The Winter 2012 edition of Madison Restaurant Week starts on January 22nd and goes through January 27th this year.
For those who haven’t had a chance to check out one of the Restaurant Weeks yet, for $25 (or $15 for the places offering lunches) you can try a special 3-course fixed price menu (ex. drinks and tax) at some of the top restaurants in Madison.
We always like Restaurant Week as an opportunity to try new restaurants, or experience old favorites that are offering unique twists on the regular menus.
Madison Magazine is one of the key sponsors of the event and has a list of the participating restaurants on their site.
Since this is a fairly popular event, our recommendation is to make your reservations early. Peak times at top restaurants can fill up quickly.
After reviewing all the menus, here are some of the highlights of what we consider the most intriguing offerings for this winter’s event:
Lilianas – Lilianas is having a bit of fun with Restaurant Week, dividing their dinner menu into three distinct themes: French Quarter, Bayou, and Creole.
Lombardinos - Their veggie entree of Truffled Trumpet Mushrooms
tossed with black truffle vinaigrette, set on Anson Mills polenta with
braised kale and porcini broth sounds especially intriguing.
Osteria Papavero - Ribollitta soup to start, followed by the hanger steak with a wild mushroom ragout and butterscotch pudding to finish it off.
Steenbock’s – Their wonderful locale should by reason enough to visit, but we like the looks of their Au Bon Canard Duck Breast with a carrot ginger puree.
And there are a lot more great choices out there as well, but with such a short time for Restaurant Week, the key is to find those gems you want to try and to make your reservations early.
Heirloom Tomato Tart
This gorgeous savory Tomato Tart was both a simple recipe and a great photo. The recipe we got from one of our favorite food bloggers, David Lebovitz, who calls it a French Tomato Tart.
The highlight for our take on it was the varied assortment of heirloom tomatoes we got from our CSA, Vermont Valley Farms. We may be biased, but we thought the bright clash of different reds, oranges, and yellows really made this dish visually pop.
With this recipe, even the crust was a snap to make. Cutting the butter into the flour and mixing with our fingers made it really easy to pull together.
And the secret ingredient is the Dijon mustard, spread on the crust before adding the tomatoes. It provided just the right amount of kick, without taking over. He also mentions using honey, however that wasn’t in the cards for our version, and we didn’t feel like we missed the sweetness at all.
Grilled Fresh Peaches With Mascarpone Cheese
This is one of those dead simple desserts you can do in summer with just fresh fruit. You don’t even need to start making it until after everyone is done with dinner.
Simply heat your grill to medium-high, and once it’s ready, just put the pitted halves of fresh peaches cut side down on the grill.
Once they’ve had a chance to char and cook a bit (2-3 minutes), remove to serving plates.
Top the halves with a dollop of fresh mascarpone cheese (BelGioioso of Green Bay makes a great one), and then drizzle honey across the tops. A sprig of mint from our tangled mess of an herb garden added some nice color as well.
The peaches, mascarpone, and honey work together to make a decadent tasting dessert, without the fuss of a complicated preparation. Perfect for summer dinners on the back patio!
Chicken Ballotine Stuffed With Spinach And Mushrooms
Although we wish our iPhone could have captured this better, this deboned chicken stuffed with sauteed spinach and chopped mushrooms was one of those visual stunners that take a bit of work, but turn out to be very worthwhile as a Sunday dinner.
Mr. Foodie is a big fan of Jacque Pepin, especially the different TV series he had on PBS a ways back. From one of his shows, he demonstrated how to quickly debone a chicken, then stuff it and tie it in a roll.
It was kind of like a TurDucken, but without the Tur or the Duck.
Although it seems complicated up front, like most of Jacque Pepin’s demonstrations of cooking technique, in the end it comes off as rather straightforward. And although it took quite a bit longer than Chef Pepin’s quick demo, Mr. Foodie was able to pull it together rather respectively.
Below is the video demonstration by Jacque Pepin of making a Ballotine (or Galantine, as the cold version is known). We especially liked his side demo of making chicken “lollipops” from the wings.
Here is hoping you all had a great 2011, and are looking forward to an even better 2012.
Annemarie and Paul at Madison Foodie
It took an invite from Madison Magazine to the Annual Madison Food and Wine Show to break us out of our blogging torpor. Finding a sitter and heading out to the Alliant Center made for a great date night on a Friday.
The packed crowd also seemed to have the same idea, making the show seem like a massive cocktail party, with couples rubbing shoulders with packs of young singles, jostling for wine, beer, and nibbles at the over 80 booths.
One of the highlights of the show was how well it showcased the best of Wisconsin’s homegrown cheeses.
It was great to see one of our all time favorite cheeses, Sarvecchio from Sartori, well represented at the show, although we almost walked right past them because we did not recognize their new label design. This award winning cheese has both the nutty sweetness and the crumbly, crystalline texture of a well aged Italian parmesan, but it’s made right up the road in Antigo. Both of the vendors working the stall knew their product and were passionate about their craft, so we all had a good conversation in the midst of all the milling crowds. Be sure to look for their cool new label design.
One of newest trends following the whole craft beer craze, has been the emergence of micro-distillers. In the past several years, several new distillers in Wisconsin, including Great Lakes, Yahara Bay, and Death’s Door have been whipping up small batches of unique gins, rums, and whiskeys, each with their own twist.
While Mr. Foodie has an appreciation for the art behind a good bourbon or malt whiskey, like Great Lakes great blended Kinnickkinnic Whiskey, to Mrs. Foodie they all taste like cough syrup. However, the full flavor of Roaring Dan’s Rum macerated with pure Wisconsin maple syrup, also from Great Lakes, was more her style. If only we had some limes and ice, we could have made some great cocktails.
Our only opportunity we’d suggest for future shows would be a little more emphasis on the “food” side of the show. Other than a couple of pizza vendors, the main focus seemed to be cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
But, as you can tell from above, that’s sometimes a really good thing.
[<gastro- as in gastronomic, etc. + pub]
Brit. a tavern specializing in serving high-quality food (as opposed to deep fried jalapeno poppers or chicken wings)
The Cooper’s Tavern on the Capital square in Madison is being billed by its owners as a “Gastropub”, which is a British term used to describe a pub that is as well known for its food as it is for its drinks. It’s filling the same niche in Madison as places like The Old Fashioned and Brasserie V, which means a comfortable bar with a great assortment of beers on tap and a menu with intriguing starters, hearty sandwiches, and salads that venture past the plain piles of iceberg and pale tomatoes seen in most Wisconsin taverns.
We visited Coopers for a couple of mid week lunches recently, and both times the place was jammed times with the downtown office crowd looking for a good lunch.
The first thing we ordered was the poutine, solid evidence that Canada was first settled by transplants from Wisconsin: french fries topped with melted cheese curds and a brown gravy. Poutine is a dish from Quebec that can only be described a delicious, caloric mess. Neither of us needed it for a weekday lunch, but we still whimpered a bit when the plate was wisked away before we could sop up the last puddle of gravy with one of the few remaining fries.
For sandwiches, we ordered the Reuben, since we are both big fans of a good corned beef. We also took a flyer on the intriguing sounding lamb sandwich. The Reuben was hands down the winner. The tall stack of carved corned beef was bursting with flavor, easily the best we’ve had anywhere in Madison. The menu says the beef is “house cured”, so whatever is going on inside the “house”, they need to keep it up.
(and BTW, the little “house” at the end of the bar is not where the corned beef is made. It’s called a snug, which is a small private room in Irish pubs where one can drink without being subject to the prying eyes of the public. Think local beat cops, parish priests, or in the case of Madison, your state elected officials and their lobbyist friends).
The carved lamb sandwich on sourdough with carmelized onions and a tomato “jam” stood out as something you don’t see on many menus, so we had to try it. And while it was certainly very good, it paled in comparison to the Reuben. The tomato jam was intended as a tart counter point to the richness of the lamb, but it ended up being more of a distraction.
On another visit, we ordered the burger, which came recommended by the bartender. And while it certainly stood out from your typical supper club offering, it seemed a bit average when compared to the taste explosion of the V-Burger at Brasserie V or the house burger at the Old Fashioned. The beef was good quality from Knoche’s, but the only interesting accent beyond the onion and pickle, the thin slice of pork belly, had its flavor disappear under the massive Clasen’s kaiser bun.
The beer list is wide and varied, moving beyond more typical Belgian imports and local craft brews to include a wide range of offerings from Ireland, England, and Germany.
A slightly more involved dinner menu will have a range of entrees no more expensive that $14. As general manager Peter McElvanna says in this State Journal article:
“For the Capitol Square, it’s relatively well-priced,” McElvanna said. “You can come in and have a burger and a couple of pints and a tip and it’s 20 bucks.”
The Cooper’s Tavern
20 West Mifflin Street, Madison, WI
Open everyday, 11:00AM till close
We are hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year after a two year hiatus. And while we love cooking, especially for friends and family, the event status of Thanksgiving can be a little daunting, even for those who know their way around their kitchens.
And for those who don’t, Thanksgiving can be a trial that can bring up nightmares of in-laws staring over your shoulder in the kitchen, wondering out loud “Well I’ve never used corn starch in MY gravy when I was cooking Thanksgiving Dinner.”
So while there are a lot of recipes out there, here are some tips we’ve found that can make the day and the dinner go smoother, so maybe you can actually enjoy the meal instead of worrying about it.
1 – Sharpen Your Knives
Most people’s knives were sharp when they first got them as a wedding gift, but over the years they’ve grown duller and duller, until even cutting an apple is a challenge. With all the food prep, let alone carving the turkey, sharp knives will make things much easier, as well as being much safer: no one likes blood on their drumstick. Either take them to a local shop that does sharpening or you can learn the skill for yourself from this Gordon Ramsay video.
2 – Fewer Cooks In The Kitchen
If someone asks to bring something, steer them towards something that won’t need the oven or stove for the 45 minutes prior to dinner. The old adage “Too many cooks in the kitchen” is never more true than on Thanksgiving. In order to keep friends and relatives out of the kitchen when you need all the space for the turkey, gravy, and other items that need to be heated before serving, ask them to bring something that can be brought directly to the table, like salads, pies, rolls, or wine.
3 -Don’t Stuff Your Turkey
An unstuffed turkey takes less time to roast, cooks more reliably, and is a lot safer from a food safety perspective. By adding a little cream and chicken broth to a baked stuffing, you can create a great dish that tastes as good as if it were cooked in the bird (we like the Cook’s Illustrated corn bread and sausage recipe) and then you can use the juices from the turkey to make a tasty gravy.
4 – Have A Plan
Starting the weekend before Thanksgiving, we pull out all our recipes and cookbooks and finalize our menu. We then make a list of what needs to be done and when, and then post that plan on the fridge. We then put the cookbooks back on the shelf and out of the way. Guests may poke fun at your “lists” but when you’re trying to get it everything on the table warm, it helps to have a written list to refer to, not a pile of cookbooks.
5 – Cook Ahead
A roast turkey benefits from a half hour rest on the cutting board for the juices to resettle in the bird. Use that window of time before carving to pop pre-cooked side dishes such as casseroles or gratins into the oven for a final crisping. You can also pre-cut up vegetables the night before and store in bags, so you’re not chopping on a day you should be cooking.
6 – No Time For Experiments
Don’t use Thanksgiving Dinner as the first time to make some new complicated recipe that your favorite Top Chef has featured in the holiday issue of Food and Wine. Or if you do, give it a trial run a couple weeks before (we experimented with Expatriate Kitchen’s Crispy Brussel Sprouts last week, and learned all the steps and found out that the dish worked just fine without the parmesan and pine nuts.)
7 -Use Swanson’s Chicken Broth
Yes, foodies are supposed to spend the weeks before Thanksgiving making stock from scratch to use in the gravy, stuffing, and what ever other dishes call for it. However, we go through a lot of it on Thanksgiving, and the thought of making it all from scratch is a little too purest for us. Swanson’s broth in the square box (not canned) has a good flavor, a good ingredient line, and can be bought in a low sodium version. The box package means you can reclose whatever you don’t use and store it back in the fridge. (This is an unsolicited and unpaid endorsement; we just like the product.)
8- Set The Table Ahead Of Time
If you have a separate dining room, or can afford the extra space, set your table ahead of time. Also, this is a good job for those relatives who absolutely need something to do while your cooking. And if you can talk them into ironing napkins for you, even better.
9 – Clean Out Your Fridge
A few days before Thanksgiving, and before you do your holiday grocery shopping, go through your fridge and get rid of old contaners of condiments and leftovers. With all the food for Thanksgiving, you will need every bit of space in your fridge. We also like to set up a folding table in the garage to give us a bit more cool storage on the big day.
10 – Serving Dishes
Pull out your serving dishes ahead of time. Give them a rinse and mark them with a post it note telling what dish they will be used for. This is extremely helpful when you are delegating tasks to your helpers. They will know what dish to use for the brussel sprouts, and which one gets the cranberry relish.
Finally, take time to stop, pause, and remember what the holiday is all about. It’s much easier to be thankful for all you have and all your loved ones, if you aren’t hunting in the closet for the napkin rings as the doorbell is ringing.
A week ago last Sunday, we treated ourself to a lovely meal in the fields of West Star Farm outside of Madison. The occasion was the Madison stop of Outstanding in the Field, which is ”a roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls”, that matches local chefs with local farms in order for people to enjoy foods produced locally with those who planted, raised, and harvested them.
We arrived to sample cocktails prepared with spirits from Deaths Door on Washington Island. The cucumber mint mojitos were a hit, and we enjoyed snacking on homemade charcuterie, including prosciutto and pheasant liverwurst, along with some amazing goat cheese from Fantome Farm. Fantome’s moreso, a mild chevre dusted with ash, was particularly amazing. And it was great to enjoy the cheeses, while talking to its producers, Anne Topham and Judy Borree, and listening to the history behind their 14 goat farm in the hills near Ridgeway, WI.
We then had a tour of the fields of West Star Farm by George and Sandy Kohn, who grow a wide range of produce that supplies several area restaurants, Willy Street Coop, as well as their own CSA program.
After the brief tour of the field, the 100+ guests sat on long tables that snaked their way through the fields, and were then served an amazing family style meal while we got to know our newfound dining companions, some of whom had traveled from all around the Midwest and beyond for that night’s dinner.
Chef Tory Miller of l’Etoile seemed to outdo himself with each course. The salad course was grilled West Star beets with “dragon tongue” beans, dressed with some more Fantome Farm chevre, and smoked almonds. Even Mr. Foodie, a notorious beet avoider, thought the preparation was particularly good.
A second salad course paired heirloom tomatoes with some Willow Creek Farms grilled pork belly, drizzled with a tangy vinaigrette and topped with some nutty SarVecchio parmesan.
Willow Creek pork made a second appearance in the next course, with a sliced loin cuts served with sweet corn tamales and a dark chocolate mole.
If all that wasn’t enough, Chef Tory Miller grilled Fountain Prairie ribeyes to just medium rare, and then served them sliced with Jones Valley Farm rose gold potatoes, bottle onions, and Black Earth Valley mushrooms.
Dessert was a perfect Wisconsin summer treat of vanilla bean frozen custard with mixed berries and a hickory nut shortbread.
The wines served with the meal were a mixed bag, with us loving the 2007 Jermann Vinnaioli Vinnae Ribolla, a golden, food friendly white, while the Cabernet Franc was an OK red. For something like Tory Millers grilled ribeye, we wanted something with a bit more heft in a red.
With the sun set and the fireflies out (and a few mosquitos), we made our way back to our car, thoroughly satisfied with our dinner in the fields.
Just our luck that a couple weeks after our great Bastille Day dinner, Le Chardonnay unfortunately closed it’s doors. The good news is that Chef Sami Fgaier is planning to be back with a new restaurant venture in Spring, 2010. Let’s hope the fabulous moules make the move as well.
In early July, when Bastille Day (July 14th) was still a couple weeks away, we decided to call around to the different Francophone restaurants (Le Chardonnay, L’Etoile, Sardine, etc.) to find out what special menus they had planned for celebrating France’s national holiday.
Our call to Le Chardonnay was the most intriguing. While they hadn’t finalized the menu, they promised they get back to us when Chef Sami Fgaier had decided what to serve. And sure enough, a couple of days later, they called back with a list of French favorites that seemed to go on and on. We made a reservation for three, thinking that our 6 year old daughter would at the very least be able to enjoy their famous frites.
We had often talked about visiting Le Chardonnay, especially since the whole family is very big on mussels, and one thing the restaurant is known for is their all you can eat Moules et Frites on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Chef Sami’s menu is generally French, with subtle Mediterranean/North African accents that reflect his Tunisian background. A good example was the carrot based turchi that was served with a basket of bread: this addicting spread was an interesting blend of sweet and spice, with the flavor of carrots being balanced with cumin overtones.
He is also one of those chefs who comes out of the kitchen to check on arriving guests, greeting some of that night’s patrons in French. Note: hearing French spoken by both the chef and patrons at a French restaurant in the US is always a good reflection on the overall experience.
For appetizers we shared the Escargot with red wine and prosciutto and the Roasted Veal Sweetbreads, spicy with chorizo and paprika. Both were very good, but the Sweetbreads were the hit: so few restaurants even attempt this treat, that it is great to see it on a menu, let alone being done imaginatively well.
Although Chef Sami brought her a taste of the braised rabbit pasta out of concern for a kids noodle centric palate, our daughter ordered the Bastille Day version of Le Chardonnay’s Mussels. Versus the standard garlic, shallot, and white wine sauce, these “clams” as our daughter calls them, came with a more cream based sauce. She gobbled them up all the same, along with plenty of the delicious frites.
Both of our entrees were hits: the halibut came on a bed carmelized root vegetables and duck breast with orange sauce over mushroom risotto had a citrusy zing to it.
We also had an interesting experience with our server. He was clearly brand new, since any basic question about the menu required a visit to the kitchen or host stand for an answer. But he handled his inexperience well. He was up front about being new, and enthusiastically tracked down the anwers to all our questions. What could have been an off note on the night, actually turned out well. We’ll take someone with an energetic helpfulness over a bored and cynical pro any day of the week.
Le Chardonnay is on a busy street (Johnson) and we have often zipped past, wondering about the restaurant within. After our great Bastille Day experience, however, we will be sure to slow down and stop more often.
Here is what some other local foodies have to say about Le Chardonnay:
320 West Johnson St.
Madison, WI 53703
Located at the top of the Overture Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Madison, Fresco presents one of the stronger visual statements of any restaurant in Madison.
From its elevator entrance on the ground floor of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, one rises to a bright open space of floor to ceiling glass walls, which provide one of the more dramatic views of the Capitol Dome, especially with an orange and red sunset playing off the white marble.
The interior itself had a very urban, minimalist decor rarely seen in Madison, with stark table settings of black, white, and red. However, it was the food itself that provided some of the strongest statements of the evening:
For starters, we shared the Shrimp Diablo and the Seared Scallops. The shrimp was the hit of the first courses, with a fiery chili-citrus crust that was mellowed by a fresh slaw of jicama and orange. The large sea scallops were seared on the outside to perfection and meltingly tender on the inside. Being served atop a bed of creamy polenta with diced Nueske’s bacon and a balsamic reduction was an inspired complement, although the bacon was so lean that its flavor impact to the overall dish was very subtle.
From an entree standpoint, the seared piece of Alaskan halibut was cooked to the perfect level of doneness, and the fresh pea and lemon risotto had a bright cleaness that one doesn’t often associate with a dish as rich as risotto. The dish may have been just a bit too clean in its flavors, however, since this particular preparation bordered on being a bit bland. Many people have raved about this dish, so we may have caught it on an off night.
The Cioppino Pasta on the other hand, was a flavorful abundance of hearty chunks of shrimp, halibut, and shellfish in spicy tomato sauce that balanced its heat well with the linguine and the seafood. There were also hunks of grilled bread that were perfect for soaking up the flavorful sauce.
Since we love having a crisp, understated Oregon Pinot Gris with any type of seafood, the presence of an Adelsheim vintage from the Willamette Valley on the wine list was very welcome. Additionally, the “Other Whites” section of the wine list looked to have several other seafood friendly unique vintages that rose above the typical chardonnay.
From the dessert menu, the chocolate filled beignets with creme anglaise looked the most intriguing. However, our hearts were set on some gelato down the street at Paciugo off State Street, so we passed.
For those not interested in the sit down dinner thing, Fresco has a late night bar menu that looks pretty tasty, and their signature cocktails are only $5 between the hours of 9 and 10 during the week, and between 10 and 11 on the weekends.
The setting of Fresco truly stands out in such a laid back city as Madison: an urban place to see and be seen in. For dining in surroundings that look as good as the food, Fresco is the place.
The Summer 2009 edition of Madison Restaurant Week starts on July 26th and goes through July 31st this year.
The idea behind Madison Restaurant Week is that diners get to experience great dining at interesting restaurants for a relatively small cash outlay. For $25 (or $15 for the places sponsoring lunches) diners can try a special 3-course fixed price menu (ex. drinks and tax) at some of the top restaurants in Madison.
We generally approach Restaurant Week in Madison as a way to either sample the menus of places we haven’t been before and want to try, or to revisit old favorites that are doing something interesting on their menus.
Madison Magazine is one of the key sponsors of the event and has a list of the participating restaurants on their site.
Since this is generally a pretty popular event in Madison, previous experience recommends looking over the Restaurant Week menus of the participating establishments and then making reservations at those places you’re interested in. Since it’s a short week and popular spots fill up quick, making plans ahead of time is key.
After reviewing all the menus, here are some of the highlights of what we consider the most intriguing offerings for this summer’s event:
Blue Marlin – Grilled Ahi Tuna appetizer and the Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab with Cilantro and Lime Rice.
Capitol Chop House – Heirloom Tomato Sampler appetizer and the Slow Roasted Willow Creek Farm Pork with Polenta and SarVecchio cheese.
Lombardinos – Chilled Pea Soup as an appetizer and Wood Grilled Norwegian Salmon as an entree.
Osteria Papavero – Antipasto di Pesce, followed by Grilled Mako Shark with Eggplant Caponata.
Samba Brazilian Grill – the whole Samba experience of an all-you-can-eat salad bar and grilled carne for $25.
And there is a lot more great choices out there as well, but with such a short time for Restaurant Week, the key is to focus and to make your reservations early.
With the Farmer’s markets awash in piles of sugar snap peas, it is time to make one of our favorite pasta recipes – Sugar Snap Peas and Pasta.
We make a pesto-like sauce of the cooked peas and toss it with a short pasta – penne or rotini works well, and then add in some reserved cooked sugar snaps for color and crunch.
The original recipe from the April 2005 issue of Gourmet, says to force the sauce through a sieve, but we find this an unnecessary step if the peas are fresh. And instead of garlic cloves, this time we used 5 or 6 garlic scapes from our CSA.
Also, we like to add a handful of fresh herbs to the pesto. While weeding the garden this weekend, we found another patch of mint that we are trying to keep from growing out of control. So we harvested it and tossed it into the blender with the peas.
This pasta makes a great main dish, or a nice side to the grilled Jordandal Farms pork chops that we purchased at the market on Saturday. Stella’s whole wheat bread, also from the market, rounded out the meal.
Sugar Snap Peas and Pasta
1 # sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings discarded
1 # short pasta – penne or rotini
2-3 cloves of garlic (or garlic scapes)
Fresh herbs – mint, oregano, whatever you have on hand
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or good quality, local equivalent)
Boil a large pot of salted water – you’ll use this pot to cook both the peas and pasta.
Cook sugar snaps for 2 minutes, then remove 1 cup of the peas. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking. Cut in half. Save to toss into the pasta at the end.
Continue cooking the remaining peas for another 2-3 minutes, until they are nice and tender.
Remove peas from pot and put in blender. Save a cup of cooking water.
Return water you cooked the peas in to a boil and then add pasta to the same water for cooking.
While pasta is cooking, finish the sauce. To peas in blender add garlic (scapes), herbs, olive oil and cheese. Puree. Add some of the cooking water to thin sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
When pasta is done and drained, toss sauce with cooked pasta and peas. Sprinkle more cheese on top.
Truly fresh sugar snap peas only last a couple of weeks, but while we have them, this is a recipe we will make over and over.