Everly does veggies better than everyone

Bluephies wasn’t my favorite Food Fight restaurant, but I was sad to see it go. It had some unique dishes, a funky atmosphere and great dessert…am I the only one who will miss the deep fried cookie dough? So when I heard the restaurant replacing it was going to focus on vegetables I was a little disappointed. But boy was I proved wrong when I visited Everly during winter Restaurant Week.

First let’s talk about the remodel…it’s very bright, white and clean inside. The door has been moved and the space seems much larger even though a chunk of the old Bluephies is now another Food Fight restaurant, Miko Poke. They also popped a chunk of the wall out and put in a big glass wall for the bar. It’s definitely an improvement from the Bluephies space…which I didn’t even think needed an improvement.

celery root bisque

roasted cauliflower

For the Restaurant Week menu, they had some of their menu items and some special items. My friend got the celery root bisque and I got the roasted cauliflower…thinking, “Come on! How can cauliflower be an appetizer on it’s own?” When the small bowl of cauliflower came out and I reluctantly claimed it from the waittress and looked at it with pickled vegetables, parsley, garlic and lemon on top. After the first bite…I was hooked. I’m not sure how you make cauliflower like this…it was crispy and salty and more flavorful than most non-vegetarian food that come out of my kitchen. If I could make cauliflower like that, I’d make it every week!

roasted chicken sandwich

heritage pork sandwich

Their entree options were smoked whitefish toast, roasted chicken sandwich, braised heritage pork sandwich and a So-Cal grain bowl. I went with the pork sandwich…because when I ordered I was just so excited to see a non-veggie option on the entrees list that I went with the heaviest one. The sandwich came with pickles, buttermilk slaw, Fresno chiles, red onions and bibb lettuce on top. And for sides I got the herb roasted potatoes, but you could also get a kale salad. Everything about this dish was perfect. The bun was soft but toasted, the pork was tender and had a flavorful BBQ sauce on it. The pickles were tangy. The slaw was crispy, light and creamy. The potatoes were crispy and salty. I have nothing bad to say about the sandwich or the side.

For dessert we both got the chocolate mousse, and for one las time the disappointment sunk in when I saw how small the bowl of chocolate mousse was. But I was wrong again! This mousse was so dense and so rich that I could barely finish the tiny amount I was given. My one and only tiny complaint about the dessert was the orange peel on top…it was chewy and sparse so when I did get a chunk it was unwanted. I eventually picked most of it off.

FOOD NOTES: Everly definitely does veggies better than most restaurants. But the good news is they also do pork and chicken and desserts really well too! This goes down in the books as one of the top three Restaurant Week meals I’ve ever had. I want to go back and try the So-Cal bowl and their brunch, especially now that their patio should be open for the season!

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Classic steak, seafood best enjoyed on patio at Mariner’s Inn

There are a handful of places in Madison that make you feel like you’re not in the middle of a city of a quarter of a million people — picnic point, the UW Arboretum, Wingra Park and the docks on the north side of Lake Mendota. Luckily for us, the Von Rutenberg family put a very nice Wisconsin supper club right on the north shore so we could enjoy some good food with that great view.

Lake Mendota

Lake Mendota

The Mariner’s Inn really is a classic steak and seafood restaurant, but what makes it special is the outdoor patio and the view. I went on a beautiful Sunday night with a friend for Restaurant Week in July. The patio was the perfect spot to enjoy our three-course meal.

Mariner's Inn clam chowder

Mariner’s Inn clam chowder

Their clam chowder was the perfect starter. It was creamy and peppery, and had big chunks of potatoes and clams. I’ve had clam chowder that tastes fishy, but this one had the right amount of saltiness without being fishy.

Mariner's Inn tenderloin of romance

Mariner’s Inn tenderloin of romance

Mariner's Inn hashbrowns

Mariner’s Inn hashbrowns

For entrees they had surf and turf, shrimp, salmon and a tenderloin dish. The tenderloin of romance, as they called it, was a tenderloin, three scallops and crab meat served with a béarnaise sauce and asparagus. The tenderloin was perfectly cooked and it paired really well with the sauce. I thought the crab meat might be too much with the bearnaise sauce, but it was pretty good. The asparagus was also really good with the crab meat and sauce. I’m not a huge fan of scallops, but these were perfectly cooked, which means they were buttery and delicious. We also got an order of hasbrowns, which were hot and crispy, but a little salty.

Mariner's Inn key lime pie

Mariner’s Inn key lime pie

Mariner’s cheesecake with Door County cherry sauce

Mariner’s cheesecake with Door County cherry sauce

For dessert we got the cheesecake and the key lime pie. The key lime pie was fantastic. It was sweet and tart, but not too tart and the crust was buttery and crumbly. The cheesecake was also very good. I don’t like cherry desserts, but the sauce was the perfect combo of sweet and tart.

FOOD NOTES: The food at the Mariner’s Inn is classic supper club food. It’s good, but the view from the patio is what makes the experience at the Mariner’s Inn special. The clam chowder was the best I’ve ever had, and the rest of the meal followed suit, but I would highly suggest all Mariner’s Inn dining experiences be out on the patio.

43 North’s tiny portions, bland dishes disappoint during Restaurant Week

My third Restaurant Week stop in January was at 43 North on King Street. Based on their normal menu, the tiny “modern bistro” features classic appetizers, salads and entrees with modern twists (different sauces, interesting ingredient combinations). But I’ve learned that anything with the word “bistro” in the description usually means the portions are small and 43 North was no exception. Usually the point of small dishes is that the flavor makes up for the size, but that was not the case with the dishes I tried at 43 North.

**NOTE: sorry about the bad pictures…it was super dark in there!

43 North roasted dates

43 North roasted dates

43 North sweet potato soup

43 North sweet potato soup

For appetizers they were offering a radish salad, roasted dates with goat cheese and a sweet potato soup, which is what I got. The soup was smooth, but not creamy and didn’t have any complex flavors. It just tasted like savory sweet potato puree. To be honest, it almost tasted like it had curry in it, but that was not in the description. It was not memorable.

43 North game hen

43 North game hen

43 North curried cauliflower

43 North curried cauliflower

The entree options seemed to have more components. The two friends I went with got game hen with lentils, thyme vinaigrette, bacon and butternut squash, and curried cauliflower with polenta, kale and eggplant. The curried cauliflower had a very light (almost nonexistent and less than the sweet potato soup) curry flavor.

43 North salmon

43 North salmon

I got the salmon with red potato, spinach and mushroom ragout. I will use two words to describe the dish: small and boring. My salmon was cooked well and was crispy on the outside, but it was the absolute smallest piece of fish I have ever been served at a restaurant. The spinach was unremarkable and the mushroom ragout was lacking the savory flavor I expect from mushroom sauces. The red potatoes were mixed in with the mushroom ragout, so I can’t imagine they had any great flavor on their own.

43 North pavlova

43 North pavlova

The dessert options actually sounded the most exciting. They offered a Wisconsin cheese platter with jam and mustard (but the cheese options were a blue cheese and goat cheese — why not offer a cheddar?) and a very interesting dessert called a Pavlova. After some research we learned it is a meringue-based cake with a crisp crust and usually topped with fruit and whipped cream. The Pavlova at 43 North came with coconut cream, blackberries and passion fruit coulis. It looked very interesting, but because of the coconut I didn’t try it.

43 North almond panna cotta

43 North almond panna cotta

I got the almond panna cotta with balsamic macerated strawberries and hazelnut shortbread. The panna cotta was light in texture, but had a dense vanilla-y, almond flavor. The panna cotta by itself was the single best part of my meal. The toppings were a little odd. The balsamic macerated strawberries just tasted like cooked strawberries…I was missing the sweet tang I was expecting from the balsamic vinegar. The hazelnut shortbread was hard to identify. I was expecting it to be a cookie or larger chunks, but it was basically crumbles on top that I kept trying to scoop up. I’m not sure what the hazelnut shortbread tasted like because I could never get enough in one bite to get a good sense of its flavor.

FOOD NOTES: All in all, I was pretty disappointed with my meal at 43 North. The soup was lacking in flavor. The salmon dish featured a perfectly cooked piece of fish, but everything else on the plate was bland. The dessert was the best part, but only the panna cotta. The toppings followed suit with the rest of the meal — boring flavors and small amounts (why does a hazelnut shortbread have to be mashed into minuscule pieces instead of served in larger, edible chunks?). I’m glad I finally got to try 43 North (especially during Restaurant Week when I didn’t shell out a ton of money), because now I know it belongs on my “do not visit” list.

Steenbock’s difficult location overshadows tasty lunch dishes

steenbock'sSteenbock’s on Orchard has been a mystery to me since it opened. It’s a Food Fight restaurant located inside the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery research building right in the middle of campus. The building is beautiful and open and feels very academic with a ton of UW pride dotted throughout the main floor. The website describes the menu as “designed to highlight local and seasonal ingredients at their best.” They serve “local meats, cheeses and vegetables while making our own jams and curing our own meats in our preservation kitchen.” The mix between academic research labs and this restaurant has always seemed odd, but intriguing.

Steenbock's dining room

Steenbock’s dining room

I’m torn about the location. The building was beautiful and I love being on campus, but getting there was painful. All three lots somewhat near the WID building were full and we were extremely lucky to get a parking spot on the street by the business school. If I’m ever back on campus regularly or for a special occasion I would totally go to Steenbock’s, but I won’t go back just for the food…it’s just too hard to get to!

Steenbock's spinach salad with warm bacon dressing

Steenbock’s spinach salad with warm bacon dressing

My restaurant week meal started with a spinach salad that came with warm bacon dressing. The hearty spinach was the perfect base for the bacon dressing and the roasted tomatoes added a much-needed tangy flavor. I didn’t love the blue cheese on top, but I’m not a fan of blue cheese to begin with.

Steenbock's Korean ribs

Steenbock’s Korean ribs

My friend Nicole got the Korean BBQ ribs with french fries for her entree. The ribs were a little tough, but the sauce was tangy and had a good spice. I didn’t necessarily think it tasted like Korean BBQ, but they were good. The french fries were my favorite part of her dish! They were crispy, hot and perfectly salted.

Steenbock's chicken with brussel sprouts and bacon

Steenbock’s chicken with brussel sprouts and bacon

I decided to go with the chicken, which is odd because I usually don’t get chicken at restaurants because I make it so much at home. The best part of the chicken dish I got was the plentiful amount of bacon that came with it. The brussel sprouts and potatoes came in a light olive oil sauce with crispy pancetta…I usually like brussel sprouts, but adding pancetta makes them so much better! The chicken was moist and the skin was crispy, but the bacon crumbles between the meat and the skin was what made it special. I’m not sure what was in the crumble other than bacon, but it was super savory and good enough to make me want to order the chicken dish again. Bacon makes everything better!

Steenbock's croissant bread pudding

Steenbock’s croissant bread pudding

They only had one dessert option, but it was so good I wasn’t upset with the lack of choices. The marble croissant bread pudding was something so unique I’m not sure how to start explaining it, but I’ll try — it was bread pudding made with flaky, buttery chunks of plain and chocolate croissants. There was some sort of sweet sauce on top, some powdered sugar and two raspberries. The bread pudding itself was so good, it didn’t need the toppings. The plain croissant was sweet and buttery, while the chocolate croissant was rich and slightly bitter — the combination made for a substantial, but not too sweet dessert!

FOOD NOTES: The difficulty level of getting to Steenbock’s if you’re not already on campus really overshadows the tasty food. My Restaurant Week appetizer was an unimpressive salad, but my chicken entree was stellar and my dessert was probably one of the top 3 Restaurant Week desserts I’ve had over the last 6 years. If you’re on campus and looking for a great lunch…check out Steenbock’s, if you’re not already on campus look somewhere else.

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.

Nau-Ti-Gal’s carefree atmosphere adds to #restaurantweek meal

Nau-Ti-Gal

Nau-Ti-Gal

Nau-Ti-Gal outside seating

Nau-Ti-Gal outside seating

There are dozens of restaurants in Madison that offer quaint and relaxing atmospheres, but in my experience none offer a place that makes you forget you’re in Wisconsin’s capital city of 240,000 people quite like Nau-Ti-Gal (pronounced like “naughty gal” TEEHEE!). The best part of Nau-Ti-Gal is its outside eating areas. There’s the area on the covered back deck and then tables in the back yard, both face a small inlet waterway on the north end of Lake Mendota. The casual seating on the back deck features colorful plastic chairs and nautical-like ropes as the railings. Even though it was warm that night, the shade of the back deck and the breeze off the water kept us comfortable.

Nau-Ti-Gal clam chowder

Nau-Ti-Gal clam chowder

For restaurant week we got to choose an appetizer, entree and dessert. For entrees we could choose between clam chowder, firecracker shrimp or a summer strawberry salad. I got the clam chowder, which was served in a big Nau-Ti-Gal mug and topped with crunchy croutons. The chowder itself was creamy, but not too heavy and had oversized, perfectly cooked chunks of potatoes and celery. Compared to other clam chowders I’ve had, Nau-Ti-Gal’s had more clams in it and a perfectly salty flavor that cut through the creaminess of the soup. My mom got the summer strawberry salad, and loved the fresh ingredients and that the kitchen was willing to substitute feta cheese for the blue cheese that was supposed to come on top.

Nau-Ti-Gal surf and turf

Nau-Ti-Gal surf and turf

For entrees we could choose between shrimp and grits, salmon, or a surf and turf. Both of us got the surf and turf, which also came with a side. We chose the garlic mashed potatoes, which were definitely mass produced but still featured red potato skins, a savory garlic flavor and had unassuming lumps – which I loved. The lobster was good, but not as good as everyone always makes lobster sound. This was my first lobster tail (I’ve had lobster in dishes, but never a full lobster tail), and I’m assuming because it was served in south central Wisconsin, it wasn’t as fresh and good as you would get on the coast. The steak was perfectly cooked, was seasoned well but not too salty, and was big enough to take half of it home for lunch the next day.

Nau-Ti-Gal rocky road brownie sundae

Nau-Ti-Gal rocky road brownie sundae

Nau-Ti-Gal key lime pie

Nau-Ti-Gal key lime pie

For dessert we could choose between key lime pie, strawberry shortcake or a rocky road brownie sundae. I got the rocky road brownie sundae, which came out in a massive serving. It was extremely simple, but that made it even better. It was an extremely well-done classic dessert with vanilla bean ice cream on top of a brownie, topped with chocolate chips, peanuts, chocolate sauce and marshmallow cream. It was an awesome end to a great meal. My mom got the key lime pie, and said it was refreshing and tasty.

Nau-Ti-Gal

Nau-Ti-Gal

FOOD NOTES: Other than being slightly disappointed with lobster in general, the meal I got at Nau-Ti-Gal was great. I loved the presentation of the clam chowder, and the soup itself was made with quality ingredients, and was perfectly creamy and salty. The surf and turf entree was a good choice. The steak was seasoned and cooked well, and the mashed potatoes were quality even though they seemed like they were made ahead of time. The rocky road brownie sundae was surprisingly simple, but extremely good. The seating was odd because you had to go inside to check in, but then also check in with someone outside to be seated, but the servers were extremely nice and helpful. I also loved the carefree, relaxing atmosphere and the casual outdoor seating. My first meal of Madison Magazine’s Summer 2014 Restaurant Week at Nau-Ti-Gal was a success!