There's a glow to this easygoing Shorewood Bistro.
by Ann Christenson
Original article at Milwaukee Magazine
The silly gold-colored cow is gone. Car seat-size patrons are still welcome, but they're not running around the dining room anymore.
North Star American Bistro's takeover of a briefly animate restaurant space - St. Bessie's Bistro - happened six months ago already. And the arrival of the above has brought a charge to Shorewood's main drag, which, like a lot of suburban areas, is starved for homegrown restaurants. North Star is comfortable, a bit stark -visually, but inviting. Owners Mike Stoner and Duffy O'Neil, pals from their stints at Water Street Brewery's Delafield location, are keeping the flow simple, casual, with a measure of refinement. The rectangle of a room has reupholstered banquettes on each side under warm artichoke walls. Pendant lights hang from above, and at last check-in, the owners were deciding what to hang on the walls (only a grouping of mirrors at the time). A small bar is set in the rear, and each table is serenely topped with a small white votive floating in a vase of stones and water.
O'Neil, the partner who keeps the kitchen in check, created an accessible menu lineup to keep diners' appetites in check, including pine nut-crusted goat cheese medallions ($6.95), warm Cobb salad ($8.95), mushroom burger ($8.45), barbecue chicken pizza ($8.95) and, after the sun shifts over to the western sky, dinner entr?es like Bourbon salmon ($16.95) and roasted chicken ($15.95). My meals featured satisfying portions and full-bodied flavors. The minor problems were service-related (most likely owing to inexperience - on two visits, I watched other tables receive bread while we didn't), but despite them, North Star is a promising any night-type restaurant.
Or any day. At lunchtime, North Star has a nice salad and half-pizza combo ($7.95) - no big pie commitment here. Full-size pies are dinner plate size, with four topping choices (i.e., pepperoni, spinach and fontina). On its tortilla-thin, crisp crust, my half-pie drew commanding taste from the thick, tangy layer of barbecue sauce, garlic cloves, goat cheese and shredded chicken. The house salad beds fresh mesclun, chopped cucumber and tomato and shaved carrot under drizzles of sweet balsamic vinaigrette.
For lunch or dinner, sandwiches are sizable, easier to attack with a knife and fork. A hunky, chunky marriage is grilled chicken, mayo, bacon and lettuce inside a soft Kaiser roll (with a side of crispy thin fries, $8.45). The mayo melts into the warm, juicy chicken and crisp bacon. Tuna nicoise is a bright idea - thin slices of brioche topped with a thick grilled ahi tuna steak (closer to medium-well than the requested medium-rare, however) with bell pepper strips, kalamata olive tapenade, hard-boiled egg, tomato and romaine ($8.95). And I'm crazy for the warm Cobb salad - flat-leaf spinach tossed with tomato, -bacon, hard-boiled egg, good house-made croutons and seasoned pan-seared chicken strips in a bacon vinaigrette ($8.95).
If you want to step up to something worthier, maybe, for white-top tables and wine glasses, there are ways. A pair of uniformly round golden cakes, the pan-seared goat cheese medallions are lovely with thin wedges of Granny Smith apple, lightly dressed mesclun greens and toasted baguette slices ($6.95). This isn't a steak joint, but North Star does a decent grilled NY strip ($21.95), marbled and tender but not wasteful (as some NY strips can be). The heady blue cheese sauce coaxes more flavor out of the garlic mashed potatoes. Penne Bolognese is the dish for long, exhausting days. A creamy tomato sauce dotted with pork and fresh basil clings to the al dente pasta - it's like an afternoon nap ($14.95; lunch $9.95).
If dessert is the road to another nap, then take it. Street names are sorbet, creme brule, chocolate mousse. The flourless chocolate cake feels like a highway. Two dense fudge triangles sandwich a scoop of chocolate ice cream ($5.95). This dessert is an indulgence, while the restaurant needn't be. North Star is a good, everyday fit for a casual neighborhood.
North Star American Bistro, 4515 N. Oakland Ave., 964-4663. Hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Prices: appetizers $4.95-$7.95; salads $2.95-$10.95, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas $7.95-$9.95; entrees $14.95-$21.95; desserts $3.95-$5.95. Service: young and green. Dress: up to the diner. Nonsmoking. Handicap access: yes. Credit cards: M V A DS. Reservations: accepted.