Unique flavors, dishes still focus of Kabul at new location

Kabul on State Street
Kabul on State Street

kabul doorKabul has been a staple on State Street for years, serving up mediterranean and Aghani food with unique flavors and one- of-a-kind dishes. They had to move out of their old location last year because of a massive construction project, and their loyal following was a little nervous about whether or not they would reopen. Several months after their original location (which I thought was always a little loud, crowded and had too much stuff on the walls) was torn down, they opened up less than a block away in a second-floor space that used to be part of Gino’s.

Front dining room facing State Street
Front dining room facing State Street
Bar area
Bar area

The menu stayed mostly the same with some updates, but the dining room is much different. Kabul’s new second-floor location features a bar and great overlooking State Street. I know it’s harder to run a business on the second floor, but I have always loved them (think Sunroom Cafe and Wasabi!). They feel calmer and are great for people watching. Kabul’s new location is just that…calmer, less cluttered and has great people-watching windows.

Mashawa soup
Mashawa soup
Mashawa soup
Mashawa soup

Michelle Li and I got to try a bunch of different dishes featured on both their lunch and dinner menus. We started with the mashawa soup that has lamb, chicken, beans and dill in it. The tomato-based soup was hearty, flavorful and had just a tiny kick of spice. The flavors were rich and balanced — it tasted like a professional version of the lentil and bean soup I try to make at home!

House salad with sauteed carrots and raisins
House salad with sauteed carrots and raisins

The house salad was pretty typical, but the housemade cucumber, mint, apple yogurt dressing made it phenomenal. I’m not usually a yogurt dressing fan, but this one was light, refreshing and had a little sweetness. It was also really great with their Afghan bread. I don’t think I would have ever gotten that dressing if I had a choice, but I’m glad we got to try it because it was so tasty and unique. Ours came with some sauteed raisins and carrots on top. The dinning room manager told us the carrots and raisins are usually served on top of rice, but they wanted us to try them. They were perfectly cooked, but I don’t love raisins so I didn’t love them on top of my salad.

Chutneys (from left: cilantro and jalapeno, cucumber/mint/apple yogurt dressing, tomato and pimento)
Chutneys (from left: cilantro and jalapeno, cucumber/mint/apple yogurt dressing, tomato and pimento)

Along with the bread we got to try two chutneys. The cilantro, jalapeno one was not my favorite (the soap thing again), but if you like cilantro it would probably be a good choice. The tomato, pimento one tasted less tomatoey than I was expecting. It had a unique, tangy flavor that I enjoyed, but I preferred dipping the bread in the cucumber, yogurt dressing!

Ashak
Ashak

Our first dish, which is actually listed as an appetizer on the dinner menu, was ashak. It is a steamed dumpling filled with scallions and topped with a meat or veggie sauce and yogurt. We got a meat and veggie combo. I’m not sure what made this dish so special, but it was by far my favorite. The dumplings were flatter than what I was expecting and had an egg-noodle quality to them. They were the perfect base for the flavorful veggie and meat sauces. The dish isn’t initially spicy, but a great flavorful spice hits once you’ve had a couple bites. The yogurt on top adds a fresh, cool taste and texture to the dish. Ashak has the consistency of chili with noodles, but the flavors are so much more developed and savory…it felt like an Afghani comfort food!

Lamb special
Lamb special

We also got to try the owner’s lamb special. I don’t have much info on what was in the lamb special (you know…it’s secret!), but it was very tasty. I don’t love lamb, but this lamb was perfectly cooked and was smothered in this really flavorful sauce that I’m guessing was tomato based. There were a ton of spices in the sauce that blended well, but it wasn’t hot spicey.

Stuffed chicken with cream sauce
Stuffed chicken with cream sauce

We also got to try the two types of stuffed chicken they serve at Kabul. The first one was the stuffed chicken with cream sauce. The basil cream sauce with pepper and mushrooms had an unexpected, but extremely appreciated tang to it. Michelle and I could have licked the plate of this one clean. The sauce was just so unexpectedly light and flavorful for a mushroom cream sauce. The chicken was stuffed with spinach, feta cheese and mushrooms and was a perfect vessel for the amazing sauce.

Stuffed chicken with raspberry sauce
Stuffed chicken with raspberry sauce

The second one was stuffed with the same ingredients, but came with a raspberry burgundy reduction sauce on top. I don’t love sweet fruit sauces with my savory entrees, so this one was definitely not my favorite. But if you like sweeter sauces, you would probably love this lighter version of the stuffed chicken.

kabul signFOOD NOTES: Don’t forget about Kabul in it’s new second-floor location. The new location boasts a full bar, a simple, welcoming atmosphere, and great windows for people watching! The traditional soup, bread and chutneys are great ways to start the meal, but make sure your Kabul experience includes the extremely unique and hearty ashak dish. Ashak could be an appetizer split by the table or an entire entree for one person. The stuffed chicken topped with the best and most uniquely flavored cream sauce I’ve ever had is also a must.

Tiny tavern boasts big cider menu, unique dishes

Cooper's Tavern
Coopers Tavern

One Madison restaurant that I took way too long to try out is Coopers Tavern. It’s near the top of State Street on the Capitol Square and has a super tiny dining room with a long bar on one side. It was busy the Friday night I went with a friend, and we had to wait basically inches from people already eating. Once we were seated the cramped dining room issues continued…I had to hook my purse on my knees and I was awkwardly bumped by two people who were hovering around the bar waiting for a table. Despite the super tight quarters the atmosphere at Coopers Tavern is rustic and welcoming.

Crispin blackberry, pear cider
Crispin blackberry, pear cider

I’m not a big drinker, but I do love a good gluten-free cider and Coopers Tavern has the largest selection of ciders I’ve seen. The Crispin blackberry and pear cider was light and refreshing. I could really taste the pear flavor, and even though the blackberry flavor was pretty much non-existent I still really liked it.

Cooper's Tavern Sconnie egg
Coopers Tavern Sconnie egg

We started with Coopers Tavern’s version of a scotch egg, the Sconnie egg. The Sconnie egg is a hard boiled egg wrapped in a Knoche’s market brat patty and fried. It is served with pickled vegetables and stout mustard. The Sconnie egg looks a little odd, but it tastes great. The hard boiled egg and the brat taste like breakfast and then they fry it…frying makes everything better! It’s a pretty heavy flavor profile, so the spicy, seedy mustard really adds a much-needed tang. I was really excited about the pickled vegetables, but they ended up not being good. They were pickled with anise and other warm spices, and I really didn’t like those flavors.

Cooper's Tavern steak and frites
Coopers Tavern steak and frites

I got the steak and frites as my entree. The marinated flank steak came served with blue cheese bone marrow butter, a homemade bourbon steak sauce, green beans and Belgian frites. The steak was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, but it was a pretty small portion for the price ($16.95). The bourbon steak sauce tasted pretty much like pre-packaged barbecue sauce, and even though it was good I was expecting it to be better. The fancy bone marrow butter didn’t taste as special as the description made it sound. The simple steamed green beans would have been better with some seasoning. The frites were classic frites — they were salted perfectly and fried to a crisp.

Cooper's Tavern pork belly mac
Coopers Tavern pork belly mac

My friend got the pork belly mac. The dubliner cheddar mac and cheese comes topped with Madison Sourdough bread crumbs and Guinness stout glazed berkshire pork belly. The sauce isn’t like traditional cheese sauce. It tasted like a fancier version of alfredo sauce. The glaze on the pork belly was sweet and tasted like it had brown sugar in it.

FOOD NOTES: Coopers Tavern has an extremely small dinning room that definitely makes waiting for your table that much more annoying. The gluten-free cider menu is a nice alternative to beer, and I loved the Sconnie egg. My steak and frites were good, but a little on the pricey side. The green beans were generic and the sauce on the steak had a pre-packaged quality to it, but the frites were perfectly crispy and salty. The pork belly mac was a little different than traditional mac and cheese, but it was good. The cider options and Sconnie egg will bring me back, but I will probably get a different entree.

Nostrano’s dessert has classic flavors, grand design

Nostrano
Nostrano

I don’t normally go for desserts, unless they’re included in the Restaurant Week menu. But the sweet and salty combos offered at Nostrano made for a pretty exciting dessert menu.

Nostrano panna cotta
Nostrano panna cotta

A friend and I went just for the desserts and split the gianduja chocolate panna cotta. When the dessert was delivered the first thing I noticed were chocolate crisps and small little chunks of glazed goodness. The glazed goodness ended up being toasted hazelnuts and toffee, which were amazing with the chocolate panna cotta. And the cherries were simmered with black pepper, which took down the sweetness factor and added a good savory element.

Nostrano pann cotta
Nostrano pann cotta

FOOD NOTES: Based on the yummy balance of sweet and salty, and creamy and crunchy Nostrano uses in their desserts, I hope to be blogging about their dinner menu sometime soon!

O.S.S.: Obviously stellar sausages

O.S.S.
O.S.S.

O.S.S. opened this year in a little brick building on Regent Street that has been vacant for a while. O.S.S. by all technical definitions is a sausage shop and the name can mean whatever you want it to mean – Old School Sausages, Open Source Sausages…they even take suggestions from customers. But no matter what O.S.S. means to you, it will also mean awesome sausages, fresh cheese curds and perfectly crispy hand-cut french fries. Plus, the menu uses locally sourced sausages and cheeses, which I absolutely love!

O.S.S. dining room
O.S.S. book table
O.S.S. dining room overlooking Regent Street
O.S.S. dining room overlooking Regent Street

The tiny brick building is conspicuously signed with a side entrance and a hidden back patio. The dining room is flanked on both sides by long, communal tables with a mix of chairs and stools. The entire place has a unique, industrial feel to it with warm touches — the legs on one of the long tables is made out of a stack of books! There’s also a whimsical feeling because they won’t really tell you what O.S.S. stands for, yet you can find the initials and possible definitions scattered throughout.

O.S.S. bahn mi
O.S.S. bahn mi
O.S.S. bahn mi
O.S.S. bahn mi

The bahn mi sausage, which the manager said is one of their best sellers, had some real potential. The sriracha mayo added a great spice to the heavier sausage, and the cabbage slaw gave the entire thing a much-needed crunch. I could have done without the cilantro, and the whole jalapeno slices could have been cut smaller as to avoid an entire mouthful of unbalanced spice. But the slaw mixed with the mayo and sausage was a great combination.

O.S.S. Chicago dog
O.S.S. Chicago dog

The traditional Chicago dog was pretty awesome. It is a traditional hot dog with tomatoes, onions, relish, a pickle, celery salt, sport peppers and mustard. The hearty bun was just the right size to contain all of the top-notch ingredients. The peppers and the pickle added a great spice and saltiness to the dog, and the freshness of the tomatoes and onions was very welcome. I’ve never had a Chicago dog in Chicago, but I can’t imagine they could be any better.

O.S.S. fried cheese curds
O.S.S. fried cheese curds
O.S.S. curds with special sweet mustard
O.S.S. curds with special sweet mustard

The hand-battered cheese curds were pretty phenomenal. They were stringy and melty with a perfectly light and crunchy batter. They were probably the freshest fried cheese curds I’ve ever had. The manager told us you can also order them spun in sauces, like chicken wings…which sounded very interesting, but we opted for the traditional curds. The curds came with a special sweet mustard from the National Mustard Museum. The mustard was sweet and a little tangy, but the curds were good enough on their own.

O.S.S. fries
O.S.S. fries

The hand-cut fries were just as prefect as french fries can get. The fries still had the skins on them, and all of them were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The entire batch had just the right amount of salt, and they even came with a stray cheese curd!

FOOD NOTES: This sausage shop is an awesome addition to the Regent Street area. Regent Street has never been a food destination for me, and O.S.S. really changes that. Their take on traditional cheese curds and hand-cut french fries shows that making fried sides fresh and with quality ingredients really pays off. I enjoyed both sausages I’ve tried, but I really want to try some of their special dogs they’ve posted on Facebook (Swissco Bacon Mac Dog, the Assadura and the Tikka Masala…yum!).

Capitol Chophouse tops #restaurantweek meals

Capitol Chophouse
Capitol Chophouse

I’ve been trying restaurants during Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Weeks for four years, but my last stop during this summer’s Restaurant Week was by far the best meal I’ve gotten off of a Restaurant Week menu so far. Capitol Chophouse is a slightly hidden restaurant that is attached to the Hilton Hotel right off the square near Monona Terrace. The dining room features big leather booths and dark wood walls, with clean white linens and classic dishes. It feels like a high-class supper club, even though it’s attached to a hotel.

Market tomato salad
Market tomato salad
Smoked salmon fritters
Smoked salmon fritters
French onion gratin
French onion gratin

For restaurant week the appetizer choices were a market tomato salad, smoked salmon fritters and French onion gratin. My friends got the smoked salmon fritters and the market tomato salad. Both were happy with their choices. I got the French onion gratin. I’m not sure what I was expecting when the menu said the appetizer was a “gratin” but it was basically baked French onion soup. Admittedly, it was the best French onion soup I’ve ever had. The onions and the broth were so flavorful with the perfect balance of onion flavor and savory broth. The chunks of bread inside the soup were not too mushy, which means it was probably made-to-order. And the swiss cheese melted on top was thick, creamy and didn’t have too much of a strong swiss flavor. It was a perfect first course for my final summer 2014 Restaurant Week meal.

Alaskan halibut
Alaskan halibut
Roast Berkshire pork
Roast Berkshire pork
New York strip steak
New York strip steak

For entrees they were offering a New York strip steak, roast Berkshire pork and Alaskan halibut. The two extremely generous slices of roast pork came on top of coffee mole sauce that tasted odd on its own, but paired very well with the perfectly cooked pork. The two equally generous pieces of halibut came in a white wine butter sauce with capers on top. The fish was also cooked perfectly, and the sauce was pleasantly light despite its name. Since we were in a chophouse I opted for the New York strip steak. Unlike my previous steakhouse experience that week, the people running Capitol Chophouse’s kitchen definitely knew how to cook a medium rare steak. The chimichurri vinaigrette that was drizzled on top added a good tang. The amount of the sauce was perfect. There was just enough to taste it, but I was still able to taste the perfectly charred and seasoned steak.

Capitol Chophouse mashed potatoes
Capitol Chophouse mashed potatoes

In addition to this being the best Restaurant Week meal I’ve ever had, it was also the most expensive. Because the menu at Capitol Chophouse is served a la carte, we had to order our sides separately. With some guidance from one of the servers, we ordered two sides to split between the three of us. I’m glad we decided to split the sides because what was delivered can only be described as a serving bowl of family-style sides…definitely not an individual serving. I was also excited to try more than one side. The mashed potatoes were just the way I like them – made with red potatoes with the skins, a little garlicky and a little lumpy. For our second side we got the lobster mac and cheese (forgot to take a picture…sad), which was super decadent. It is al dente elbow macaroni smothered in a rich cheese sauce with chunks of lobster sprinkled generously throughout. I could have made a meal out of just the sides, but I’m glad I didn’t!

Chocolate terrine
Chocolate terrine
Peach cobbler
Peach cobbler

For desserts we could choose between a chocolate terrine, a Wisconsin cheese plate or peach cobbler. One of my friends got the chocolate terrine, which was this thick chocolate fudge-like substance topped with another white custardy substance. Both were extremely good. There were also little fluffs of toasted meringue on the side. Two of us got the peach cobbler. The cobbler had to have been baked to order, because it was so hot, when we broke into the crust steam started pouring out. The vanilla bean ice cream was melting so fast mine started dripping dow the side of my ramekin. I’m not the biggest fan of peach, but this dessert made me forget that. The peaches were in a light sauce that wasn’t too sweet or syrupy, and the crumbles on top were crunchy and tasted vanilla-y and hardy. The combination of the hot cobbler with the vanilla bean ice cream was a home run.

FOOD NOTES: There were so many high points to this meal, I’m not really sure where to even start. The atmosphere was great. The service was good, but not overbearing. My appetizer, entree, sides and dessert were phenomenal. I was extremely happy with everything, and I wasn’t even upset with the price of the meal, because I did take leftovers home. I’m more of a savory person over sweets, but to this day I think about that peach cobbler and ice cream dessert.

Rare Steakhouse’s #restaurantweek was not ‘well done’

Rare Steakhouse
Rare Steakhouse

I love steakhouses, and expect them to serve up tasty dishes, big servings, classic options and above all, be able to cook a perfect medium rare steak. Rare Steakhouse is right on the Capitol Square and opened just a couple weeks before Madison Magazine’s summer Restaurant Week. Unfortunately, I don’t think those three weeks gave Rare enough time to perfect the art of cooking a medium rare steak.

Rare smokey popcorn
Rare smokey popcorn
Rare smoked salmon nachos
Rare smoked salmon nachos

Their appetizers for the Restaurant Week menu were definitely not classic steakhouse appetizers.We chose the smokey popcorn and the smoked salmon nachos. We decided not to get the oyster shooter (served bloody Mary style). The smokey popcorn was supposed to have smoked paprika on it, but it tasted like slightly salted buttered popcorn. It was good, but not what the menu promised. The smoked salmon nachos was a confusing dish. It had wontons, smoked salmon, confit tomatoes and wasabi cream sauce. The salmon was mushy and the wasabi cream sauce didn’t have any wasabi kick. The individual components of the dish were really not great separately, but when I finally got a bite of all four components together it was pretty good. The bad news is that there wasn’t enough salmon or tomatoes to get some in each bite.

Rare sirloin (I was so excited to try the steak at this new steakhouse, this was all that was left when I remembered to take a picture)
Rare sirloin (I was so excited to try the steak at this new steakhouse, this was all that was left when I remembered to take a picture)

For entrees there really is only one choice at a steakhouse – the top sirloin. During restaurant week they also offered gnocchi and beef sliders. My mom and I would have tried the gnocchi if it had said they were homemade on the menu, but we didn’t find that out until after we had ordered, so we both got the top sirloin with potatoes, asparagus and a demi sauce. We both ordered our steak medium rare and mine came out unevenly cooked. Part of it was medium and the other part was medium well…neither half of the steak was anywhere near medium rare. The steak had an interesting rub on it that had a little bit of a citrus flavor. I didn’t love it or hate it. I did hate that my steak was so tough I felt like I was chewing beef jerky. My mom’s steak was also unevenly cooked, but it was closer to medium rare than mine. The potatoes were tender and salted well, and the asparagus was al dente with a savory, not overwhelming sauce.

Rare chocolate cake
Rare chocolate cake
Rare creme brulee
Rare creme brulee

For dessert we got to choose between creme brulee, profiteroles and chocolate cake. I got the chocolate cake, which was super tiny. It was moist and not too sweet, but nothing better than a typical chocolate cake. My mom got the creme brulee, which ended up being the highlight of the meal. The flavor of the day was hibiscus with vanilla bean. The creme brulee custard was a vibrant purple color, and it had a great flavor that was sweet but also slightly tangy. It was the most uniquely flavored creme brulee I’ve ever had.

Rare dining room
Rare dining room
Rare bar
Rare bar

The one thing that Rare did really well was their atmosphere. The restaurant is broken into a couple different dining rooms – a bar area, an area with big leather booths and the library. The bar area features dark wood, shiny chandeliers and black tin ceilings. The library is an elegantly lit room with big comfy chairs. The one annoying thing about the atmosphere was the service. The servers are extremely attentive, almost to a detriment, and they make what seems like too much of an effort to have in-depth conversations with you.

FOOD NOTES: I thought the quality of the appetizers at Rare could have been better, and I was also extremely disappointed about their ability to correctly cook a medium rare steak. The most important part of being a steakhouse is to be able to correctly cook a steak to order…and Rare failed twice during my Restaurant Week visit. The sides were typical, and the chocolate cake was standard. The best part of the meal was the unexpected flavor and quality of the hibiscus creme brulee. Based on the high prices on their regular menu, I won’t be going back for a while. Hopefully their kitchen will learn how to properly cook a steak, and even if they do I’m not sure the meal and experience would be worth the money.

Flavors shine through rough special menu at UW Club

The University Club
The University Club

During the amazing four years I spent at the University of Wisconsin I walked past the University Club weekly, and probably closer to daily the year I lived off State Street. But I never ate there because I thought you had to be a member. Once I graduated I looked into the club rules and found that non club members can eat there for breakfast and lunch. I had heard their breakfasts were pretty good, so when I saw a posting for a locavore lunch I asked a friend to go. Their locavore lunch is kind of like restaurant week, where you get to choose an appetizer, entree and dessert from a special menu, but during locavore week they focus on ingredients from local farms and vendors.

University Club salad
University Club salad

I  was surprised by the quality of the food, but disappointed by the continuity between the menu and what I was served. The salad I ordered was supposed to be a roasted sweet corn salad with shallot vinaigrette, micro greens, rabbit confit and radish. What I got was extremely good, but was not a sweet corn salad. In fact, there wasn’t a single piece of corn in the salad. It was a pretty good serving of arugula with a creamy vinaigrette of sorts, a small amount of rabbit confit, and and some slivers of radish. The salad itself was fantastic (especially the rich rabbit confit with the crisp radish and peppery arugula), but based on what I was expecting I was a bit annoyed.

University Club beef kabobs, grilled corn, cilantro-lime rice
University Club beef kabobs, grilled corn, cilantro-lime rice

The beef kabob was inconsistently cooked, but had a good flavor. The cumin grilled sweet corn (maybe this was the corn that was supposed to be in my salad!) was perfectly grilled and had an amazing char. The corn was billed as cumin grilled sweet corn, but even though I loved the flavor I didn’t taste any cumin. The kabob was supposed to come with a lemon-garlic rice pilaf, but it ended up being cilantro lime rice. As you may know based on previous reviews, I really hate cilantro. If I had known the dish came with cilantro-lime rice I probably would have gotten something else.

University Club baklava, ice cream
University Club baklava, ice cream

For dessert I got the baklava with Babcock ice cream. The ice cream was amazing (obviously because it was Babcock) and the baklava was great. It wasn’t too sticky or overly sweet, and it actually had a bit more cinnamon than normal, which was unexpectedly good. The serving size was also larger than the other two courses, which was unexpected, and given the quality of the dessert I was happy it was bigger than anticipated!

FOOD NOTES: I am very torn about my experience at the University Club. My salad was fantastic, but it was not at all what I ordered. The beef kabobs were fine and the sweet corn was good, but the cilantro lime rice was an unwelcome surprise. The baklava was good, and the ice cream was fantastic. I had high hopes for this iconic place on my campus, and I left mildly disappointed. The service was slow, and based on what I saw other people were ordering from the regular menu and what I got, I was not impressed. I do have a strong desire to like the University Club because of my UW pride, but I’m not sure I’ll be back for lunch. I might give breakfast a try though.

DLux: Aptly describes burgers, fries, drinks at downtown eatery

DLux (Photo: Jessica Omdahl)
DLux (Photo: Jessica Omdahl)

If you’re lucky enough to get one of the coveted half-dozen tables outside looking up at the Capitol at DLux, you’re experience will be just a great as mine. I’ve been to DLux three times now, and all three times I have sat outside. Their outdoor seating is just one block down from the Capitol, and if you’re facing the right way you will get a glimpse of Monona Terrace. It’s a great way, even on a hot afternoon, to enjoy their great food.

Dlux Hawaii 5-O
Dlux Hawaii 5-O

DLux has a pretty simple menu. They have a couple appetizers, a couple salads, about a dozen burgers and sandwiches and then a la carte sides. In addition to their drink menu, they also have shakes that can be ordered with or without alcohol. When I went with friends we decided to make dinner an event and get some drinks. I got the Hawaii 5-O with vodka, pineapple juice and house-made strawberry and ginger soda. Despite the drinks odd name, it is exceedingly refreshing and dangerously tasty. I definitely recommend any of their cocktails made with their house-made soda.

DLux fried pickles
DLux fried pickles

We also got the fried pickles to enjoy with our drinks. They weren’t the greatest fried pickles I’ve ever had, but they were definitely tasty. The breading was a little heavy, but they were surprisingly not greasy. The serving was just enough to keep my friend and I happy while waiting for the rest of our food.

DLux couch potato burger, parmesan and truffle cream fries
DLux couch potato burger, parmesan and truffle cream fries

Their burger choices range from a normal burger with lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles to more interesting options. I got the couch potato burger, which comes with house-made french onion dip, pepper jack cheese and potato chips. The combination sounded great and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The pepper jack cheese added just enough spice to the burger. The french onion dip and potato chips are a great combo on their own, and are also pretty great on top of a burger. I know I’m not the only person who has put potato chips on the inside of a sandwich…well, DLux does it for you on a pretty great burger!

I’m a huge fan of French fries and they have been known to make or break a restaurant for me. At DLux, their french fries definitely do not disappoint. The french fries themselves are pretty standard — super fluffy, not greasy, and they look hand cut. The sauce options are what put their French fries over the top. This time I got the parmesan and truffle fries. The white truffle sauce was perfectly rich and creamy, and the parmesan added a good sharp, nutty flavor. But the other two times I’ve been there I got the sharp cheddar and green onion fries. The sharp cheddar sauce is pretty spectacular. It looks like bad nacho cheese sauce, but it’s amazingly cheesy and creamy, and not at all greasy. It is shocking how much flavor is in this sharp cheddar sauce. The sliced green onions cut through the heaviness of the sharp cheddar sauce perfectly. There really isn’t much that compares to a good French fry covered in cheese sauce goodness.

FOOD NOTES: In my three visits to DLux I have never been disappointed. The couch potato burger is a great combination of good ingredients and interesting flavors. The fried pickles are a good starter and go well with the great drinks made with house-made sodas. And their French fries with spectacular sauces are awesome. Their menu is so simple. How much simpler can you get than French fries, burgers, house-made sodas and milk shakes? But their interesting combinations, quality ingredients, great flavors and awesome outdoor patio put the dining experience over the top. I highly recommend DLux for classic food made in interesting ways with quality ingredients.

Short Stack Eatery’s breakfast comes up short

Short Stack Eatery counter
Short Stack Eatery counter

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
Short Stack Eatery
Short Stack Eatery table, number
Short Stack Eatery table, number

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!

Short Stack Eatery chandelier
Short Stack Eatery chandelier

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.

Short Stack Eatery Pick Three
Short Stack Eatery Pick Three

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.

Short Stack Eatery pancakes
Short Stack Eatery pancakes
Short Stack Eatery eggs and bacon
Short Stack Eatery eggs and bacon

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.

Small restaurant near Capitol has big secret: great Korean food

Sol's on the Square
Sol’s on the Square

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.

Sol's
Sol’s
Sol's bar, dining room
Sol’s bar, dining room
Sol's bibimbap
Sol’s bibimbap

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.

Sol's bulgogi
Sol’s bulgogi

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.

Sol's dbeokbokki
Sol’s dbeokbokki

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!

Sol's banchan: fish cakes, pickled yellow radish, kimchi
Sol’s banchan: fish cakes, pickled yellow radish, kimchi

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.

Fish soup
Fish soup

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.

Sol's front sitting area
Sol’s front sitting area

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!