Hidden atop downtown hotel, The Blind has many something specials

It takes something special for new restaurants in downtown Madison to last, and the new one on top of the Graduate Hotel has a couple something specials.

Reasons I love The Madison Blind:

  1. It’s on a roof where you can see State Street, Lake Mendota and the Capitol.
  2. No matter where you sit, inside near the wall of windows or outside on the patio, you have a great view!
  3. The drinks a great. They do the classics well and their specials are super tasty.
  4. The fries are extra crispy and served with great aioli.
  5. The beet salad is an A+.

Those are some pretty great reasons to check out the Blind, but I can’t say enough about the view, especially on the patio…I have repeatedly forgotten to take a picture of the view because I was too busy enjoying it in real time!

IMG_3316The food is also pretty great. I’ve tried most of their appetizers and none of them disappointed. The poutine is phenomenal. I’m usually not a fan of poutine because it usually tastes like a pile of mush, but the poutine at the Blind is cheesy, the fries are crispy and the gravy is super flavorful. The fish tacos are super fresh and light, but they are very tiny. The cheese curds are a great version of the Wisconsin classic.

IMG_3314Like I said, the beet salad with chicken is top notch. If you get the poutine and cheese curds to start, the beet salad is a great entree option. It’s tasty and hearty, but not heavy.

IMG_3318As for dessert, they serve the hand pies sold downstairs in the hotel’s cafe Portage Pi. I got the apple pie a ‘la mode. The turnover-like pie was hot and crispy, but the crust was a little dry and there could have been more filing and ice cream

Based on its location, the corner of Langdon and Francis, and it’s great drinks and food, it’s not a surprise the Blind is usually very busy. I’ve had to wait for a table every time I’ve been there, but the view and food are worth the wait. It is a small dining room, but based on my experience I think part of the wait time has to do with the service. Every time I’ve been there our waiter has either taken forever to come to the table the first time or disappeared halfway through. It also feels like there are no assigned tables because all three times I’ve gone I had a couple different servers.

FOOD NOTES: The Blind is one of my new favorite places in Madison. If the food and drinks don’t keep you coming back, the view should. The service could be faster and more organized, but there are too many other goods things at the Blind that will keep me going back. I’m a sucker for their beet salad so I’ve never tried their burgers, but they look and smell amazing!

Cafe hidden behind East High School features unique sweet dishes

IMG_3288Hidden behind East High School is a Milio’s sandwich shop and hidden behind that is 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe. The space is small and industrial, but very warm and inviting. There are only a couple tables, but from my understanding students pack those tables every day.

Michelle doing her thing!

Michelle doing her thing!

They have a pretty typical coffee and cafe menu with baked goods, breakfast options and sandwiches. The day Michelle Li and I got to try the place out we had the place to ourselves, and we got to try the chef/owner’s favorites: lemon bread blueberry french toast, and a very interesting turkey sandwich.

Lemon bread blueberry french toast

Lemon bread blueberry french toast

IMG_3292The lemon bread blueberry french toast was quite a dish. They use lemon bread for the french toast and then top it was lemon curd, blueberry compote and fresh cream. I don’t like french toast or super sweet breakfasts, so this dish had two strikes against it before I even tried it. So to be honest, I didn’t like it because of how sweet it was, but there were some up sides. The french toast was crispy, the blueberries were sweet and fresh and the cream added a much needed lightness to the dish. If you like sweet breakfast dishes and lemon curd, you will totally love it.

IMG_3301IMG_3299The  sandwich had all of the regulars: greens, cheese, crispy bread…and cranberry spread on it. I wasn’t sure if I’d like cranberry spread, but it was a good tangy addition to the heavy sandwich. There was also a mustard on it that I really liked. Based on reviews I’ve read online…I would suggest trying their breakfast options before the turkey sandwich. It was interesting, but not something I would get again.

IMG_3294FOOD NOTES: The location of 4 & 20 Bakery is perfect for East High School students and people who live east of First Street, but otherwise you might not know it’s even there. The dining room is super cute and inviting, and I love the succulents on the tables. The lemon blueberry french toast wasn’t my jam, but Michelle liked it and if you like sweet dishes you will also love it. The turkey sandwich was better than I was expecting, but it wasn’t something I’d order again. There are a ton of other things I’d like to try on the menu if I ever make it back over there.

Soho converted me to a calamari lover

Soho has been known as one of the go-to food trucks for dumplings in Madison for years, but now that they’ve opened a storefront in Fitchburg, they’ve expanded their menu. And boy were those good additions! Of course they still serve dumplings, but if you’re going to the restaurant in Fitchburg I would suggest some of the things they don’t serve out of the cart.

I like being Michelle Li's roadie!

I like being Michelle Li’s roadie!

IMG_3246

IMG_3247Before trying calamari at Soho with Michelle Li, I had tried it several other times and didn’t like it — both fried and sauteed. I thought the texture was terrible and the taste was worse. But Rocky at Soho really knows how to do calamari. His secret…promise you won’t tell…is cornstarch. I could eat an entire order of it by myself. The batter is salty and crispy. The calamari is tender and not fishy. And to my surprise, the pieces with the tentacles were the best ones because they were crispier. The calamari comes with a tasty dipping sauce, but it is not necessary. All you need is a little lemon juice squeezed on top and it’s time to dig in! If you don’t like calamari, do me a favor and give Soho’s a try. They will convert you.

IMG_3250We also got to try Soho’s green beans and fried tofu. I know, you’re thinking that both of those sound boring, but trust me…they aren’t at Soho. The green beans are charred, salty and in some sort of sauce that was so good I started eating them before I even had a fork, and couldn’t stop.

IMG_3252

IMG_3251Now for the tofu. Every time I try to cook tofu it ends up mushy and tasteless…so I usually avoid it. Well apparently the secret is to deep fry it…because everything is better deep fried! The tofu soaks up the sauce they use, so it’s soft and flavorful on the inside and super crispy on the outside. As a non-tofu-lover I was surprised that I just kept popping cubes of tofu into my mouth.

Soho pork and chicken dumplings

Soho pork and chicken dumplings

FOOD NOTES: Soho’s dumplings are good…there’s no question about it, but if you’re going to their store in Fitchburg instead of their food truck I really suggest giving some of their other menu items a try. I would venture to say their calamari tops most of the places in Madison and they really know how to serve up usually boring green beans and tofu with flare.

New brewery partners with tap haus for awesome Wisconsin favorites

IMG_3202In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.

WBC beer cheese soup

WBC beer cheese soup

The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.

WBC fish fry

WBC fish fry

The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.

IMG_3203FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!

Holstein Kitchen’s farmhouse menu is more than just meat and potatoes

IMG_2099There are always new restaurants opening in Madison, but every once in a while a new restaurant opens in one of the small towns around Madison. I heard about Holstein Kitchen  in Oregon, and the short 20 minute drive is definitely worth it.

IMG_2096Their website says they speak meat and potatoes with their farm cooking. I love that! I’m not sure what the old building was before it was Holstein Kitchen, but it’s super cute and is decorated like a simple but elegant farm house (think sparkly lighting, barn wood and checkered table cloths). My friend Mary and I went around lunch on a Saturday and it wasn’t very busy, but the owner told us they were pretty busy around breakfast.

Americana Scramble

Americana Scramble

I got the Americana Scramble — scrambled eggs with sausage and bacon…and it comes with a pancake. I prefer savory breakfasts, but can’t resist a good pancake, so the Americana Scramble was the perfect breakfast for me. The scramble was the perfect size and because of the crazy amount of sausage and bacon it was very filing. The breakfast potatoes were perfect — hot, crispy and salty. The pancake was a perfect American pancake — and I ate it before I remembered to take a picture!

Pain Perdue

Pain Perdue

Mary got the Pain Perdue, which is New Orleans style french toast. It was thick, and fried perfectly so it was crispy on the outside and super fluffy and light on the inside.

Something very unexpected during our visit to the Oregon newcomer happened — the owner and chef came out toward the end of our meal and let us try the special of the day. I don’t remember what it was, but he wanted us to try it just to get our opinion. That was very cool and personable. I also remember the coffee being super tasty and plentiful.

FOOD NOTES: If you’re in the Oregon area (or even if you’re not), Holstein Kitchen is a great breakfast/brunch spot. I loved the homey feel of the dining room, and the owner seems to be very hands on, which is always a good thing. I want to go back for dinner sometime soon because the menu has a salad with cheese curds on top and buttered noodles! I mean..come on! Those have to be winners!

Estrellon tapas are surprisingly filling for the price

I heard two things about Estrellon when it first opened:

  1. The food (both the paella and the tapas) is amazing
  2. The prices are a bit high

But a girls night out at a bar downtown seemed like the perfect time to try tapas for dinner at Estrellon. We got one of the last tiny tables on the tapas side of the restaurant and after waiting a little too long for a waiter, we ordered a half dozen tapas to start with. But those ended up being surprisingly filling and a perfect mix of fun food for dinner.

Here’s what we got:

deviled eggs

Estrellon deviled eggs

The deviled eggs were too mustardy for me…I like my deviled eggs traditionally chocked full of mayo.

Estrellon cheese curds

Estrellon cheese curds

This was the worst thing we got. I’m not sure what I was expecting because the menu didn’t say fried cheese curds, but fresh cheese curds (that weren’t even squeaky so they couldn’t have been that fresh) with some dressing and sesame seeds on top was a very underwhelming dish. Definitely not worth ordering.

Toast pieces with different toppings

Toast pieces with different toppings

The toast pieces come with a bunch of different topping options. I got the summer sausage with raw milk cheddar and pickles; the charred beets with manchego cheese and pine nuts; and the jamon iberico with tomato jam and relish. My friend got the sweet pears with candied walnut butter and feta cheese; brie with artichoke, tomato and caviar; and the smoked sockeye salmon with greek yogurt, caviar and truffle honey. They were a lot smaller than I expected, but they were extremely tasty. My favorite was the summer sausage one with the housemade pickle!

Estrellon croquetas

Estrellon fried mushrooms

These were the best thing we ordered. They were fried mushrooms, but what made them special was that they were stuffed with cheese and came with a great aioli sauce drizzled on top. They were hot, crispy and had a great flavor. And since the cheese and sauce were so rich, the serving size was just enough.

Estrellon papas fritas

Estrellon papas fritas

These were pretty much what I expected — crunchy, salty frites with yummy aioli. I always go for papas fritas because they’re easy to do well. Always a good standby.

FOOD NOTES: Once we got everything we ordered, we decided we wouldn’t need another round of food, which was good. Our bill (split two ways) ended up being about the same as if we had gone to another pricier restaurant downtown, which was pleasantly surprising. After we listed off our entire order, I thought it was going to be about double what it ended up being. Estrellon is definitely a fun place to go, and if you drink wine they have a happy hour deal where you buy a glass of house wine and get a free tapa…which would be a great way to check out Estrellon.

Too many toppings to list for burgers at Mooyah

Sometimes you just want a burger, and a decent place to get one on Madison’s far west side is Mooyah. Mooyah is in a strip mall in the parking lot of the Super Target in Fitchburg. The dining room isn’t huge and fills up fast during lunch, but they do have additional outdoor seating during the summer.

IMG_1965You order either a single or double Mooyah burger, then you can add cheese, bacon or avocado. But the best part are the extras. You can add anything from lettuce, tomatoes and pickles to grilled onions, fried onion strings or jalapenos. They also have a dozen sauce options.

IMG_1966I got lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, bacon, mushrooms and jalapenos. It was a great custom burger. The one downfall is that with all the extra toppings and the soft buns, the burgers get pretty messy. The regular fries are decent, but rumor has it the sweet potato fries are way better.

FOOD NOTES: I don’t usually go for burgers and fries, but if you’re looking for a decent burger and fries with a lot of topping options, Mooyah is a good spot. They’re not the greatest burgers you’ll ever find, but they’re on par with Five Guys with the amount of options and tasty fries. The metal lunch trays they’re served on are also pretty fun.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 57 other followers