The arrival of a swanky boutique hotel to the Milwaukee market – San Francisco-based Kimpton, which opened its Journeyman Hotel in late June 2016 – came with great expectations. It is home to Tre Rivali, a showboat of Carrara marble, reclaimed wood and Spanish porcelain tile. Chicago chef and “Top Chef” contestant Heather Terhune signed on to run the kitchen.
Add a fetching 5,000-square-foot rooftop lounge, featuring its own cocktail and light food menus, and the build-up to a visit here is heady. Make no mistake, the Journeyman is polished. After some inevitable shakiness at the start, the restaurant has found its footing with bold-flavored dishes like coriander-crusted whole branzino and Moroccan-spiced lamb ragout. (The servers, however friendly, are not seasoned.)
The wood-burning oven turns out a handful of pre-built pizzas for both Tre Rivali and the rooftop lounge named The Outsider. A pie consumed during an early visit didn’t skimp on flavorful toppings – green garlic pesto, goat cheese and lemon, but the crust was spongy and doughy.
But Tre Rivali – which translates, in Italian, to “Three Rivals,” referring to Milwaukee’s founding fathers – did score some hits, particularly with simple preps like scallops crudo – thin-sliced sashimi with sweet, juicy pink grapefruit, fresh mint and chili oil – and the piquillo peppers with sweet, savory, meaty notes. Offering ample flavor without overwhelming richness, the al dente pappardelle with braised pork neck ragout and ricotta salata was a standout. (It helped dislodge the memory of mushy shrimp in spaghetti with mussels and spicy tomato sauce from my mind – a dish that has since been removed from the menu.) A Berkshire hog is the source of my favorite dish here – a thick, tender, bone-in pork chop partnered with pork confit, Parmesan polenta and roasted fennel. Rich and satisfying.
Some of the dinner menu carries into lunch, namely pastas and pizzas. If your hankering is not for a fussy-but-delicious large plate like the steamed clams in smoked paprika buttery with hominy, chorizo, salt-roasted potatoes and grilled bread, then the lamb burger with feta and tahini yogurt sauce is a Mediterranean flavor tour de force.
And if you are night-capping in the Third Ward, the rooftop bar – and in the summer, outdoor patio – is a must stop. Spending any time in that warm, bright, ninth-floor space is a welcome dose of vitamin D. The Outsider serves spendy but tasty bites (Italian sausage sliders, tuna tartare micro cones!), pizzas, jarred spreads like eggplant caponata and frozen push pops – a perfect fun, refreshing dessert come summer.
Once the summer 2017 festival season kicks off, diners and imbibers will thread through the door, queuing up outside the elevator to The Outsider and making Tre Rivali a modern-hacienda destination for sophisticated, but approachable dining. ◆
Kimpton Journeyman Hotel
200 N. Broadway, Suite 100, 414-291-3971
Hours: Breakfast, lunch Mon.-Fri. Dinner daily. Brunch Sat-Sun.
Prices: Pizzas, pastas, entrées $16-$32.