The Immigrant Restaurant emphasizes refinement, of that I have no doubt as I follow the host down a long hallway to one of the six, museum-like themed rooms in The American Club’s premier restaurant.
Each room pays homage to a different group of Wisconsin immigrants from Europe; mine has dark wood and heavy framed art in an antiquated German theme. During my two-hour meal, the servers are attentive, personable and professional but not without some cracks. (There’s an awkward moment when the server addresses my friend and me as “Mr. and Mrs.”) But if the traditional fine dining experience – on white linen-covered tables, with tome-like wine lists, foie gras and Wagyu steaks, and a jacket requirement for male diners – is seeming harder to find, take a drive up to Kohler and you will find it here.
The courses are paced at an even tempo – we’re not made to feel rushed – and the dishes are visually artful. A few plates are delectably reminiscent of Immigrant head chef Thomas Hauck’s much-missed Walker’s Point restaurant, c.1880. And the food on this visit is generally good. But when we’re talking about entrées $59 and above, it should be stellar.
The original impetus for my visit was our Wisconsin food travel cover story in the August issue. But frankly, The Immigrant didn’t make the cut for that more celebratory feature because my meal didn’t match the prices. I’m not on a quest for budget fine dining, but I do hope for a meal that’s special, a worthwhile indulgence. This isn’t that. And it’s such a shame. The Immigrant should be as world-class as its resort home.
The bread should be fresh and warm. It isn’t. Of the two appetizers, the La Belle Farms foie gras torchon ($28) is a marvelous melding of flavors and textures. Torchon refers to a process that includes curing the duck liver, wrapping it in a dish towel, poaching it and letting it hang for a few days, and the outcome is exquisitely buttery, paired here (the prep changes) with tea-spiced brioche, shaved black truffle, caramelized apple compote and crisp field greens. The second app, a king crab roulade, or roll-up ($24), is agreeable but not memorable and rather small, though I enjoy its acidic-sweet ruby red grapefruit with the mellow, sweet crab.
In the entrée course, the 17-ounce Wagyu rib-eye ($72) has the tenderness and unctuous richness that the premium beef is known for, and a bordelaise (red wine butter) sauce that’s smooth and luscious. But the root vegetable pave (a many-layered rectangle of baked vegetables) falls short, owing to the assertively bitter carrots. The pan-seared loup de mer, or branzino ($62), is mild and creamy, a fish I often see in more unadorned restaurant preparations. Here, between a lobster stew and aioli-like saffron rouille, it’s richly dressed, and while delicious, I yearn for more simplicity.
I want to love The Immigrant Restaurant. I want it to be a showpiece of Wisconsin cuisine. That may take a deep re-evaluation of the menu and a freshening of the dining room’s aesthetics. Because if there’s anything that traveling around the state to dine has shown me, it’s that Wisconsin has some exceptional food in perhaps unlikely places. Kohler is one of the likeliest of places, but The Immigrant Restaurant falls short of those lofty expectations.
The American Club, 419 Highland Dr., Kohler, 920-451-2165
Hours: Tues-Sat 6-10 p.m.
Prices: Entrées $59-$80
Reservations: Strongly recommended