New Monroe St restaurant may have best cheese curds in town

Gates and Brovi

Gates and Brovi

There’s nothing more Wisconsin and more Madison than deep fried cheese curds. Most restaurants in the city and the state have them on their menus, and places that pull them frozen out of box should be ashamed. There’s something special about a good homemade fried cheese curd dipped in homemade ranch dressing. When talking about cheese curds in Madison most people talk about the curds at the Old Fashioned, Graze, The Tipsy Cow, the Avenue Bar or the curds served at local breweries. I’m a huge fan of all of these places, and when I visited Gates and Brovi on Monroe Street I was not expecting to find a frontrunner for the best cheese curds in Madison.

Gates and Brovi cheese curds

Gates and Brovi cheese curds

The restaurant opened about a year ago and hasn’t made too much noise in the food scene, but I was excited to try it because of some good things I had heard about the food. The menu seems a little confused and unfocused offering salads, clams, shrimp, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and pasta. I tend to go for something other than sandwiches or burgers unless they sound super original, so I went with the roasted beet and avocado salad. But first we decided to get the fried cheese curds. They came in a little red basket, and had extremely light batter that was not greasy. The white cheese curds were extremely fresh and perfectly melty. I’m not sure what type of batter they use, but it is definitely a lot lighter than the normal beer batter on Wisconsin cheese curds. They were fantastic! And the homemade ranch dressing was perfectly tangy and creamy.

Gates and Brovi beet salad

Gates and Brovi beet salad

The roasted beet and avocado salad also had red onions, carrots, radishes, arugula, queso fresco and a tangy orange dressing. I don’t like citrus dressings so I got a balsamic dressing instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh, but not extremely flavorful. The balsamic dressing was fine, but queso fresco is basically a useless cheese with no flavor. I wold prefer something with a little flavor like feta or an aged cheddar. There were a ton of beets, but they were nothing special. The salad as a whole was good, but I probably wouldn’t get it again.

Gates and Brovi

Gates and Brovi

FOOD NOTES: Gates and Brovi is a very casual place with the vibe of a southern shrimp place. The dining room has wood plank benches and white wood paneling, and is warm and inviting. The day we went there was only one waiter, but he kept everything moving fast and was super nice. The one downfall to Gates and Brovi is that there is extremely limited parking, especially during the day. I only had to park a block away, but I got super lucky with street parking. The cheese curds were amazing. They aren’t the same as Wisconsin beer battered cheese curds but they were definitely unique and just as good as their heavier beer-battered counterparts. The batter was lighter and the curds were extremely fresh. I would go back just for the cheese curds.

Advertisements

Authentic Mexican food can be found on S Park St

I’ve posted about my quest for authentic Mexican food before, and I had almost lost hope until I had my first meal at Taqueria Guadalajara. The Mexican restaurant is a block down from the new Barriques at Park and Fish Hatch. Be careful not to drive past because it looks like a house and is between two other small buildings. You walk in to a front bar area that seats about a half dozen, then there’s the open kitchen and in the back is a dining room that probably seats about 20.

Taqueria Guadalajara chips and salsa

Taqueria Guadalajara chips and salsa

Our waitress promptly brought over some chips and two little bowls of salsa. As I’m assuming everyone already knows, I hate cilantro and they use a lot of cilantro at Taqueria Guadalajara. So if you love cilantro you’ll love both of their salsas. The red salsa had chunks of tomato, a lot of cilantro and no too much spice. The green one was extra spicy, also had a lot of cilantro and is pureed. Clearly I didn’t like either of the salsas but most people probably would.

Their menu has well-known options like tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas and burritos, but it also has some interesting options like lengua (tongue), huaraches, menudo (only on Saturday and Sunday) and chile rellenos. I wasn’t sure how I’d like some of the more authentic options so I opted for a lengua taco and chicken enchiladas.

Taqueria Guadalajara lengua taco

Taqueria Guadalajara lengua taco

The lengua taco comes in a freshly-made corn taco with onions and cilantro…our waitress was more than happy to exclude the cilantro. My friend doesn’t like avocado so I put her avocado on my taco when it came to the table. The corn tortilla was hot and fresh. The lengua was super tender and had a perfectly seasoned flavor. It came with a small chunk of lime, which adds a great tang to the taco. The raw onions added a great flavor and crunch. I wish the taco normally came with avocado on it, but it would be worth it to add it on. I loved my tongue taco, and went back a couple weeks later for more tongue! On my second visit I got a lengua huarache, which is a flat corn tortilla covered in beans, choice of meat, green salsa, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream. The lengua on my second trip was just as good, but the extras on top really added some great flavor and made the meal better.

Taqueria guadalajara enchiladas, rice, beans

Taqueria guadalajara enchiladas, rice, beans

For my main meal on my first visit I got chicken enchiladas. They were very tasty but nowhere near as special as the lengua taco. The shredded chicken was cooked well and was plentiful. The enchilada sauce was supposed to be a green sauce, but usually green sauce is made with cilantro so I subbed that out for red sauce, which was standard red enchilada sauce. The enchiladas come with rice and beans, which are usually throw-away sides in tex-mex restaurants, but these were great. The rice was plump and had a good flavor. The refried beans were perfectly creamy but still had lumps, and actually had some flavor…I’m not sure how but they didn’t just taste like beans.

FOOD NOTES: The restaurant itself isn’t anything impressive, but the fresh, authentic Mexican food is show stopping. The chicken enchiladas were fine, but the flavor of their rice and beans were exceptional compared to most places. Tongue sounds disgusting, but when you call it lengua and it tastes as good as it does at Taqueria Guadalajara, you can’t pass it up. They use a lot of cilantro so if you’re like me and think it tastes like soap…make sure to ask for everything without it. I definitely suggest the huarache, and would definitely be up for trying some of the other authentic menu options. If you’ve had menudo let me know what you think about the traditional Mexican stew made with beef stomach.

Paoli is home to upscale gallery, tasty cafe

Creamery Cafe

Creamery Cafe

Artisan Gallery

Artisan Gallery

I have been a fan of Paoli for over a year now with its two-block radius, half a dozen restaurants and shops and winding river. The Paoli cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in south central Wisconsin. I had explored most of the other shops in the area, but not the Creamery. The Artisan Gallery and Creamery Cafe is an upscale art gallery and classic cafe housed in an old cream factory along the Sugar River. The gallery is the main attraction with beautiful art displayed alongside the old-school charm of a dairy factory. In the back of the gallery is a small cafe that seats about 20 and serves up an interesting menu with relaxing views of the Sugar River.

Creamery dining room

Creamery dining room

The cafe was quiet except for one other person the day we went, but the owner said it’s standing room only once the snow melts. After a tour of the gallery we got to try two of the owner’s favorite options on the menu: a spicy carrot and tomato soup and a spinach and kalamata pesto sandwich.

Creamery carrot, tomato soup

Creamery carrot, tomato soup

The spicy carrot and tomato soup had a great flavor. It was spicy and creamy, and had a good texture. Sometimes pureed soup gets too runny, but this soup was thick and had some hearty chunks in it. The one downfall of the soup were the huge chunks of blue cheese on top (mind you, I don’t like blue cheese normally). Once the blue cheese chunks were removed I thoroughly enjoyed the soup.

Creamery kalamata pesto sandwich

Creamery kalamata pesto sandwich

As for the spinach kalamata pesto sandwich, it was perfectly grilled on tangy sourdough bread. The sandwich had spinach, basil, kalamata olives, walnuts, roasted garlic with sundried tomatoes and fontina cheese. The kalamata olives, walnuts and roasted garlic were made into a type of pesto and spread on the sandwich. The sundried tomatoes were plump and flavorful. Fontina cheese doesn’t have much of a flavor so it didn’t add much. I would prefer a nice slice of cheddar or swiss…something with a little flavor. The sandwich was exceptionally good dipped in the spicy carrot and tomato soup. The sandwich usually comes with a mixed green salad or a seasonal side, but we got it with the rosemary fingerling breakfast potatoes. I’m not a huge fan of rosemary so I’m a bit biased, but they definitely could have used a little extra flavor, like salt.

Artisan Gallery

Artisan Gallery

FOOD NOTES: The Creamery Cafe menu offers upscale salads and sandwiches amidst a big-city art gallery and quaint views of the Sugar River. The soup and salad we tried had unique ingredients and were pretty tasty. The sandwich was a little heavy and the breakfast potatoes were not impressive, but the soup had an exceptionally good flavor. The rest of the menu looks promising, but I’m not sure going through the hassle of looking interested in art would be worth trying the other options.

New Indian restaurant offers quality buffet

Minerva

Minerva

In the six years I’ve lived in Madison it seems like a new restaurant has opened every year . Some have been better than others, and some closed before I got a chance to try them out. The good thing is most of the new options have been opening up on the west side so they’re easy for me to get to. The newest addition to the Indian buffet lineup is Minerva on Junction Road. Minerva opened in a spot that has been empty in a strip mall for quite a while. The space is very tiny with a pieced-together buffet in the corner and only about a dozen tables.

I don’t claim to be an Indian food expert, but I do enjoy a good buffet once in a while. I like it when the buffet offers a couple traditional options alongside the regulars: chicken tikka masala and dal. My favorite dish is malai kofta, but the day we went they didn’t have that on the buffet.

minerva plate 1Everything I got had a good flavor and was steamy hot (it bothers me when buffet food is luke warm). The fry fish was moist and not too fishy. The chicken tikka masala had a good curry flavor, and the chicken was tender. The paneer masala had a very similar sauce to the chicken tikka masala, and the paneer had a good texture (no one likes mushy paneer!). I’m not generally a fan of chats except for the onion flavor. Minerva’s onion chat was surprisingly good. It looked like the traditional onion chat, but it had a nice spice balanced by a tangy pickle flavor. The one thing that disappointed me was on my second trip up to the buffet there wasn’t any chicken tikka masala.

minerva plate 2The most surprising thing I got was a little deep-fried lentil and veggie ball. I wish I had written the name of it down so I could order it again. It was crispy and hot, and was perfect for dipping in the tikka masala sauce. Most buffets I’ve been to give you a basket of naan, but at Minerva they give you a dosa…I think it was a veggie dosa. A dosa is a super light and airy pancake made with lentil flour, and it usually has a little filing on the inside. Minerva’s dosa was clearly made in advance, and the filing was mostly flavorless. I would have preferred naan, so I didn’t have to find room for it on my plate up at the buffet. The garlic naan on the buffet was great…not too much garlic or cilantro.

FOOD NOTES: I’m always up for a good Indian food buffet, so I’m super happy Minerva opened up on my normal errand-running route. The service was a little awkward, but mostly attentive. The $10 price tag is on par for an Indian buffet, and the amount of options was standard. I wouldn’t say there’s anything spectacular about Minerva’s food or buffet options, but it is good, solid Indian food in a good location. I hope they have malai kofta on the buffet next time I go.

#restaurantweek 2014 ends at disappointing steakhouse

Restaurant week is always a great opportunity to eat some good food for a reasonable price. This year’s winter restaurant week was not disappointing as a whole, but it ended with a slightly disappointing meal. I had zero complaints about my first three restaurant week meals, but the last and most expensive one ruined the perfect streak that was Winter Restaurant Week 2014. I went to Johnny Delmonico’s with two friends and was pretty excited because I’ve heard it’s a very good steakhouse, but my experience was a little less than exciting.

Johnny Delmonico's New England clam chowder

Johnny Delmonico’s New England clam chowder

The restaurant week menu appetizers Johnny Delmonico’s offered included a house Caesar salad, fried calamari and New England clam chowder. I always get Caesar salads so I opted to try something new. I didn’t think I’d be a fan of fried calamari, and I’ve never tried New England clam chowder so I got that. The chowder was a great decision! It was creamy, savory and perfectly salty. The bacon and potatoes were a great compliment to the slightly fishy flavor of the clams. I absolutely loved it!

Johnny Delmonico's fried calamari

Johnny Delmonico’s fried calamari

Both of the friends I went with got the fried calamari. They mostly enjoyed the appetizer, but one of them (including me) was a little freaked out by the pieces with tentacles! The spicy chili sauce that came with the fried calamari was pretty good and the batter wasn’t too heavy. I’m not a fan of calamari, but if you like it you’d probably like their version.

Johnny Delmonico's calamari

Johnny Delmonico’s calamari

For entrees they offered a NY strip steak, swordfish and gnocchi. Because Johnny Delmonico’s is a steakhouse I had to get the NY strip. The steak was pepper crusted and came with mashed potatoes, crispy onion strips and a gorgonzola bechamel sauce. The steak was perfectly cooked, the potatoes were flavorful, the onions added a good crispiness to the dish, and the sauce was rich and creamy. The dish as a whole was good, but I was pretty disappointed in the portion. For being a steakhouse with a pretty hefty price tag even during restaurant week, I was expecting a bigger portion, especially of the steak itself.

Johnny Delmonico's creme brulee

Johnny Delmonico’s creme brulee

For dessert they offered creme brulee, fruit sorbet and German chocolate cake. I never think fruit sorbet is worth being a dessert on its own and German chocolate cake has coconut in it. So I got creme brulee, which I am usually a really big fan. The creme brulee was the biggest disappointment of the meal. The custard itself was fine, but it wasn’t caramelized enough on the top and was way way way too small. The teeny tiny ramekin was about 1/4 the size it should have been.

Johnny Delmonico's German chocolate cake

Johnny Delmonico’s German chocolate cake

One of my friends got the German chocolate cake, which was a much larger portion than the creme brulee…damn the coconut!

FOOD NOTES: The atmosphere of Johnny Delmonico’s is classy with an upscale twist on a traditional steakhouse. The prices (regular and restaurant week) are way too high for the portion sizes. The quality of the food is great, but the quantity really ruined my experience. When I go to a steakhouse I expect classic flavors and big portions…half of that was missing at Johnny Delmonico’s. All in all…definitely not my favorite Food Fight restaurant.

Good food, atmosphere on Merchant lunch menu

Merchant

Merchant

One of my all-time best meals was the dinner I had with some friends at Merchant during the 2013 Restaurant Week. I think it stands out to me because it was the first time I had mussels and now I love mussels! I also love the atmosphere of the restaurant, which doesn’t lose it’s appeal in broad daylight. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been back since my first visit until the I went to Merchant during the 2014 Restaurant Week for lunch. Merchant serves up classic foodie food for dinner, but for lunch they mostly serve salads and sandwiches.

Merchant buttermilk salad

Merchant buttermilk salad

For restaurant week they offered a soup and three salads for appetizers. I ordered the buttermilk salad that came with golden beets, radish, buttermilk dressing and blue cheese. I’m not a fan of blue cheese so I ordered it with feta instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh. My friend Michelle ordered the Caesar salad, but it was too anchovy-y for her, so we switched. The Caesar salad was pretty simple (romaine hearts, creamy anchovy Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese), but what made it memorable was the flavor of the dressing. What Michelle didn’t like about the salad ended up being my favorite part. The tangy, salty flavor was interesting and something I had never tasted before. It was very good.

Merchant fried chicken sandwich

Merchant fried chicken sandwich

For entrees Merchant was offering about a half dozen sandwiches, but it was a no brainer that we order the fried chicken sandwich. A couple weeks before our visit a local website did a poll for best sandwich in Madison and this sandwich was near the top. There were two options: classic or buffalo-style. Michelle and I decided to order one of each and split the sandwiches to see which one we liked better. The classic fried chicken sandwich came on a brioche bun with coleslaw. It was fresh, tasty and surprisingly not too heavy for a fried chicken sandwich. The batter on the chicken was flavorful, crispy and not greasy. The coleslaw was perfectly creamy and crunchy. But the one thing the classic sandwich was missing was the extra ingredient on the buffalo-style sandwich: buffalo sauce. That little bit of spice and vinegar added a great contrast to the creamy coleslaw and the savory fried chicken. If I were to order the sandwich again I would definitely go with the buffalo-style. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were good.

Merchant brownie sundae

Merchant brownie sundae

Merchant coffee

Merchant coffee

For dessert they were offering sorbet, gelato or a brownie sundae. Of course, I chose the brownie sundae with chocolate sauce, pecans and whipped cream. The brownie was not overly sweet — it tasted almost like dark chocolate. The entire sundae was a fancier version of a classic brownie sundae. It was super good! I also got a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly flavorful and smooth.

FOOD NOTES: Both meals I’ve had at Merchant exceeded expectations. Merchant will always be one of my top picks for places to visit during restaurant week because their food is so good and the price is so right. The Caesar salad was very unique and had a great flavor. The fried chicken sandwich lives up to the hype — especially the buffalo-style version, and the brownie sundae was a great upgraded version of a classic. The only complaint I have is that we had to sit at an awkward table attached to a pillar on high stools — kind of uncomfortable and kind of in the way.