Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eating Around the World in 7 Days…

… Without Leaving Downtown Madison


Lunch, Costa Rica: Café Costa Rica
A Mango Man empañada (with Lizano salsa) and a mango smoothie.

Dinner, Japan: Kushi Bar Muramoto
Cosmos made with shochu, four assorted fried kushi (skip the quail egg) with the house hot sauce and a taco rice bowl.


Lunch, Nepal: Himal Chuli
Momocha (vegetarian dumplings) served with ginger-tomato chutney.

Dinner, Greece: Plaka Taverna and Ouzeria
Taramosalata with pita, moussaka, a side salad and a shot of ouzo for dessert. Stini yamas!


Lunch, Italy: Osteria, Papavero
Panzerotti (a fried calzone stuffed with tomato, fresh mozzarella and oregano) and a chinotto-flavored Pellegrino.

Dinner, Indonesia: Bandung
Rijsttafel for Two: Ten traditional dishes the likes of lumpia, gago gado and saté served with rice. Have a Heineken (since the “rice table” concept originated in Holland).


Lunch, Ethiopia: Buraka
Misirwot – lentils, split peas and potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce eaten with injera (a spongy, sourdough sort of pancake).

Dinner, Spain: Icon
Tapas: cured Spanish meats and sausage with olives and Manchego, artichoke and fennel salad, potato and wild mushroom tortilla, beef empeñada, fried calamari. To drink, a bottle of Baron de Lay, Finca Monasterio. Flan with fresh berries to finish and off to Overture.


Lunch, Afghanistan: Maza
An appetizer sampler plate – hummus, yogurt sauce, and cilantro chutney, pakowra (vegetable fritters) and bulani (fried potato dumplings). Maybe a bowl of soup, too.

Dinner, Ireland: Brocach
A Scotch egg and Guinness to start, then fish and chips … more Guinness (everything here is even better seated outside … or with more Guinness).


Lunch, China: Wah Kee
Pot stickers with Albert’s special hot sauce (it’s not on the menu you got to ask for it) and Szechuan dam dam noodles in broth.

Dinner, Brazil, Samba Brazilian Grill
Caipirinhas (of course) then a trip to the exotic Brazilian-style 40-item salad bar before a parade of grilled meats carved tableside by your friendly gaucho server.


Brunch, France: Sardine
Half a dozen oysters on the half shell followed by a warm duck confit salad with lardons and a poached egg, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and home for a nap.

Dinner, India: Maharani Indian Restaurant
A couple of samosas, lamb biryani, garlic naan and a Kingfisher. Tums perhaps?

Eat Your Way Through Sicily

Monday, November 10th 2008

6:00 pm

Sicilian Book Dinner

$5 off if you bring the book

Local writer Joan Peterson and her Sicilian co-author, Marcella Croce, have captured the essence of Sicilian cuisine to help travelers navigate this culinary landscape. We are celebrating their recently published culinary guidebook, "Eat Smart in Sicily" with a special 4-course Sicilian dinner paired with Sicilian wines.



Antipasti Misti Local lamb meatballs with lemon & rosemary, traditional eggplant caponata, & arancini


Pan Seared Sable Fish With Sicilian braised greens and saffron sauce


Filet of Beef alla Marsala With wild mushrooms & bufala mozzarella


Pine Nut Tart With marsala gelato & balsamic vinegar drizzle

Dinner is $55 and includes food, wine, tax and gratuity

Please contact us at 608.238.1922 for reservations (required)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Indian Adventure

Growing up, my experience with ethnic food was limited to say the least. There was the occasional trip to a Chinese restaurant for moo goo gai pan which despite its name was exceedingly bland. Pizza and tacos were becoming popular, too. But it wasn’t until 1969 when I was a college student in London that I walked into a restaurant and didn’t have a clue what anything on the menu was.

I wish I could take credit for this trip into the culinary twilight zone but cannot. It was an era of experimentation, psychedelic fashions and “anything goes” attitudes but when it came to food I was still digging PB and J. My roommate, who prior to our European semester abroad had never ventured far from the Indiana farm where he grew up, coerced me. Since arriving in London, we had all heard about how good, plentiful and cheap Indian food was. After a dreary winter in Germany and way too many schnitzels it wasn’t a hard sell.

We chose at random (and there were too many to choose from) a place around the corner on the High Street. At the last minute, we invited our other roommate. We had excluded him initially since he only ate steak and chips (in Germany he had only eaten only steak and spätzle). After a bout of lobbying on his part to get us to change our destination he tagged along whining all the way.

I have to admit, I had my own reservations after I entered a space more suited for an Amsterdam bordello than a London eatery. It was oddly decorated with red flocked wallpaper and there was an even more peculiar smell, not unpleasant but nevertheless aromatic and very foreign. Seated, we contemplated the extensive menu which for all practical purposes could have been written in Sanskrit. Once again my friend who had initiated our visit to the Indian restaurant took the lead and suggested that the waiter order for us … the two of us that is … my other friend ordered steak and chips. My first thought was a big bill and mentally begin to calculate the shillings and quid in my pocket.

The steak and chips arrived first: a charred little cinder along with a serving of greasy white fried potatoes and some radioactive green peas thrown on the plate. Accompanying this meager meal was his Coke served without ice in a glass half full and clouded by fingerprints.

Before I could form more prejudices a teaming platter of paper thin wafers made from lentil flour (papadums) were set before us along with sundry dishes of brightly colored condiments. One taste and I was a fan. But in their wake appeared samosas, pyramids of pastry filled with a savory potato mixture and deep fried to a golden brown. More and more small dishes gradually covered the table, each more exotic and engaging than the other. Just when I thought our banquet was complete out comes a whole chicken, bright red, cooked in a charcoal tandoor… and rice, basmati rice, fragrant and light. Then chunks of lamb braised in a satin-smooth sauce and flatbreads: garlic naan, chapatti and paratha … and more rice. Of course, at the end came the bill. Even though our friend’s steak and chips cost more than our Indian dinners, being satiated and happy generosity prevailed and we divided the check three ways.

Obviously many Indian meals followed in London and elsewhere. Out of college and living in Chicago I was surprised that at that time there were only two Indian restaurants in the entire city. One—Bengal Lancers—was in my neighborhood and not very good. I had come to realize that Indian food was part of English culture—a remnant of the Raj—and the chances of it becoming popular here seemed unlikely.

More than a decade later, now living in Madison, I heard an Indian restaurant was opening on Monroe Street—Mount Everest. I was excited and pleased by my initial visits. The place was a family affair and the kitchen bustled with skilled cooks and the dining room with amicable servers and happy guests. As too often is the case, it slowly declined. My last visit there a lone woman seemed to be staffing the cash register as well as preparing and serving the food. It mattered little since we were the only diners. I wondered if I had somehow imagined how good the food had been and why I had not noticed how tawdry the place was with its tacky Air India advertisements and photo murals of beaches and palm trees.

My, how things have changed. If my count is correct, our city now boasts 10 Indian restaurants, three Nepalese restaurants, an Indian grocery (many supermarkets and specialty foods stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Willy Street Co-op stock Indian food products as well) and a local weekly cooking show on NBC15, White Jasmine


Campus Biryani and Kebab
1437 Regent Street

Curry in the Box
3050 Cahill Main, Fitchburg

Flavor of India
14 W. Mifflin Street

India Darbar Restaurant
6119 Odana Road

Maharaja Restaurant
1707 Thierer Road

Maharaja West
6713 Odana Road

380 W. Washington Avenue

Swagat Indian
707 N. Highpoint Road

Taj Indian Restaurant
1256 S. Park Street

Taste of India
2623 Monroe Street


334 State Street

2110 Atwood Avenue

Himal Chuli
318 State Street


India House
805-B S. Gammon Road

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Good Reason to Enjoy Fine Wine

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar Hosting Wine Tasting to Benefit Red Cross Flood Relief

All of the “Fleming’s 100” wines will be open for tasting on Sept. 20

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Madison is well known for offering its Fleming’s 100™ wines-by-the-glass. On Sept. 20, wine lovers may sample from the entire list and benefit charity at the same time.

Fleming’s (at 750 Midvale Blvd.) will host a Fleming’s 100™ wine tasting from noon until 3 p.m. on Sept. 20; tickets are $25 per person and appetizers will be served during the event. All proceeds from the tasting will go to the American Red Cross – Badger Chapter to benefit those affected by the recent flooding which inundated 30 counties in Wisconsin and affected thousands of families. At a cost of approximately $3 million, this is the largest Red Cross relief effort in Wisconsin history. Financial gifts have provided food, shelter, supplies, counseling and other emergency services, and ongoing support for the victims will continue as they rebuild their lives following this disaster.

“We’re delighted to share our Fleming’s 100™ with Madison and help our neighbors at the same time,” says Fleming’s wine manager Richard Chapman. “The Fleming’s 100™ is truly an honor roll of excellence from around the world. We’re certain it’s going to be a good time as well as benefit a good cause.”

Reservations are required for the event; please contact Fleming’s at 608-233-9550 to make reservations or for more details.

More than 70 percent of the wines featured on this year’s Fleming’s 100™ come from “green” wineries – wineries that practice sustainable farming and/or organic and biodynamic farming. A sustainable farm is environmentally responsible, economically feasible and embraces social equity. The goal of sustainable, organic and biodynamic agriculture is to avoid depleting the long-term health of the land for short-term gain. These practices include avoiding herbicides and pesticides and embracing natural, biologically-based farm management strategies. Additionally, the restaurant offers a by-the-bottle list including over 80 wines from vineyards in the United States and around the world that have limited availability.

For more information about Fleming’s, please contact: Sheri Rice Bentley, APR, at or 608-232-2300.

Opening Friday, September 19

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Closing Ishnala … Again

Going to Ishnala, a supper club on Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells is the idyllic summer road trip. It would be difficult for even Disney to recreate its faux Wisconsin north woods setting and ambience. There’s really nothing remarkable about the menu or food but I don’t think that’s what draws the crowds here year after year. It’s not why I come.

Ishnala just celebrated its 55th anniversary. The first time I went there I was 10 and for whatever reason the place captured my imagination. It had been a summer home, purchased by the Hoffman brothers who ran one of Madison’s most famous restaurants, the Hoffman House. The Hoffmans had a flair for the dramatic and knew how to milk a theme. The original Hoffman House restaurant was on Wilson Street where the Essen Haus is today. They dubbed its candy-stripped bar the Gay 90’s Lounge and the rustic dining area The Paul Bunyon Room. Growing up, it was my favorite place to go out to eat … I could net my own live trout from a stream that flowed through the dinning room. My catch was whisked away to the kitchen and with amazing speed returned to me grilled on a plate. (I was always a little skeptical about how fast they did that—my dad made me clean a fish once.)

The Hoffman House was my favorite restaurant until I went to Ishnala. Granted, part of its attraction was the Dells itself. The place has always had a gaudy, sideshow aura that only a kid could love. The Hoffman brothers were blessed with a breathtaking location, a log lodge set on a cliff overlooking a lake as serene as its name. Live trees grow up through the floor and out the roof, each tagged with the name of one of the seven brothers. Décor is post-Davy Crocket with stuffed animal heads, cabin-style furnishings and lots of souvenir shop Indian artifacts. My friend Dick Wagner pointed out the tribe is always referenced as the Winnebago rather than the Ho-Chunk. But, Ishnala is all about nostalgia and not history.

Six years ago, I started coming here with a group of friends for the final night before the restaurant closed for the season. The original impetus was to celebrate Dick Wagner’s September birthday. Now, it’s become an annual ritual.
In most religions food is worshipped, shared, eaten or even tabooed. Likewise, food is at the heart of life’s celebrations. For me the trip to Ishnala is now an event, the official end of summer—not Labor Day. The menu (least of all the nightly special) changes little but never mind: I know I’m going to have prime rib. To do otherwise would be like Thanksgiving without Turkey. I know I will drink martinis (too many) and eat the Day-Glo yellow cheese spread that we make fun of as we ask for yet more and the pile of cellophane cracker wrappers stack up. I expect Ishnala to be the same every year. Any change is met with skepticism—like when they got rid of the bread basket and the curious cinnamon pinwheels.

I have a jaded pallet and when it comes to food I’m adventurous … have a need to always find something new. But my food rituals nourish another need, an emotional need: to strengthen my bond with friends.

I began the summer by writing ‘I’ve started out summer a little grumpy. The reason is I won’t be going to my beloved Provincetown this year.’ I end it feeling happier that I went to Ishnala.

More pictures from Ishnala are on my Facebook page:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Local Motion

It wasn’t that long ago that come winter the produce section of the grocery store became a barren wasteland: little more than potatoes, root vegetables, head lettuce, citrus fruit and bananas. Everyone looked forward to asparagus and strawberries, the harbingers of spring and end of the long gulag for gastronomy.

For better or worse, science and technology have always worked to improve the quality, quantity and distribution of food. Obviously profit was the motivation which isn’t a bad thing in itself. To be able to buy tomatoes in winter that aren’t hard, anemically pink and actually tastes like something is progress. To add Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) to milk for whatever reason is not.

The choices available to us at the modern super market today are staggering. Heretofore unknown species like kiwi fruit, red bananas and peppadews dramatically appeared. Rarely seen items like fava beans, baby carrots and radicchio became commonplace. And, asparagus and strawberries are now available year round. The efficiency and economy of modern transpiration has literally brought the entire world to our table.

But with all this progress an odd phenomena followed. Even at the height of the local growing season everything available at the super market is still shipped in from afar. For example, Wisconsin produces about 1.5 million bushels of apples each year but finding one is another matter. Today, native produce is rarely found outside of farmers’ market, upscale specialty stores or farm stands. There is no shortage of apple varieties at the mega markets but inevitably they hail from Washington, Oregon and even New Zealand.

Fortunately, more and more people are rediscovering local food. Food less traveled not only tastes better, may be better for you and certainly is better for the environment. An international “Slow Food” movement began in Italy in 1989. It was a reaction to the negative impact fast food and the disappearance of local food traditions was having on our quality of life. It was a rejection of the idea that people no longer cared about what they ate, where it came from and or how it tasted. It also recognized the impact of what we eat has on the rest of the world and our ecology. Today this organization boasts over 85,000 members in 132 countries, including right here in Madison.
My own mantra is homegrown first, whether shopping at the market or dining out at a restaurant. Madison is fortunate to have its own organization of homegrown restaurants, each unique in its own right, each owned and operated by someone right here in our community. Appropriately, they’re called Madison Originals: