Back when Odd Duck first landed its webbed feet in Bay View – 10 years ago! – it slid almost immediately into premier dining position. With a future-star pool of kitchen talent, it was one of the few local spots that coaxed friends out of the woodwork: “The next time you go to Odd Duck, take me with!” they’d say to me. That kind of good. The restaurant’s menu of often-changing small and shareable plates reflecting the season was unexpected, imaginative and well executed. And in many ways, it still is. Just now, 10 years into it, the bar is higher.
The restaurant’s new space in Walker’s Point (the former Meraki, another small-plates enterprise) is bright, energetic and much larger – with an imaginative menu that offers some great dishes but doesn’t quite meet the level of excellence one expects from the restaurant.
Part of the Odd Duck magnetism was that it consistently exceeded expectations – in the old digs, it did that despite a very limited kitchen. The new space opens up a wealth of menu possibilities, co-owner Ross Bachhuber said when the move was first announced. There’s a bigger kitchen and new equipment, including a wood-burning oven.
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There’s still plenty of creativity happening here, but many of the plates I ordered just needed a touch more (or less) to really soar. Nevertheless, there’s much to relish, including a top-notch service staff that’s passionate and experienced.
One thing Odd Duck has historically done really well is make you forget where you are. I’ve spent many a good night feeling transported by food and drink. I feel a little of that at the new Walker’s Point space, seated in one of the rows of banquettes, my words lost in the decibel level of the full, frenetic dining room. Around me, people are shooting back oysters and making Korean lettuce wraps.
I dive into a plate of pardina lentil-crusted carrots, a standout among the veg-based menu items. The tender sticks are strewn across a thick lentil stew, a citrusy cilantro sauce called zhoug, some preserved lemon and sumac onion ($11) – the whole creation blowing in like a soft breeze from the Middle East. Another highlight is the matar paneer ($12), a fusion of nutty, sweet and spicy. The tender little rice cakes in this Indian dish rest in cashew-coconut curry sauce with custardy cubes of house-made cheese.
A dish that sounds promising but falls short is the chochoyotes (tiny Mexican masa dumplings, $18), which feature morel mushrooms, so precious and seasonally short-lived. The mushrooms earthy, nutty funk should be more of a centerpiece of the dish, but it gets lost in the dominant black bean purée, queso fresco, pickled onion and avocado.
What I like most about the tempura oyster mushroom dish ($12) is the sliced tsukemono cucumber, a crisp counterpart to the warm, meaty mushrooms in mustard-miso sauce. What I like least is the thick-sliced, assertive furofuki daikon radish, which detract from the more nuanced flavors.
The meat- and fish-based dishes, overall, are the hits here, and one of the best is the suckling pig quesabirria tacos, which, with its cheesy meat filling and consommé dipping sauce, pays homage to the trendy street food. They’re delicious – so delicious that I want more! Each of the four tacos, on hand-made corn tortillas, is gone in two bites. The dish called Trout Under a Fur Coat salad ($12) is a savory trifle-like mold of smoked trout, creamy potato salad, egg, carrot topped with fish roe and a potato crisp hat with a super smooth mingling of flavors. And what I dig most about the tender rendang lamb (a Malaysian curry) is the delicate net-shaped jala roti ($16). I dip these mini crepes in the saucy meat and relish the deep-bass notes of chile, lime and coconut.
The menu’s most substantial, shareable dish, the Korean steak ssam ($34) is a buildable mix of char-grilled bavette-cut steak, creamy potato salad, garlic sesame spinach, sticky rice, bean sprout banchan (a simple salad), jicama kimchi, sweet-savory ssamjang sauce and leaves of bibb lettuce. The wraps you make with these ingredients are a little hard to eat, but tasty – the koji-marinated beef particularly.
Despite some dips in the meal, Odd Duck still ends it with a stellar dessert, a rich and creamy vegan cashew cheesecake with a crunchy crumble, blueberry sauce and candied lemon ($12). The last bites I eat slowly, thinking about COVID fallout and the challenges of moving to a new location. Beyond our patronage, perhaps the biggest gift we can give the fragile restaurant industry is to manage our expectations – and lend grace.
939 S. SECOND ST. | 414-763-5881
Hours: Tues-Sat 5-10 p.m.
Prices: Snacks $4-$6; small/shareable plates $10-$34
Service: Enthusiastic, well-versed in the menu, attentive
Reservations: Recommended, but walk-ins accepted in the bar/lounge