TAPA-STYLE DINING took off here 11 years ago when La Merenda threw down its first global small plates menu. From Odd Duck to Balzac Wine Bar, mix-and-match, couple-bite dining has dug its heels in. And in general the “starter” or appetizer side of restaurant menus has ballooned, while “shareable plate” is replacing the tired, less sexy term “entrée.” Differentiating from the pack has required concept tweaks, whether working in unexpected ingredients or wrapping it all in whimsical packaging.
In the copious Avalon Theater kitchen, a cook may be hand-breading chicken tenders for movie-goers while another plates pork crepinette with braised lacinato kale and bacon gastrique for a diner seated inside the Avalon’s intimate Mistral, a breath of fresh sea air. For an observer, it’s a wild duality; for executive chef Joe Schreiter, it’s perfectly normal. But the location gives it a certain hidden gem status. When bitter weather descends, don’t expect Mistral to counter it with heavy plates of food. Schreiter explains his unorthodox approach to winter menus (incorporating small plates and larger shareable ones) and the advantages of being housed in an entertainment complex of sorts.
MM: THIS TIME OF YEAR, WE TEND TO SEE HEAVIER SAUCES AND DISH PREPARATIONS. YOUR PHILOSOPHY IS DIFFERENT. HOW SO?
JS: I try not to go “obvious.” I like light, brighter flavors in winter. playing with different vinegars, acids and verjus [a high-acid juice made from unripe grapes]. An example would be a new dish – branzino with curried squash, a tomato consommé from tomatoes we grew and processed (giving it a summer vibe), plus pickled mustard seed aioli and fried capers. MM: HOW IS THAT STYLE WOVEN THROUGH THE MENU? The rabbit cacciatore is very hearty but, at the same time, light. We braise the rabbit in tomatoes, add an aromatic vermouth,
and finish with a verjus. We also use a white balsamic vinegar to finish the vegetables. And we like to use vinaigrettes wherever we can, like the harissa vinaigrette on the ahi tuna [with Tunisian brik, a filled phyllo pastry]. MM: IS YOUR APPROACH TO THE MOVIE THEATER MENU DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF MISTRAL?
JS: You don’t think of a movie theater having everything from scratch, but the pizza dough is just as important as the pork consommé [used at Mistral]. We grind brisket and rib-eye for the theater burger, and grind up popcorn for the breading for our chicken tenders. What’s cool is you can get octopus at Mistral before a movie and pepperoni pizza at the Avalon. It’s the perfect date night.
Mistral’s halibut with green garlic hummus, pickled cucumber, cherry tomatoes and pumpkinseed oil 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-539-6469 Mediterranean $8-$24