For some Wisconsinites, Scandinavian cuisine means pickled herring, small nutmeg-laced meatballs or perhaps the Norwegian crepe called lefse – if they can even name anything of Nordic culinary origin. In Milwaukee, we just don’t have a Scandi restaurant scene. But now, there is one restaurant: Eldr+Rime, which opened last August in Mayfair’s Renaissance Milwaukee West hotel, offering a mix of Nordic and American farm-to-table flavors.
The 6,800-square-foot venue, whose name translates to Fire+Ice, is modern yet warm and rustic, with an open kitchen, expansive bay windows and large wooden dining tables. The mix of colors (blues and reds) and woods (light birch, oak) is intended to help diners settle into the Danish quality of coziness, or hygge. For its size, Eldr+Rime is surprisingly cozy. And the menu, with its fish, grains and raw bar, conjures up countries far from here. It does so at a price – a meal at Eldr+Rime is not an inexpensive one. But with a few exceptions, it’s also a delicious and satisfying one.
I study the menu while sipping a Reykr old fashioned ($16), a very oaky, bourbon-based cocktail which arrives in a covered vessel that releases clouds of smoke when the glass lid is removed. It infuses the drink with a smoky taste that cries out for something meaty as an appetizer. The Swedish meatball sliders with lingonberries, house-made pickles and mustard on toasted potato buns do nicely ($14). They’re tender and delicate and also combine delectably with the deep-fried potato-spelt dumplings ($13) filled with warm, oozy Clock Shadow Creamery cheese curds. These fritters are even more decadent dipped generously in chive crème fraîche. The latter dish’s richness also tames the slight tang of the Birch Sour, a lovely blend of rye whiskey, Disaronno amaretto, Angostura bitters, birch syrup, lemon and frothy egg white ($13). It goes down easily and quickly.
From the raw bar, I order the show-stopping salmon three ways ($20), a Scandi kind of plowman’s plate with portions of cold-smoked, hot-smoked and beetroot-cured salmon, dense house-made Danish dark seeded rye bread, mustard sauce and charred scallion schmear. Each of the pieces of fish is mouth-meltingly tender, and the whole creation is a meal in itself.
Of the entrées, the pork schnitzel is massive, though pounded relatively thin. I wish the crumb coating were a bit thinner and lighter, but still, there’s very moist meat inside that crunchy exterior. It’s topped with a runny fried egg, black radish and lots of fresh greens, including red endive and arugula ($26). The 8-ounce let mignon Oskar ($52) is the only misstep. While the meat is tender and topped with buttery king crab and a white asparagus-dill aigre-doux (a light sweet-sour sauce), it’s relatively flavorless and pricey to boot.
There are other things on the menu that sound enticing for a future visit – such as the seared scallops ($28) with roasted delicata squash and skyr (similar to yogurt), and the short rib strogano with dill and crushed house-made “Scandi” BBQ potato chips ($26). These are dishes I think locals could so easily hunker down into, in that hygge sort of way. More Scandi restaurants is an idea this nearly half-Swedish gal could get behind.