Sabor, the Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse) that has been serving Gaucho barbeque for some time on Water Street, unleashed their version of southern hemisphere-inspired pub food and unconventional cocktails nearly one year ago. Beta by Sabor (777 North Water Street) takes up the front portion of the building, greeting customers with a modish bar, pub tables, […]

 Sabor, the Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse) that has been serving Gaucho barbeque for some time on Water Street, unleashed their version of southern hemisphere-inspired pub food and unconventional cocktails nearly one year ago. Beta by Sabor (777 North Water Street) takes up the front portion of the building, greeting customers with a modish bar, pub tables, at-bar seating and a view of the hustle and bustle of Water Street. Those that require a more conventional dining experience can continue into Beta’s high-ceilinged lounge area for a booth, a table or even a comfortable sofa.

 On this night, my lady and I chose to remain at the center of the activity and table-up near the bar. The view of Water Street allowed for prime people-watching.

As it was the dinner hour, we saw multiple couples converging at the door, glowing with anticipation and hand-holding while families dropped their cars at the valet and drifted in one at a time.

Diverting my gaze from the street, I learned the drink list is quite expansive and diverse. The major players are all accounted for, allowing for multiple palates to find satisfaction effectively.

For starters, I chose the General Lee ($10.00) with house-made blueberry and honey-infused bourbon cordial. It was sweetly candied but held the charred oaky flavor as bourbon should. Aside from the floating steeped blueberries, a large sphere of ice occupied the tumbler. I thought at one point this globule may roll out of the glass and into one of my baby browns, but alas, she stayed true, frosting the short glass of berries and bourbon.

As it was the fifth of May, my lovely lady decided to partake in the festivities and order the La Fresa Margarita ($10.00) — strawberry-infused Camarena Reposado, fresh lime and sour. Keep your blenders in your cupboards and your bottle of Jose “Ahem” mix in the pantry; this margarita was fresh, with the ideal mix of sweet and sour over a collection of perfectly squared cubes of ice. (Aside: if you haven’t noticed, the perfect geometrical configuration of cocktail ice can have a favorable effect on how they’re received.

As for food, it was a difficult decision considering the  “Deviled Eggs of the Week” and the seared scallops with banana puree, but we came to an agreement on the pickle jar ($5.00), with assorted pickled vegetables, served with cheese crackers and topped with crispy bacon. Pickled items included Brussels sprouts, white and green beans, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, candied/pickled jalapeños, beets, small, unknown-to-me onions and, of course, cucumbers.

Between the two of us, this was a trying, yet rousing task. Have you ever eaten a whole jar of pickles? No? I didn’t think so. Although each and every piece of veggie on that plate was delicious, I’m pretty sure you can overdose on vinegar, salt and spices. The only antidote:another ‘snack’ plate.

Our alternative to the pickled life was the Beta Sliders ($8.00); four Asian-style steamed buns topped with scallions, chervil, pork belly and a Dr. Pepper pan sauce. (These sliders are also available with steamed shrimp cake for $10.) The downy buns were light and complemented the strapping, smoky flavor of the pork belly, while the pleasant sharpness of the Dr. Pepper drizzle finished our taste buds with a daub of sweet cane.

If I can interrupt your drooling, I will share my final cocktail of the night (although I did venture out later for more cocktails): the Kentucky Breakfast Old Fashioned ($9.00). This farm/Vermont-inspired creation included bacon-infused Knob Creek bourbon, maple syrup, Luxardo Maraschino and an upright slice of bacon. The sweet combination of Maraschino and maple syrup merge with the bourbon to consummate a marriage of intense flavor, sipable and delectable to all tastes.

Although we had kept our drink choices narrow, there are multiple alternatives to the aforementioned bourbon and tequila. On a future trek into the Brazilian Highlands I will seek out the Mr. McGregor’s Garden ($9.00), made with Don Cesar Pisco (brandy made with black grapes), muddled heirloom radish, Aperol and ginger-lemongrass syrup; or the Steve Zissou ($10.00), made with Bourbon-barrel aged Negroni, Plymouth Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth; or the Tomato Vesper ($9.00) made with Milwaukee’s Rehorst vodka, tomato water, Ransom Old Tom gin, Cocchi Americano and Peychaud’s bitters. I’m a little inebriated just thinking about these drinks!

As I’m sure you are well aware by now, the pricing structure at Beta by Sabor is leaning toward the high end of the market. But the quality of the ingredients and the intelligence in the recipes justify these prices. Like I said earlier, I continued my night at another establishment and proceeded to drink Walter’s Premium Pilsner Beer (Eau Claire) out of a can, because it’s not so much what you have in your wallet, it’s what you choose to feed your belly.

The small plate/specialty cocktail revolution is here. My first experience was a drinker’s delight. And although Brazil is a long plane ride away, its seductive flavors are right here in our fair city.

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My biggest complaint about Milwaukee area restaurants has always been that their menus tend to be “too safe.”  I love to cook. So, when I go out to dinner, I’m doing so because I want to have a new experience.  I want to be able to sit down, relax, and be transported to another place.  […]

My biggest complaint about Milwaukee area restaurants has always been that their menus tend to be “too safe.” 

I love to cook. So, when I go out to dinner, I’m doing so because I want to have a new experience.  I want to be able to sit down, relax, and be transported to another place.  I want the chef to cook me something that I can’t make at home – something that stretches my own repertoire and makes my tastebuds tingle with pleasure.  I want to be challenged.

Being challenged doesn’t necessarily mean that a menu item needs to be completely bizarre.  I can be easily persuaded by a simple-but-swoonworthy preparation.  Sometimes it’s simply a matter of a superior ingredients at the peak of freshness.  But, I do seek out places that really yearn to impress.

Such seems to be the case with the brand new restaurant, Beta by Sabor, which opens its doors tonight (Friday, July 22, 2011).  I was lucky enough to have the chance to take a sneak peak at this brand new restaurant concept earlier this week.  And I was seriously blown away.

Three simple phrases would serve well to describe the decor: Super Comfortable, Pleasingly Upscale, and Ripe for Socialization.  The atmosphere is hip, but welcoming.  There are plenty of spaces to sit and enjoy intimate nibbles for two (or 15), and even spaces to lounge with your after dinner cocktail.  And, speaking of cocktails, don’t get me started on the food…

One of the first dishes we sampled were their deliciously smooth and earthy truffled deviled eggs, which come garnished with fried mushrooms and celery leaves.  They were upscale comfort food at its best — wonderfully presented and embellished with the perfect amount of truffle flavor ($6.75 for four whole stuffed eggs).

There were also deliciously crispy pork rinds, sprinkled with bacon dust, nacho powder, and served with a hot (local) honey ($4).  The rinds were perfectly puffed, crispy but not greasy, and seasoned to perfection.  

We moved along to a sampling of Beta’s house-made toast and jams, including a gorgeously earthy mushroom duxel,  foie gras pate with blueberry bourbon honey (swoon), caramelized onion and cheese brulee (deliciously creamy fontina custard laced with wonderfully sweet onions), and a wonderfully fresh tomato jam.  Even better, these options were priced for sampling & sharing with most portions priced at around $3.50 each (the exception being the foie gras at $10).

More hefty samples included the pork ragout ($8) — a combination of braised pork shoulder, jowl, and belly braised and embellished with apples and golden raisins. Each cut of pork was braised in its own unique liquid, giving the dish multiple layers of flavor. The pork was served over crisp fried polenta with a side of pickled cabbage to balance the richness of the pork.

A down-home favorite by far was the waffles served with fried chicken, sausage gravy, and a drizzle of whiskey apple syrup ($8.50).  This classic combination was tender, flavorful, and perfectly balanced. The sausage gravy had hints of mustard and gouda cheese which played ever-so-nicely with the apple syrup drizzle.

All the dishes were reasonably priced and the perfect size for sharing — which is the whole point, according to COO, Paul Berlin.  He envisions people bringing groups of friends and enjoying the adventure of trying new dishes, with virtually no risk.  And he’s onto something.  I can just imagine taking a small slew of friends here and sampling the entire menu!

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It’s also apparent that mixology will be a specialty at Beta, which has started infusing its own vodkas, making simple syrups, and even experimenting with its own bitters.  We tried a variety of drinks, my favorite being “Grace’s Song,” a masterpiece created by Chicago bartender, Nate Howell of Sable ($10).  This delicious combination of Milagro Blanco, cucumber, cilantro, siracha, and agave syrup is a summer masterpiece — fresh and light, with the perfect amount of complexity.    Novelty drinks would include the Kentucky Breakfast Old Fashioned made with bacon-infused Knob Creek bourbon, maple syrup, and Luxardo Maraschino ($9).

If you’d like a bit of entertainment in your evening, you’ll want to make sure to order a bit of Beta’s freshly “churned” ice cream, frozen to order with the help of a bit of liquid nitrogen.  Not only does making ice cream with their NitroCream machine make for a good show, but their ice cream (and sorbet) is decadently smooth and rich, thanks to the quick-freeze process.  

Talking with Chef Mitch Ciohon, I was excited to learn that, in addition to making plenty of condiments and infusions in-house, Beta will be sourcing plenty of local ingredients.  Currently working with the Underground Food Collective in Madison and Bolzano Artisan Meats in Milwaukee’s Riverwest to procure its charcuterie and sourcing its honey from local West Allis producers,  Mitch also has his eyes on working with local farmers to produce specialty ingredients not normally found on the market.

I appreciate the ingenuity I saw on Beta’s menu – something difficult to find at some other Milwaukee establishments. It’s adventurous without being inaccessible, upscale without being snobbish, and quite frankly, perfectly delicious.

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Can’t wait for my next trip back…

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Beta by Sabor
(just inside Sabor Brazilian Churrascaria)
777 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 431- 3106

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