As many of you already know, I have a soft spot in my heart for Wisconsin. I spent my undergraduate years at a tiny liberal arts school in the middle of the state and spent as much of my free time as possible traveling to my two Wisconsin city loves: Madison and Milwaukee (while I loved my school and got a fantastic education, it wasn't exactly the epicenter of culture). I fell in love with both cities and considered moving to one or the other once I finished with school, but that all changed after my my student teaching semester in Chicago. I realized then that I loved the even bigger city life too much to return to Wisconsin; however, all these years later both cities still hold a special place in my heart. So of course when Potawatomi Hotel & Casino invited Diana and me up to Milwaukee for a special dinner at their award-winning steakhouse and a stay at their fab new hotel, I jumped at the chance to revisit one of my old loves and discover all that has changed since I left the land of delicious cheese.
While the casino has been open since the early '90s (starting out as a bingo hall), the 19-story, 381-room luxury hotel is just under a year old. The hotel boasts a locally sourced restaurant, casino floor access, Stone Creek Coffee (a Wisconsin specialty), and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer one-of-a-kind views of Milwaukee. Even more impressively, the hotel is home to the most expensive, gorgeous, and luxurious room in the entire city: a 3,000 square foot Presidential Suite featuring two fireplaces, seven flat-screen TV’s, a Kohler Abrazo oval-shaped freestanding bath tub, and an 800-square-foot private balcony that offers magnificent views of downtown Milwaukee.
As important as we are (ha!), sadly Diana and I didn't get to stay in the fabulous Presidential Suite, but we did get to spend the night in one of their lovely standard queen rooms on the twelfth floor that came with its own sweeping views of downtown Milwaukee and the lake. Not only did we love the modern decor of the room, but also, we highly appreciated the perfectly crystal clear windows. Yes, I know that seems like a strange thing to mention, but I can't tell you how many hotels I've stayed at that boasted stunning views, but those views were completely ruined by filthy/streaky windows. A+ for the perfect Milwaukee vista!
How awesome were the views from our room?! For those of you who may be slightly geographically challenged, yes, that's the same lake we have in Chicago. ;-)
The modern look of the rooms extends into the hotel lobby (you can also see a peek of their casual dining restaurant in the background!). Down to the smallest details, the architecture and furnishings evoke natural curves and colors, infused with a splash of playfulness.
As much as we enjoyed exploring the beautiful hotel (and losing our money at the casino!), we were primarily up there to attend the special Woodford Reserve Derby Dinner at Dream Dance Steak. The steakhouse is one of seven on-site restaurants located throughout the Potawatomi complex; it also has the distinction of being the first of its dining options, as well as one of Milwaukee's top 30 restaurants (as ranked by the Journal Sentinel). The fine dining restaurant is renowned for their surf and turf, along with Chef Matt Baier's commitment to using local ingredients sourced from Growing Power.
Before the dinner, Diana and I had the opportunity to tour the gorgeous kitchen and chat with Chef Matt, in which we instantly discovered why everyone there loves him so much. The Illinois-raised chef is so down to earth and such a affable guy - it's always refreshing to come across highly regarded chefs who still retain their good ol' Midwestern hospitality! His passion for his career was clear when he told us all about his longstanding dream to become a chef at a four-star restaurant by the age of 30, which he achieved with only days to spare, thanks to his appointment at Dream Dance Steak in 2011.
Four of the five courses were designed to pair with craft bourbon cocktails from Woodford Reserve. Being a novice bourbon drinker (I'm more of a vodka & gin girl, but bourbon is slowly growing on me!), I found this dinner was the perfect venue to discover new ways to enjoy it.
Smoked Trout Salad with Growing Power greens and chow chow, served with Bourbon-Apple Punch. Our dinner most definitely started off on a high note with this smooth bourbon punch with hints of apples and lemons and the earthy trout salad. Not only was the punch my favorite cocktail of the night, I also really loved this pairing - it felt like the perfect nod to summer!
Rabbit Galantine with bourbon mustard and pickled carrots, served with the Kentucky Manhattan. I found our second course to be the most surprising of the evening, as I'm usually not a big fan of rabbit. Chef Matt told us that his delivery was a bit late, so he had to quickly change his plans and simplify this dish - I have to say whatever he did was completely amazing! This mild and juicy rabbit was prepared with only five ingredients and definitely held its own against the bold Manhattan.
Seared Pork Tenderloin with chestnut purée and candied chestnuts, served with the Barrel-aged Peach Mint Julep. We were told ahead of time by several staff members that Chef Matt specializes in pork, so we had some high expectations for this course. I'm happy to say that all of our expectation were met... and then some! This superbly seared pork paired perfectly with the earthy chestnuts and the sweet peachy julep. While the first course was my favorite pairing, this pork dish was my favorite of the night.
Woodford Bourbon BBQ-Braised Leg of Lamb with creamy grits and baby kale chips, served with Steele Stymie Merlot. This was another one of those surprising dishes, as I wouldn't have thought to pair kale with grits, but the combination was so good that it actually outdid the lamb!
Toasted Banana Bread with chocolate crémeux, bourbon custard, and smoked salted caramel sauce, served with The Kentucky Diva. The final course of the night was seriously swoon-worthy; the banana, the chocolate, the salted caramel... OMG! Besides the fact that this was my dream dessert, I also learned how amazing RumChata is mixed with bourbon. This was really an outstanding end to the evening!
The next morning (after a night of losing our heads at the slot machines, more delicious cocktails, and a much-needed 1:00AM consolation cookie nosh session), Diana and I stumbled out of our comfy beds, admired our Milwaukee views one last time, and headed downstairs for brunch at Potawatomi's newest restaurant, Locavore. The casual dining spot sources as much food from within Wisconsin and the greater Midwest as possible. A rotating seasonal menu (that also changes according to daily harvests) features sustainable organic ingredients, complemented by handcrafted cocktails, regional and small-batch beers, and bio-dynamic and organic wines.
After an evening of cocktail-enhanced fun, slot machine craziness, and very little sleep, we both decided we needed to fuel up with their specialty brunch skillets. I went with the Santa Fe Skillet: two eggs, shredded pork, applewood-smoked bacon, Carr Valley 2-year aged cheddar, onions, poblano sauce, and potatoes. *Whew.* This was one of the most meat-tastic and fantastic skillets I've ever had. It was the perfect foodie send-off back to Chicago!
Just look at that sexy drip action!
Obviously, Diana and I both loved everything about our stay - the food, drinks, and hospitality were completely on point and we can't wait to go back for another round (maybe next time we'll actually win something!). Seeing as its only and hour and a half drive from the city, there's no excuse not to head up to Milwaukee to explore more of the Midwestern foodie scene... and when you do, make sure you plan to check out the numerous dining options at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino (and if you're really ballin', stay in that fantastic suite!).
Disclosure: I received complimentary services to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.