By Susan T. Hessel
Café D’Vine’s food seems magical to me, considering I grew up in an era where our dinner plate consisted of a hunk of meat, a “starch,” and a canned vegetable lying there like a whipped dog. We had no idea where our food came from, other than the National grocery store.
It is a much different story at Onalaska’s Café D’Vine, which features foods with complex, multilayered and yet subtle tastes in each bite.
“That’s what I like—small bites with a lot of flavor,” said Lynnae Rivera, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Manuel Rivera.
A good example of this is the summer menu’s risotto cakes. This northern Italian rice dish is made with local farm-fresh ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, mascarpone and a turmeric cream. Edible flowers garnish the top of the cake that sits on a tomato jam.
Chef Dan Zakem, a La Crosse native who just moved back to the area after culinary school in the Twin Cities, is happy to tell you the local sources for the ingredients in this or any other dish.
“I really like offering local food from local farms and making people happy with their food,” he said. “I want to keep it fresh and local.” Some herbs are even grown in an organic garden behind the restaurant on the Highway 16 frontage road.
The café’s southwest salad was so delicious that I had to stop myself from licking the bowl. It features pork carnitas, a corn and bean pepper relish, a margarita vinaigrette, and salad greens from Second Cloud on the Left, a southwest Wisconsin organic farm.
Shawn McManus, owner of Savory Creations in La Crosse, is a consultant for the café. He loves food fusion, which combines elements of different cuisines; he also loves locally sourced ingredients.
“People like to be educated on where their food comes from,” McManus said. “Chefs are happy to explain the sustainability of their food.”
Zakem, who worked in a similar restaurant in the Twin Cities before returning to La Crosse, said he is excited to learn more from McManus, including additional tips for food presentation. “The plating is more sophisticated here. It is more like edible art,” he added.
Rivera opened Café D’Vine in 2013 in the Studio 16 facility, which also includes small group and personal training, yoga, massage and physical therapy services. Some guests stop by the café after workouts for smoothies, coffee and lattes. “We have a really good breakfast menu, like our avocado toast or our green eggs and ham,” she said.
The café came about after her husband started thinking about opening a third Manny’s Cocina beyond the two currently located in Onalaska and Eau Claire. She instead suggested a restaurant café based around the concept of nutritious, healthy portions of food, specialty roasted coffee drinks, fruit and vegetable smoothies, and breakfast, lunch and dinner tapas. She also wanted to include a wide variety of wines.
The menu itself changes seasonally, and dishes are adapted to what is available at the moment. “We change with every season,” she said, adding, “We try to keep things light.”
I can personally attest that this summer’s menu at the café is truly D’Vine! Stop in and see for yourself at 9550 U.S. Highway 16 Frontage Road in Onalaska. For more information, visit cafedvineonalaska.com.