I’m still new to Milwaukee. In fact, it’s been exactly one month since I stacked all of my things, Tetris-style, into a moving van and made the 90-mile trek from my old apartment in Chicago to my new one here. And though I’ve been enjoying my time in the city so far, I don’t think I’ll feel completely settled until I’ve crossed a few more destinations off my MKE bucket list.
So I was pretty excited to learn that Downtown Dining Week runs June 1-8. A chance to sample multiple dishes at local restaurants without racking up a wince-inducing tab? Yes, please.
After spending a solid hour perusing menus, I decided to book my first reservation at Swig, a tapas-inspired Third Ward bistro just a few blocks from the Mil Mag office. Like many of the restaurants participating in Downtown Dining Week, Swig is offering a $12.50 prix fixe lunch and a more expensive dinner.
When I arrived around 12:30 p.m., the patio was packed, so I settled for a seat inside, by the open windows. Weathered wood floorboards, exposed ceiling beams and brick walls imparted an industrial vibe. Very modern, very hip.
After some hemming and hawing, I chose tempura snap peas for my first course, watermelon salad for my second and a blackened tilapia sandwich for my third.
My waiter brought the snap peas to my table within a couple of minutes. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, they were good enough to eat on their own, though that didn’t stop me from dunking them liberally into the tarragon sour cream sauce and horseradish aioli provided. The sour cream was a little bland, but the aioli had a pleasant kick to it. And even with a healthy dollop of sauce and an addictively crunchy tempura coating, the snap peas were light enough on the palette that I could pretend they were sort of healthy.
Next up was the watermelon salad, which was, unfortunately, a letdown. The grilled watermelon wasn’t as smoky or flavorful as I’d expected. It essentially tasted, and looked, like a large piece of fruit on undressed lettuce (the balsamic reduction that came with the dish had been served, perplexingly, on the side). I ate it anyway, though, because I figured I could use the extra serving of fruit and vegetables, and plain watermelon still tastes pretty good.
Last came the blackened tilapia sandwich. The jicama slaw served atop the fish was underwhelming. But the tilapia was well cooked and the house-baked ciabatta bread had a satisfyingly crackly crust and springy, open crumb (note: 99% of my knowledge of baking technique and terminology comes from The Great British Bake-Off, but I’ll stand by my assessment of the ciabatta in question anyway). The potato chips were clearly baked on-site too. Light and crispy, with a delicious dusting of parmesan, they were unquestionably the highlight of the meal for me. I ate every single chip on my plate and would have eaten many, many more, if nearby diners had been kind enough to offer me theirs.
All in all, I’d definitely visit Swig again, though I’ll probably hit up a few of the other Hospitality Democracy-owned restaurants in the area – AJ Bombers, Onesto, Smoke Shack and Water Buffalo – before returning. Unless I get an unexpected craving for potato chips before then, in which case all bets are off.