugar cooked until it’s on the cusp of burned. A generous dollop of whipped cream and that rosemary spiked cookie add a scrumptious finale. As for the Chocolate Torte, my companion’s succinct comment says it all, “This is amazing. I may just lick the plate.”
- Trade Name: Tre Rivali
- Location: 200 N. Broadway
- Phone: 414-291-3971
- Hours: Breakfast Monday-Friday 7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m, Lunch Monday-Friday 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Brunch Saturday & Sunday 8:00a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Dinner Monday-Thursday 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5:00p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
- Website: http://www.trerivalirestaurant.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trerivalirestaurant
- UM Rating: 4.35 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)