Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Night Out: Swig & La Merenda

Me at Swig
Two weeks ago my friend Kathy and I had our monthly dinner out. We decided to go to La Merenda, and after a lunchtime conversation with some co-workers at Rochester Deli (delicious as always), I found out that we probably need to make reservations. When I got back to work, I went to La Merenda's website and saw they have Open Table. If you haven't used this for reservations, you should. It's a great program and you earn rewards. I logged in and found out the only reservations available were 5:45 or 8:30. The early time wasn't possible because I was coming from Waukesha so we picked the 8:30 and decided to check out the Third Ward first.

Because we were using the trusty CityTin again, we decided to check out Swig for wine and maybe an appetizer. We took a table outside because it was a gorgeous night (and NO ONE was inside the place). As we were looking through the menu, I couldn't help but notice that everyone walking by was dressed really well and super fashionable. (Some of the fashions were a little questionable, but I know I had seen them in magazines - just not my style). I then went on my phone and saw it was Fashion's Night Out. I ran into my cousin and Aunt and they were all decked out for the event too. We didn't partake in that and just wanted food and wine :)

Classic Bruschetta from Swig
While we enjoyed the "tableside runway show" we sipped on some wine and enjoyed a delicious bruschetta. The tomatoes that Swig used were perfectly ripened and the touch of oil and cheese was just perfect on the crostini.

When Kathy got to the bottom of her glass of wine, there was a ton of gooey sediment. We mentioned it to our server and she apologized and said she had never seen that in a glass before. We weren't  asking for a discount or anything, but it definitely didn't make us want to stay for another glass. We paid our bill and headed back to the car and over to La Merenda.

I didn't read the address properly so it took us a few trips around the block to find the restaurant as it is all by its lonesome. We found a close spot on 1st Street and walked over. From the outside, the place doesn't look like much but there are some really nice condos/apartments right across the street. I believe the restaurant does valet but there is plenty of close street parking.

We walked in the front door which leads to the bar area that was really full. The host stand was beyond the bar just before the dining room. I asked the host if it was possible to be sat early, but we were fine waiting in the bar if needed. He happily told us that we could be seated then and took us past two large parties in the dining room to a table in the middle (almost 45 minutes before our reservation!)

The room has cement block walls that are painted a warm orange color. Mirrors, artwork and other household decor made the room very inviting. I then realized that all the tables and chairs were different and looked like they would have all been picked up at rummage sales. It's a very comforting concept.

We dove into the menu and asked our server how many tapas two people should order. We were told that the average is 2 - 3 per person and we could order them throughout our meal.  We started with some wine but I was very impressed when I saw all the local beers on the list - YAY Local! (sorry for the dark pics, I didn't want to ruin other diners' experiences.)

We saw one item that stuck out to us right away - the Goat Cheese Curds. I have really gotten into goat cheese lately and the creamy sauce sounded awesome. We then decided on the falafel, empanadas and jerk pork loin in order to try things from all over the world.

We enjoyed our glasses of wine for only a few minutes before the food started to come out. It comes out as it is done so that you can focus on just that one dish at a time. The goat cheese curds from Wisconsin came out first and we dug right in. (Per the menu La Clare Farms goat cheese curds smothered in Tia Paquita chorizo tomato cream sauce over garlic crostini) The curds were fresh, the sauce was perfectly spicy and it all went together so well. In a unique way, it reminded me of the seafood fondue from Thunder Bay Grille.

Goat Cheese Curds
I wanted more, but I decided to eat the next tapa. I stabbed a falafel ball from Lebanon and some tahini sauce and dug in. (Per the menu crispy chick pea fritters served with pickled turnips over tahini sauce) I had only had falafel once before at Casablanca , so I didn't have much to compare to, but it was pretty good. It was a larger ball to be eaten on its own, where Casablanca's were in a wrap. It was still good and he tahini was very flavorful. I liked the picked turnips but Kathy wasn't much of a fan of that dish. It was a little drier and maybe an acquired taste.

Next I grabbed an empanada from Columbia (Per the menu Savory fried pastry filled with braised grass fed beef, pears, tomato, local beans and Carr Valley sheep’s milk feta, served with a toasted cumin vinaigrette truffled). Yay goat cheese again and they were fried perfectly. I loved the toasted cumin vinaigrette, but I was sad that I couldn't taste the pear, only a lot of meat and beans. That was the reason we ordered it and we couldn't find any pieces in it or taste it.

Last was the jerk pork loin from Jamaica. (Per the menu Hometown Sausage pork loin marinated in Jerk spices and grilled, served over sweet potatoes topped with vanilla mango sauce). This was the largest tapa and so we each had a decent sized piece of pork along with some sweet potatoes. The pork was extremely peppery with a little jerk taste, so using the sweet potato sauce on the pork, helped bring down the bite. The potatoes were amazing! It was a perfect Thanksgiving dish in place of that marshmallow yam thing and I'm going to try it this year.

Jerk Pork Loin
We were so stuffed but both of us saved the Goat Cheese Curds for our last bite. I highly recommend this dish as well as the restaurant. We did enjoy this restaurant during Eat Local Week in Milwaukee but it was almost all by fluke. They use as many local ingredients as possible and the menu changes up often. I definitely want to return with a group of 4 so I can try more items on the menu.

They also have a "rewards program" as I found out in our check sleeve and signed up. When you sign up, you receive 200 points right away, and for every 250, you receive a $25 reward. (This will go a long way here). The points never expire either so you don't have to rush to fit them in in the year.

Until my next post, Happy Eating!


  1. Shoot, I completely missed out on their rewards program when I was there. I'll pay more attention next time...I hope next time is soon!

    I'm wishing we had gotten a chance to chat at Joey Gerard's last night, maybe next month at the Iron Horse :)

  2. Couldn't have said it any better!