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.