A long-time steakhouse chef trades in fine dining for laid-back, something-for-everyone shareable plates.
When Jason Tofte helmed the kitchen of Eddie Martini’s, he suited up in a white chef’s coat, cooked on the line and rarely ventured out to chat with patrons. That changed when the 18-year Tosa steakhouse vet left to run Waukesha’s The Steaming Cup with his wife, Cristina. The Cup came with a sizable built-in clientele, and serving up lattes with hummus wraps required interaction with customers.
The trepidation of being visible evaporated over time, so that when Jason and Cristina looked at a vacant restaurant storefront near the Cup (thinking it might benefit their small cafe to have more space), they started considering another venture – one with the informality of a cafe but a more elevated tone, where both owners work the front of the house. A venue where plates are shareable, service is casual and convivial. That’s the premise of Tofte’s Table.
In recent years, businesses like People’s Park restaurant and the Steaming Cup have fueled talk of a renaissance in the quiet Waukesha downtown. Tofte’s inviting, affordable theme has added kindling to that fire.
The menu is sagely constructed to appeal to everyone from the diner who’s conservative (meatloaf and mashed potatoes) to the one who is dauntless (tuna tartare). The memory of two plates remains in my mind: the succulent fried chicken drumstick with maple drizzle and coarse-grain mustard and seared sweet potatoes with spicy apricot compote and a jiggly blob of creamy burrata cheese.
Overall, the menu leans on “comfort” (fine by me). The braised short ribs melt into Yukon mashed potatoes and honey-glazed carrots like an elevated pot roast; links of kielbasa with pickled red cabbage, pepper-potato hash and mustard aioli are a dynamic Germanic nod.
Like the chicken leg and sweet potato-burrata successes, I’d revisit the plump grilled octopus with lemon-mustard vinaigrette, and duck confit tostadas – puffy fried wontons topped with the rich confit, shiitake mushrooms, sesame tomatoes and sweet hoisin. These are economical, satisfying bites. The Toftes are happy to help lead the charge to commercially re-energize downtown Waukesha. Business is “good but could be better,” Jason says, sounding like the pragmatic restaurateur he is. Tofte’s Table reflects a personal evolution. For the diner, that means comforting fare in a warm, sincere setting. ◆
331 Riverfront Plaza, Waukesha, 262-408-5633.
This dining review appears in the Dine Out Pocket Guide in the April 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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