Over the holidays I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for the first time. How it’s possible for someone to be granted a degree in English without having read this book is beyond me. Most likely, I was assigned one of his novels instead, The Sun Also Rises or For Whom the Bell Tolls, and mentally checked him off the list. This was a grave mistake because I found A Moveable Feast to be completely engrossing and wished I’d discovered it sooner. Naturally, I was horrified at how pathetic my beloved Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came off, but I was enthralled by a glimpse of la vie boheme of 1920s Paris.
If you have read this poignant picture of Hemingway’s earlier days for yourself, you’ll understand my sudden urge to spend the afternoon sipping small cups of espresso at my local coffeeshop, or to slurp fresh oysters out of the shell in between swigs of dry white wine. Being too cold to walk to Alterra and too pregnant to consume oysters and wine, I did neither, and instead settled for getting a good dinner at Tess.
Located on the East Side, Tess offers an affordable blend of dishes inspired by several corners of the globe. The small interior is graced with rich, ruby-hued walls, bold artwork, and close-set tables flickering with candlelight during the evenings, but should you find yourself there on a warm, summer day, you might want to take advantage of the popular patio seating.
Since patio dining isn’t an option for several more months, Scott and I made ourselves comfortable at one of the tables and started our meal with a slice of the French onion tart ($8). Made with caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese, and smoky Nueske’s bacon, there’s no way to go wrong. Other appetizers included baked brie, crab cakes, and steamed mussels, all ranging in price from $8 - $10.
I followed up the onion tart with the seared duck breast ($19) glazed with a sun dried cherry sauce, and served with a tarragon rice pilaf and some sautéed French beans that were just a tad too dry. The duck, however, tasted moist and I’ve always been a fan of the cherry pairing.
Our favorite dish turned out to be the Lemon Zest and Port Wine Ravioli ($17). The ravioli were stuffed with a blend of Ricotta and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses and a small amount of spicy Italian sausage was sprinkled on top and followed by just the right amount of sauce made from white wine, truffle butter, herbs, cream, and lemon zest. I love lemon and appreciate the way it adds just a hint of summery citrus flavor to the warm, rich blend of cheese and sauce.
I’m actually still craving more of the ravioli, but beef and fish lovers will be glad to know they can get a grilled New York strip steak, pan seared scallops, or some fish stew instead.
Moving on to sweeter fare, we’d heard that the crème brûlée was exceptionally good at Tess and ordered some for dessert. Flavors change daily, and on the evening we were there they featured an orange-citrus crème brûlée that lived up to all those recommendations. It also reminded me that I have several small ramekins and a blowtorch sitting in my own cabinet that beg for use. Maybe later this week I’ll pull them out and attempt to make this Pear Rosemary Crème Brûlée I discovered on the Chocolate and Zucchini blog. Then again, maybe I’ll just go back to Tess and order more of theirs.
2499 N. Bartlett Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53211