A 6,800 square foot hotel restaurant planned around live-fire cooking, tableside service, specially-sourced premium ingredients and an elaborate wine list may be a hard sell during these tough times. But that was the plan from the start, back when executive chef Gary Baca was brought on to head the kitchen at Eldr+Rime in Wisconsin’s first upscale Renaissance Hotel. The restaurant opened to the public on Aug. 13.
“The menu is large and focused on a cooking style and equipment,” says Baca. Eldr+Rime, which translates to “fire and ice,” is showcasing new American cuisine with Scandinavian influences to play up the heritage of the area. The “ice” component highlights chilled seafood, including oysters, Alaskan king crab and housemade cold-smoked salmon. Aside from smoking, Baca is pickling, fermenting and preserving local ingredients, taking cues from Scandinavian techniques.
On the fire side are items ranging from fish and chips made with smoked Icelandic cod, to coal-roasted crab, a grilled half chicken with smoked jus and a 32-ounce tomahawk ribeye. Prices for these dishes run $22 to $78, with a grass-fed burger ($16) the least expensive in the entree section. Lighter, less pricey starters and sides are also available, including salads, charcuterie and Swedish meatball sliders.
A separate bar menu features snacky foods, such as a pretzel baguette with Wisconsin’s Spotted Cow beer cheese, wood-fired wings with sea salt and birch syrup and a Danish-style hot dog. Most menu items boast Baca’s signature condiments and preserved ingredients that reflect Nordic or local roots “to showcase and enhance the grilled and sautéed main item,” he says.
The menu lists over 30 items on the food side, with an extensive selection of wine, beer and craft cocktails on the drinks side. Although some restaurants are simplifying or shortening their menus in light of COVID-19 limitations, Eldr+Rime is currently offering the full menu.
“We were concerned that if we opened with a pared down menu we would not live up to the expectations of our guests,” says Baca. “Expectations are high and the mindset here is we have to put our best foot forward.”
Marriott is opening only a few hotels in its higher-end Renaissance portfolio this year, and this one, located just west of Milwaukee near a large medical campus, hopes to appeal to business travelers and residents seeking a more unique, polished dining experience. Currently, restaurants in Wauwatosa, where Eldr+Rime is located, can be filled to 75% capacity indoors, but Baca wants to gradually ease into that number as service continues. It opened at 25% capacity of its 260 seats and offers patio seating for 40.
“This is the first time I’m opening a restaurant in a pandemic,” says Baca, who has been in the business over 20 years, including a long stretch as a chef-partner with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Staffing schedules will vary with the volume of business and hotels are still struggling to attract guests. But Baca is optimistic about Eldr+Rime’s future.
“Our entire team is proud of the concept we have developed and we look forward to providing our guests with a year-round experience that leaves them feeling like they are eating outdoors, enjoying the seasons Wisconsin has to offer both with the ambiance and with our food,” he says.