Friday night took me on a food and beverage adventure around Milwaukee – such an awesome experience! I got to sample three restaurants that I’d never been to before: Crazy Water, Blue Jacket and Meritage.

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We started with an early first course at Crazy Water (www.crazywaterrestaurant.com) which is located at 839 S. 2nd St. In Milwaukee. Walker’s Point seems to be an up and coming little foodie neighborhood just south of the 3rd Ward, and the restaurant has a non-assuming exterior on the corner. The tiny kitchen is in one I’d the front windows, and the other is filled with a dining table. The interior dining room and bar is absolutely decadent – gorgeous wall papers, dark wood, beautiful fabrics…would be a great place to snuggle up with a date in the middle of winter with a hot toddie. Since its summer, we chose to check out the exterior seating area – a lovely little covered courtyard filled with intimate seating, a fountain, lots of plants and great music.

When we sat down, the first thing I noticed was the great silverware – the knife was created with a handle so that it sits blade down, rather than on its side. I love me some details. Our server came for our drink order and we asked about martinis – although they don’t have a list, he asked what we’d like (something refreshing and cucumber or citrus based, with gin) and returned with a lovely creation. We decided to start with the soup of the day, which had an exotic name that I can’t remember. It was a creamy summer squash soup with the perfect amount of jalapeño to make my taste buds dance, served with a fresh and delicious dinner roll.

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We couldn’t resist ordering an appetizer as well, and settled on the garlic chicken wontons with julienned vegetables and hijiki sauce. This also had some special flavor – the bed of vegetables was a wonderful compliment to the crunchy fried wonton and the sauce was peppery and smooth.

I would absolutely return to Crazy Water. The ambiance was right up my alley, the service was spot on and the food that we sampled was delicious and interesting to taste. Entrees range from $22-$28, appetizers and salads are in the $10 range and they’ve got a nice wine list, as well as a talented bartender to make custom drinks. When we asked our server what he’s enjoying in the area, he mentioned a new restaurant, Blue Jacket, just a few blocks away. Off we went.

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Blue Jacket (www.bluejacketbar.com) is located at 135 E. National Ave. in Walker’s Point, right next door to La Merenda. I was in love with the space as we walked up to it, a very open concept on another corner lot, offering huge windows and a very airy feel. I also appreciate the “Live from the Third Coast” mentality honoring our Great Lakes tradition. One of the first things that I noticed and thought was missing was music – until I realized the sound system was based on a turntable surrounded by a large collection of records behind the bar. Stole my heart a little bit.

Upon arrival, we were able to be seated at a high top table near the bar. It took more than 5 minutes for anyone to check in with us, which was a little disappointing as we were eager to peek at the menu. We decided on another round of fancy drinks: the London Fog (smoked tea infused Bombay Sapphire, lemon, grapefruit, yellow chartreuse, sparkling wine) and a Lake Bluff Gimlet (North Shore Mighty gin, lime, lavender syrup and Bittercube Door County Hop bitters).

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We decided we didn’t need anything heavy at this point in the evening, so the fish themed artisan plank it was. I was impressed with the selection at the $14 price point: herring, trout, salmon and whitefish, accompanied by pickled peppers, beans, asparagus and beets, tartar sauce, candied walnuts, raisins and a generous portion of warm bread and flatbread slices. The fish was delicious and well presented, and we also noticed that for an additional $4 you could combine two of the planks (fish, cheese or meat) for an even larger starter. They also have a nice selection of small plates ranging from $8-$20.

Despite being happy with the food and drinks, I will put Blue Jacket at the back of my restaurant rotation and wait a few months before I return. I really enjoyed how open the space was – the breeze was moving around us the entire time. The service had a lot of flaws – very slow and inattentive. I noticed the host in a bit of a panic with a couple of servers – something I don’t want to know about as a customer. I hope they pull everything together, as I think this would be a great place for happy hour or a dinner with friends, especially in the warm months.

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The final stop of the night was Meritage (www.meritage.us) in Washington Heights. There is nothing unbelievably different about the interior of this restaurant, but it feels comfortable and friendly the minute you walk in.

We weren’t hungry in the slightest at this point, so we decided on an after dinner drink instead. The drink list is fascinating with creations like the jala-poblano margarita, coconut-curry martini and Nutella cocktail. The bartender asked what we were in the mood for and recommended his off-menu rhubarb pie martini. We were quick to agree, and reminisce about our Grandmothers and rhubarb (freshly picked and dipped in sugar, baked into a cake for Memorial Day every year).

The martini was fabulous (we learned that it was a simple recipe: home-made rhubarb infused vodka, sour mix and simple syrup) and I was slightly disappointed that my stomach couldn’t hold another course. Appetizers like ricotta gnocchi with scallops and entrees like bison stuffed chile caught my eye, bringing this restaurant to my “visit again” list.

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