Ardent is a small place that serves only a 12 course tasting menu from Chef Justin Carlisle on Wed. through Sat. Set below street level, music is in the background and the blond-wood counter only has a few seats. Opening in Oct. of 2013, chef stopped by the kitchen but was not there to cook. Three others handled the evening’s menu (along with dishwashing, polishing and making coffees) and 3 other staff serviced the floor and counter which could accommodate about 15 guests. Service was excellent and interactive. Wine pairings were available as well as bottles of wine and this time we enjoyed the pairings with the good menu of food. They were a bunch of quality choices. It’s a cozy, relaxed setting that’s fun to eat in.
A series of snacks starts the meal. Cod skin was topped with malt vinegar, cod roe and dill. It was a little fishy but well flavored. A carrot tart was filled with rainbow carrots and topped with tarragon. Some smooth custard was topped with the multicolored carrots and strong tarragon. It was good. A beer cheese pretzel was topped with Hook’s 5-year cheddar. The pretzel was crisp and the cheese had the texture of ‘cheeze whiz’. It was fun. A cup held Aronia berry kombucha that was cool and refreshing. It was light with fairly mild flavor.
Ardent Reserve caviar was with cauliflower and aged kombu alongside a crumpet. The caviar was smoked in house and the cauliflower was in both purée and crispy forms. You could eat this on the crumpet of in separate components. The crumpet had a nice crisp on the outside of the tender inside. The cauliflower purée moderated the stronger flavor of the caviar. The crispy bits were mixed with threads of kombu that had a chewiness. Lots of fun textures and flavors to blend here.
Cucumber, shallots and chives made a sauce for cured Walleye, shiso and kefir. This one was filled with clean, strong tastes of cucumber. The chewy fish went nicely with the surrounding flavors for a refreshing, good result.
Beef tartare was topped with deviled egg and bone marrow. Alongside was a bread service of Muenster croissant and butter. The bread was amazing with layers of rich delicious pastry. It really didn’t need the addition of extra butter but was great with the large dice tartare. The tartare was perfect to mix with the egg and marrow. Two thumbs up on this course.
Summer squash was plated with basil, clams and chanterelle. The squash were in balls floating in the broth of clam stock. Basil as well as basil oil is in the mix. The clams and mushrooms have a fun chewy texture while the squash is more soft. It was a good mix of things.
A porridge contained Matsutake mushroom, spruce and pickled ramps. Sushi rice was well cooked and seasoned with spruce powder. The pickled ramps added a bit of tang. It was a savory bowl of fun with nice bites of flavor and texture. Good one.
Suckling pig was stuffed with braised beans, garlic Kasuzuke and pickled plums. The round piece had a perfectly crispy skin on the outside and was filled with chew and taste on the inside. The skin was incredible but the beans inside were perfect – looked like a yellow eye bean – along with the plums. This one lingered wonderfully in your mouth afterwards. Yum.
Knives were set for the next course. The handles on them were a resin made from old kitchen aprons. Carlisle Beef NY Strip steak was alongside Yukon potato, caramelized onion and black truffle. Carlisle is the Wisc. farm run by chef’s father. The slightly chewy beef could have been more rare, for my taste but the potatoes were nicely seasoned. The sauce helped the beef but this one could have been better. Good not great.
Jasmine Koji sorbet was plated with green apple-lemon balm granita, puffed rice and ground cherry. This one was very cold with lots of textural elements. It had clean, mild flavors. It was paired with French champagne.
Fernet ice cream was served with prunes and fig leaf. The fig leaves were molded into a crisp cookie to top the ice cream. It added texture plus a very good flavor to the sweet, creamy ice cream. Not too rich or too sweet, this was a nice dish.
Mignardises were 3 on the plates. Rosemary, smoked-butter caramel had texture but too much rosemary for me.
Pepita financier, peaches and buttercream made a sweet, buttery bite. It was good.
Chocolate mendiant, fluff and candied buckwheat benefited from the crisp buckwheat on the thick chocolate bottom. It was fun and tasty.
A parting gift was a bar of housemade soap.