Dining

Bavette Has Wonderful Food

Butcher shop also has small restaurant with flavorful meats, soups and sausages.

By - Jun 25th, 2014 11:33 am
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Bavette La Boucherie. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Bavette La Boucherie. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

 

Ed Jurken, customer service, and Karen Bell, owner. Photo by Peggy Schulz.

Ed Jurken, customer service, and Karen Bell, owner. Photo by Peggy Schulz.

Bavette La Boucherie opened about a year ago as an artisanal butcher shop on Menomonee Street in the Third Ward facing Catalano Square. It’s the creation of Karen Bell, a Milwaukee native who has lived and cooked in Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, Madrid and Caracas, and who ran her own restaurant in Madrid before moving back to Milwaukee. Shortly after opening it started serving lunch, and recently began offering a full dinner service with wine, beer and cocktails Wednesday through Saturday evenings.

The butcher shop continues to be its main focus, as the restaurant is in a way an adjunct to it, and the meats it purveys are extraordinary: pasture raised beef from nearby farmers (I recently made what may be the best pot roast I’ve ever had from one of their English roasts), Berkshire pork (which unlike the usual “other white meat” isn’t dry and tasteless and has the flavor and richness of the pigs of yore), lamb, and a variety of house made sausages and charcuterie (I particularly like their Italian sausages which, like many sausages in Italy, aren’t dominated by fennel).

Deviled eggs. Photo by Diane Bacha.

Deviled eggs. Photo by Diane Bacha.

The dining area at Bavette consists of a counter and about a half dozen tables along the wall behind it and by the windows. It’s not an opulent space, but it’s stylish in an understated, minimalist way, with nice touches like the metal napkin holders with cutout pigs. The menu, which is the same at lunch and dinner and varies slightly from day to day, is both extensive and limited, in that there is a wide selection of appetizers, charcuterie, cheeses, raw meat dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, but few small plates or entrees of the usual sort. But the dishes they do offer are some of the best I’ve had in Milwaukee, with an intensity and clarity of flavor that are quite amazing.

The vogue for deviled eggs may have begun in New York some years ago, but they’ve been perfected here in Milwaukee, where the creamy yolks of Bavette’s version ($6) are flavored with horseradish and caviar and garnished with small slices of smoked trout. The minestrone soup ($7.25) exhibits Bavette’s hallmark intensity and clarity of flavor. It contains good-sized chunks of extremely tender beef along with kale and tomatoes in a rich broth, with white beans instead of the usual stubby pasta, and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. The pozole ($7.25), a Mexican soup stew made of pork and hominy, is almost as good. Traditional Mexican versions are made with chunks of pork simmered with hominy kernels and spices in a liquid broth. This version is denser and more homogeneous, with the pork shredded and the hominy supplemented with small red beans, topped with sour cream and shredded white American cheese.

My favorite larger dishes are the raw and cured meat plates. The steak tartar ($14) is a large disc of hand-chopped sirloin with capers, olive oil and other seasonings and topped with unsweetened whipped cream flavored with mustard instead of the traditional raw egg yolk. It comes with slices of toasted bread and is the best I’ve had in Milwaukee (though I haven’t yet had Ardent’s steak tartar, said to be wonderful too). And the genuine Iberian ham ($21) is simply one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Jamon iberico is the Kobe beef of ham, richly marbled and with an unctuous, mouth-filling flavor. The generous portion is served with small green olives and slices of bread toasted with olive oil. Other meat plates I’m anxious to try include house cured bresola ($14), roasted bone marrow (($12) and beef Carpaccio ($17).

Fresh cuts. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Fresh cuts. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

There’s also a large selection of imaginatively composed sandwiches made from the shop’s meats, and there’s usually a burger available (I haven’t had it, but from looking at it it’s clear that it should have been on my hamburger and martini list from an earlier column). There are well-chosen beers and wines, including several wines on tap, and cocktails made from high-end spirits like Death’s Door gin. And though I was too full for dessert on my last visit, the presence of butterscotch pudding ($6) on the list of tempting desserts prompted me to ask the waiter if I might try just a spoonful of it. He checked with the kitchen and reported back excitedly, “It’s gonna happen.” Fond as I am of the Kraft instant butterscotch pudding of my childhood, Bavette’s version is to that one as jamon iberico is to my equally beloved Spam, and all I can say is, save room for it.

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