Traditions start at Kohler's American Club Resort
KOHLER—There's something wonderful about a place where impeccable is standard.
It doesn't happen often or by accident. Disney comes to mind. In Wisconsin, so does Kohler—a community and a family business known not only for its bath and kitchen fixtures but also its resorts and restaurants.
In December, we try to find time for a special dinner with a little holiday magic. This year, we made the two-hour-plus drive to the American Club Resort to experience Christmas the Kohler way. As expected, they know how to do Christmas right.
As we drove up to the entrance, the trees were adorned in white lights. Upon entering, we were greeted by the sounds of a choir singing traditional carols. A table set with cheeses, hot apple cider and luscious homemade eggnog was waiting for guests to help themselves before they sat down by a large wood fire.
A century ago, the elegant building provided housing, meals and recreational activities for immigrant workers. Now it's the Midwest's only AAA five-diamond resort. The warm paneling, leather couches, fireplaces and decorated trees lived up to all those nostalgic fantasies many of us cling to from watching old movies and holiday TV specials. I half-expected to see Bing Crosby and David Bowie crooning “Little Drummer Boy.”
Besides the lights, the music, the perfection of Kohler, we were attracted to its Friday Feast of the Seven Fishes Buffet ($45). The feast is an Italian tradition based on the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat and dairy on Christmas Eve.
The Wisconsin Room has a buffet every Friday night, but it's all about the holidays in December. The honey-colored paneled walls and soft light are welcoming, not stuffy. A large Christmas tree stands at the entrance of the main dining area. As you walk down the stairs, the buffet tables spread out before you. An ice sculpture depicting the seven fishes slowly melts, glistening under the lights.
We met our good friends Mike, Bill and Margo for dinner that evening. We started with a cup of the lobster and acorn squash bisque. It was a gorgeous soup—rich in flavor but light in texture. The toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top were a nice touch.
The appetizer and salad table was covered with temptations, including platters of Wisconsin cheese and charcuterie, smoked salmon and whitefish, chilled snow crab claws, jumbo shrimp and oysters.
The standouts included sesame-crusted ahi tuna that melted in your mouth and lobster-stuffed gougeres—think of a cream puff stuffed with lobster. I particularly liked the market farm salad with its mix of greens, pears, hazelnuts and chevre tossed in a maple vinaigrette. It hit all the sweet, salty, smooth and crunchy notes.
The chef's station featured prime rib, which Mike and Bill said was exceptionally good. The meat was beautifully rare and buttery. Richard and I chose the pasta dish with smoked scallops, clams, shrimp and mussels. It was the one bad choice of the night. The seafood was overcooked. The dell'orto noodles were small, and the garlic butter sauce was thin and flavorless.
The entrees included a delicious, hand-breaded Great Lakes pike with malt vinegar aioli, which is the Kohler version of a fish fry. The crab-stuffed Wisconsin Arctic char also was an elegant dish, with a sophisticated mix of mild and stronger fish flavors. The swordfish was disappointingly dry, but the chicken cordon bleu with Nueske's smoked ham, broccolini and Gruyere was fantastic.
We found no disappointments at the dessert table.
Richard and I tried the Duchess of Parma Chocolate Torte, a surprisingly light cake layered with cream and chocolate. The tasty tiramisu shooters—little glasses with liquor-soaked cake and cream—were sprinkled with crunchy chocolate nibs. The fruit tarts with amaretto cream and the struffoli (honey-dipped doughnut balls) were also highlights. No one could pick just one thing, despite being stuffed.
For a buffet, where keeping food warm and fresh is a challenge, it was exceptional. While dining there is certainly not an everyday event—at least for most of us—an evening at Kohler is a Christmas gift worth sharing.