A couple of months ago I went to Alchemy specifically to try their sweet potato fries because I had heard they were great, but when I went they weren’t serving them because it was a Friday night. So recently I went back with a friend on a Saturday night specifically for the fries. The menu says they are house-sliced, twice-fried sweet potato fries served with tarragon mayo and blackberry/jalapeno jam.
Our order of the much-lauded fries came out pretty quickly. The large half circles were hot, but nowhere near crunchy. When the menu said twice fried I was expecting them to be nice and crispy, but the fries we got were limp, soggy chunks of sweet potato that really didn’t resemble what I consider to be “fries.”
The tarragon mayo was good, but I would have preferred a garlic mayo or maybe some seasoning on the actual fries that would have added some flavor. The jam was also a pretty big letdown. It didn’t really taste like jalapeno or blackberry, so it was basically a sweet dipping option.
FOOD NOTES: The food I got during my first visit to the Alchemy was super great and I had high hopes for the popular sweet potato fries, but they were a disappointment. The fries were soggy, didn’t have any seasoning and were cut into over-sized chunks. The dipping sauces were bland and didn’t add anything to the flavor. When I get sweet potato fries I expect small, crispy, well seasoned fries served with a creamy garlic mayo or jalapeno jam that actually has a little spice; at Alchemy I didn’t get any of those things.
I went to Sushi Muramoto with a friend who really wanted me to try the chicken lettuce wraps. She loves them and had talked about them so much I figured we couldn’t go wrong making them part of our lunch plans.
The modern sushi restaurant is pretty small with a sushi bar and a regular bar flanking a dozen tiny tables. The problem with the design is that we were basically sitting on top of the people at the next table and every time a waitress had to walk past me I was afraid either me or the person next to me would get hit with a plate.
Now on to the lettuce wraps. They were so good we ate the entire serving before I even thought about taking a picture. The chicken mixture has pecans and a sweet soy sauce that you eat wrapped in large pieces of iceberg lettuce. The pecans add a great texture to the chicken mixture, and the sauce was perfectly sweet, savory and salty. The chicken chunks were a little big and made it kind of difficult to wrap them in the lettuce, but my friend said the chicken usually comes in smaller chunks. But even though it was hard to eat, the chicken was perfectly cooked and the pecans were an awesome addition.
The lunch special Sushi Muramoto offers is a great option for non-sushi lovers, especially for the price. For $9 I got a salad, rice, beef hanger steak and honey wasabi potato salad. The rice was basically unnecessary, but the rest of it was fantastic. The salad was good, but nothing more than a typical green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. The steak had a great asian BBQ sauce on it with just a hint of spice. I really enjoyed my lunch, but the steak was a little tough for supposedly being cooked medium rare. The honey wasabi potato salad had a great flavor, and came in a very large serving. The potato salad was pretty rich, but it complemented the salty steak very well.
FOOD NOTES: Based on my experience with lunch, I would venture to say that their sushi is probably pretty good. The chicken lettuce wraps are a must, with an amazing sauce, great ingredients, a fun do-it-yourself presentation and the exciting addition of pecans. The lunch specials are amazing deals that come with some great ingredients and a lot of food.
If you’ve been to one Indian restaurant buffet you’ve been to them all. Most places make a decent chicken tikka masala or spinach paneer. I’ve been to some really bad Indian buffets, but most of them are pretty solid. The draw for most Indian buffets is their location — I usually pick one of the five I enjoy eating at based on where I’ll be before lunch or where I’ll need to go after. There’s one in Middleton, one on the far west side, one by West Towne Mall, one on the near west side, one right downtown and now one just opened up in Fitchburg. Haveli opened up on McKee Road in the same strip mall as Subway and Barriques.
Haveli is on the end of the strip mall so it has a ton of windows, which makes the expansive dining room nice and bright. The signs are very colorful, which grabbed my attention. The buffet is off to the side and is broken off from the rest of the dinning room with dividers, which I really liked.
They had pretty standard offerings on their buffet: chutneys, spinach naan, chicken tikka masala, paneer masala, beef curry and samosa chat. The perfectly firm paneer was great, and the creamy masala sauce had a good depth of spices that went really well with the spinach naan. The spinach naan was standard (I wish buffets could figure out a way to keep their naan crispy and not soggy). The onion chutney was a surprise. It had a good kick of flavor on top of the expected pickle flavor, which went really went on top of the beef curry. Samosa chat is samosas broken into pieces served with chana masala (a chickpea dish), yogurt sauce and chutneys on top. I’ve never seen samosa chat on a buffet. First, I’m glad they put it on the buffet so I could try it…I really liked it! It is a lot of things on an Indian buffet that I like all in one dish. Second, I wish the samosas would have been a lot less mushy, but maybe that’s the only way to serve a samosa on a buffet. The sauces in all of the dishes could have used a little more spice, but none of the buffets I’ve ever been to serve up spicy dishes.
FOOD NOTES: Haveli is a very respectable option for Indian food if you’re in the Fitchburg area. I applaud them for putting samosa chat on the buffet, which is not a typical buffet dish. Haveli’s traditional buffet offerings (chicken tikka masala, paneer, naan, beef curry) were decent, but their masala sauce had a deeper layer of flavors than most buffet masala sauces. The onion chutney was also better than normal with an extra spiciness. The other unique thing about Haveli is that their buffet is $8.95, which is a dollar less than all of the other Indian buffets…not a very significant amount, but could still be part of the decision-making process if deciding between two buffets.
In my opinion breakfast food is the best type of food. I have never been and will never be the person who “just doesn’t eat breakfast.” On busy mornings I still make time for oatmeal and a banana, but I love all types of breakfast options – eggs, toast, bacon, pancakes! And because I love breakfast food so much I love brunch and breakfast for dinner! I know I’m not alone in my love for breakfast food, which is why I was always a little disappointed by the breakfast offerings downtown. Recently, the Bassett Street Brunch Club opened, but there aren’t other places that serve breakfast all day downtown. So when I heard that the Short Stack Eatery opened right in the middle of State Street and would be serving breakfast all day, every day I thought I’d love it. Well I love the theory, but the execution didn’t work for me.
Short Stack Eatery is in a corner building so it has a ton of windows and is super bright and cheery. The brightly colored teal walls also add to the cheeriness. Table numbers are made with old license plates and tables are littered with old letters, maps and clippings, which is a cute way to bring in some nostalgia and Wisconsin pride. There’s a big counter in the middle that serves as a place for staff to huddle and diners to sit around. The huge chandelier made of whisks was my favorite!
We went on a busy Saturday morning after the farmer’s market and actually got a table right away, but only after we ordered at the counter. That was strike number one – I don’t like having to order and pay at a counter and then fight for a table while waiting for my food. Ordering at a counter also means we had to brave the busy drink station to get our own waters, silverware and even build a bloody Mary. I realize this makes me sound lazy, but the space Short Stack Eatery is in is way too small to make diners conglomerate around a small table for their drinks and utensils.
Their menu has all of the usual breakfast suspects: eggs, pancakes, french toast, etc. But then it has two unconventional options. A Pick Three option, which is exactly what it sounds like – they have a list of options and you get to pick three. The other one is a blind special, which again is exactly what it sounds like…but if you want to know what’s in it you get charged $12.95 and if you order it in blind faith it only costs $6.95, which in theory sounds good but you really have to be open for anything. The next strike against the Short Stack Eatery was the prices. A glass of orange juice is $4.25 – it is fresh-squeezed, but holy crap that is an expensive glass of orange juice. My meal was $8.95, which isn’t bad for breakfast, but the portions were just so freaking small it wasn’t a good deal.
So my $8.95 meal was the Pick Three option on the menu. I chose bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes from a list that also had breakfast potatoes, toast and a couple other things. I was shocked when my order came out. The two eggs barely seemed like one large egg, the two small pieces of bacon were laughable and the three pancakes were about the size of a coffee mug. Everything was good – the bacon was cooked just right, the eggs were fine and the pancakes were actually pretty good, but almost $10 for a couple bites of egg, two pieces of bacon and three small pancakes? I was very disappointed in the price for what I ended up getting. And even though their orange juice was fancy and fresh squeeze, nothing on my plate warranted the price tag.
FOOD NOTES: I really wanted to be excited about a fun new breakfast place downtown, but unless Short Stack Eatery drops their prices or increases their portion sizes I won’t be back. I was shocked with the small amount of food I got, but the food I did actually get served was decent. Unfortunately, because people who live downtown like trendy places like Short Stack Eatery they probably won’t be changing their prices or portion sizes anytime soon, and will probably be pretty successful. The decor was cute, but I really don’t like having to order at a counter and fight for a glass of water and a napkin at a drink station.
Down a side road on the Capitol Square sits a small restaurant with a big secret: great Korean food! Sol’s on the Square took over a great location on East Mifflin Street right next to the Bartell Theatre. It has big front windows, a heavy wooden door and bar along one side of the dining room. I never made it into any of the other restaurants that have been at that location so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but the decor and structure of the dining room seemed a little rough. The decor was a hodgepodge of items, some with a Korean feel and some not at all. The day I was there the floors were a little dirty and the entrance into the kitchen was oddly covered with a piece of fabric that allowed to you to see garbage and boxes on the floor.
Beyond the decor and cleanliness of the place, I had an amazing meal. We tried three of the most common dishes ordered and surprisingly my favorite was not the bibimbap. Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish served with rice, veggies, beef and an egg. All of the ingredients were cooked well, but the chili sauce that was supposed to be on the top either wasn’t very flavorful or was absent. I was looking for a flavorful sauce or broth to go along with the good meat and veggies in the bowl. I love the concept of the sunny side-up egg on the top, but once that was gone the dish was very bland.
Although I will be passing on the bibimbap in the future, the other two dishes we got were fantastic. The bulgogi is a tangy and sweet Korean BBQ beef that comes with rice. The beef was super tender and had amazing flavor. It was exactly 50 percent sweet and 50 perfect tangy, not too much of either. It was a great compliment to the extra spiciness of the third dish.
The third dish, dbeokbokki, was by far my favorite, but when it came out I was very skeptical. The dish is comprised of super thick rice noodles, onions, fish pieces, a hard boiled egg on top and a spicy red sauce. The noodles are chewy and very thick, but don’t let their look or texture turn you off, they are very good. The fish pieces were interesting. I was a little hesitant to try them, but the flat strips that I was told were fish were actually pretty good. Again, the texture was a bit odd, but they tasted great in the red sauce! The sauce was what made the dbeokbokki special. It had a great tangy flavor underneath the perfect level of spice!
We also got a plate of banchan. Banchan is basically small plates of food served alongside the main dishes. We got to try pickled radish, fish cakes (the same ones in the dbeokbokki) and kimichi. The kimchi was really good with the bulgogi, but I wasn’t a big fan of it on its own. It wasn’t too spicy, but the flavor was a bit harsh on its own. The radish was fine, but I was more excited about eating dbeokbokki at the time than the radish, and I was only able to eat one of the fish cakes because the flavor without any sauce was a bit odd.
Along with our main courses we got a small bowl of warm fish soup. It had onions floating on the top and looked really good, but it was bland and basically tasted like warm fishy water. I didn’t really think much of it.
FOOD NOTES: Going to a Korean restaurant was definitely a new experience for me, and I am glad I went with a friend who knew what we were eating! My word of suggestion is to branch out from what most people get, the bibimbap, and try something new. The bibimbap was fine, but nowhere near as good as the bulgogi or dbeokbokki. The banchans and fish soup I could do without, but the kimchi was good with the bulgogi. I was expecting the kimchi to have more of a kick, but the one we got just had a pickled flavor to it. Sol’s sold me on good Korean food, and I’m happy to say that my favorite dish was something other than bibimbap. There’s nothing bad about bibimbap, it’s just the go-to Korean dish and I’m extremely happy I got to try other really great types of Korean food and really liked it!