Expect quality food, pricier menu at Jacs on Monroe

Jacs
Jacs

There are countless options for a unique dining experience at upscale pub-style restaurants in downtown Madison, but there’s not very many similar options outside the isthmus. Jacs on Monroe Street is a newish addition to the near west side that is similar to what you would expect from upscale pubs on the Capitol Square. Jacs offers its own unique menu options along with dishes very similar to Brasserie V, like mussels or steak with frites.

Jacs
Jacs

The small brick building is sandwiched in between Michael’s Frozen Custard and a strip mall with a coffee stop, cat supply store and Indian restaurant. The best feature of the restaurant is its huge pair of front windows that bring in light to the dark dining room and allow for ample people watching. We showed up a bit before the dinner rush and got one of the coveted window seats. By 5:15 the entire place was packed with groups of people, couples and families.

Jac's ploughman's platter
Jacs ploughman’s platter

We started with the ploughman’s platter, which is a cheese board with interesting pairings. The platter comes with two types of cheese (I’m assuming they change because they were written on a chalk board). We got an aged cheddar and a truffled goat cheese. The aged cheddar was bold and nutty and perfect for a cheese board. I usually don’t like goat cheese, but this one was actually pretty good (although it did come out with some mold on it…we weren’t sure if that was a cheese thing or not so we just cut off the really moldy parts). The platter also came with some Bavaria sausage, honey, bread, housemade jam, grapes, sliced apple and pear, walnuts and mini tomatoes. It was beautifully presented and most of the ingredients were top-notch (I am still hung up on the mold that was on our goat cheese). Even though it was a great starter to our meal it was a bit on the expensive side for the price. I’m not sure I would want the platter to be any bigger, but I think the price should be less.

Jacs gnocchi
Jacs gnocchi
Jacs beet gnocchi
Jacs beet gnocchi

My mom got the special, which was housemade beet gnocchi with kale, hen of the woods mushrooms and pork belly. The gnocchi was denser and larger than the average gnocchi, but because it wasn’t in a heavy sauce they worked. The mushrooms and kale went really well with the earthiness of the beet flavor, and the pork belly added a much-needed saltiness to the simpler ingredients. There was a light sauce, probably mostly olive oil, that kept the dish from becoming too heavy. If there had been a creamy sauce on top it would have overwhelmed the great flavors of the simple ingredients.

Jacs steak
Jacs steak

I got the steak and frites because again, I always judge the quality of a restaurant by their steak and french fries. My steak was perfectly cooked with a great sear on the outside. It was seasoned very well, and had a little something extra that tasted like more than just salt and pepper. I love a traditional steak browned with just salt and pepper as seasoning, but this had a little additional kick of flavor that I couldn’t ID — but it was great! The sauteed spinach and kale under the steak was way too salty and tasted like it was a forgotten side. Greens can be really great when paid a little bit of attention, but these were overcooked and so salty that they were inedible alone (I took them home and sauteed them up with some egg whites for breakfast the next day…the extra salt worked well when balanced with the bland egg whites).

Jacs frites
Jacs frites

I was expecting a small plate of frites to come with my steak, but the massive cone of frites our table neighbors got as an appetizer also arrived with my entree. The cone of frites is definitely enough for two people. They were salted perfectly and had a great crunch. I’ve said for a while that my favorite fries in Madison were at Brasserie V, but the frites at Jacs were equally as crave-worthy. But the aioli at Jacs was more unique than Brasserie V. It was zesty…almost as if it was a citrus garlic aioli or another similar flavor combination. It took me by surprise at first, but the flavor combo balanced the greasiness of the frites well.

FOOD NOTES: Jacs can definitely give its Monroe Street competition, Brasserie V, a run for its money. Both seem to focus on European flavors and dishes, and both do it very well. The cheese platter we got was very well done (aside from the questionable mold), and had some interesting pairings I hadn’t seen on a cheese platter before. The housemade beet gnocchi was something special on its own, and was elevated by the other simple, ut perfectly done ingredients. My steak and frites were basically as good as steak and frites could get, but I expected more from Jacs on the sauteed greens. The biggest negative that sticks out to me is Jacs’ prices. Even though Jacs’ food is very close to the quality of restaurants around the Capitol Square, the restaurant isn’t around the Square so the prices need to be a little lower.

Steaks, martinis, supper club atmosphere at Smoky’s stand test of time

Disclaimer: Due to the generous martinis Smoky’s Supper Club serves, this rave review may be slightly clouded by the very strong martini I started drinking before dinner.

Whenever I talk with someone in Madison about the topic of steaks, inevitably Smoky’s on University Avenue is mentioned. I had heard two things about Smoky’s before visiting it with my mom for her birthday: the steaks are amazing and the martinis are strong. And both of those things turned out to be extremely accurate.

Smoky's
Smoky’s Supper Club

If you don’t know where Smoky’s is, it’s probably because you’ve driven by and it not noticed it. It is tucked in between newer buildings on University Avenue. And aside from it’s neon sign, it doesn’t look like an upscale supper club. There are multiple dining rooms. I saw four but there may have been more tucked around corners, and a huge oval bar that sticks out in the main room when you walk in. It’s pretty dark inside, which may be part of the ambience or a sneaky way to hide that the building could use some updates.

Smoky's Razzputini
Smoky’s Razzputini

We got to Smoky’s a little bit before our reservations so we were asked to wait at the bar. After paying our $20 bill for two martinis, we realized that the price tag and the rumors proved true and that neither of us had ever had such a strong drink. I got the Razzputini, which from what I can remember had raspberry vodka, some other type of liquor and then grapefruit juice. That grapefruit juice was my saving grace. Thanks to the juice my martini actually tasted good and wasn’t 100 percent alcohol. My mom got the pomegranate martini, which was made with three different types of alcohol, and again from what I remember, didn’t have any juice in it. That one didn’t taste as good as mine, and had a stronger kick. I’m not a big drinker, so I preferred the one with the juice in it, but others might prefer no juice! Either way, they were both extremely well-made drinks.

Smoky's
Smoky’s

My one complaint about Smoky’s is that about 20 minutes after our reservation time we went up to ask the host why we weren’t being seated (because there were open tables and everyone else had been seated). Basically he told us he forgot about us, which was kind of annoying but nothing too bad to overshadow the great food we eventually got.

Smoky's bread basket
Smoky’s bread basket
Smoky's relish crock
Smoky’s relish crock

For starters, we had a traditional supper club bread basket and relish tray on our table. Neither were spectacular or original, but there is something special about those traditions and I wish more places offered them with dinners. We decided to skip ordering an appetizer because we asked our waiter about the fried mushrooms and he said they were not homemade. Plus, dinners come with soup and a salad, so ordering an additional appetizer didn’t seem necessary.

Smoky's salad
Smoky’s salad

The salad was exactly what I was expecting. A small, perfectly fresh salad with cucumbers, red onions, croutons and multiple homemade dressing options. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one dressing option when getting a salad at a supper club, and that’s French…but my grandparents would disagree with that and say blue cheese is the only option. I went with French, but I can only imagine their homemade blue cheese would have been just as good.

Smoky's clam chowder
Smoky’s clam chowder

There were two soup options the night we went. I got the clam chowder, which was a good choice. It was the perfect balance of creamy and savory while not being too heavy and thick. The vegetables in the soup were chunky, and both the vegetables and the clams were plentiful.

Smoky's ribeye
Smoky’s ribeye

We both went with the 12 0z ribeye, which did not disappoint. It came out on a sizzling platter with a great charred exterior and perfectly pink inside. It was also seasoned with the right amount of salt and pepper that added that simple, classic savory flavor to the charred exterior. It was definitely one of the best steaks I have ever had, and because of the size I got to take another serving home.

Smoky's hashbrowns
Smoky’s hash browns

The hash browns come on a separate plate and must have been cooked in a cast-iron pan because they were round, extremely hot and perfectly crispy. I loved that they weren’t greasy at all, but we did add some additional salt on top.

FOOD NOTES: The rumors about Smoky’s Supper Club are true. The steaks are amazing and the martinis will knock you on your ass. Everything about Smoky’s screams quality, expertly-executed, traditional supper club, and I love it. I also love the location. It’s kind of hidden, but perfectly accessible in the middle of Madison. The prices at Smoky’s are a bit steep at first glance, but the quality and quantity of the food proves it to be 100 percent worth it. I hope someone someday soon will put a little TLC into the building so Smoky’s and it’s great menu will be around for many more years.

Tasty Vietnamese cuisine hidden in Odana Road strip mall

Saigon Noodles
Saigon Noodles

I’m going to preface this review with the fact that I will always be a meat and potatoes girl over a soup and noodle girl. I have definitely enjoyed Korean, Japanese and Chinese food, and my experience at Saigon Noodles was great, but it would never be my first choice over a good brew pub or a great cafe. With that being said, I really did enjoy my lunch.

Saigon Noodles Thai tea
Saigon Noodles Thai tea

Saigon Noodles is at the end of a rundown strip mall on Odana Road, but the inside is surprisingly nice. It is bright with muted colors and a lot of tables. We had to wait a little bit, but they turned tables over really fast and our food came out even faster. I have only been to one other Vietnamese restaurant and I got Thai tea. I loved the unique earthy flavor and sweetness, so I decided to try it at Saigon. Their version was just as orange as I remember, but the sweetness was more muted, which I preferred. I’m not sure why it is called Thai tea at a Vietnamese restaurant, but it is a great little orange concoction that I definitely suggest trying!

Saigon Noodles spring rolls
Saigon Noodles spring rolls

For starters we tried their spring rolls and their egg rolls. After we ordered those we were ordering a bowl of Pho to split and asked that it not come with cilantro on top, and the waitress very kindly told us the spring rolls come with cilantro in them and offered to put in a new order to be made without cilantro. That was extremely thoughtful of her because we really don’t like cilantro.

Saigon Noodles egg rolls
Saigon Noodles egg rolls

The spring rolls were what you would expect. They were made with the sticky clear wrap, carrots, cabbage and had pieces of beef and shrimp in it. I’m not the biggest fan of spring rolls, but figured I would give them a chance. They were nice and fresh, and the beef had a good flavor. It came with a thick spicy peanut sauce that neither of us were too keen on. I don’t love peanut sauces in general. I usually prefer more savory sauces for my spring rolls. The house sauce that was in a squeeze bottle on our table was much better than the peanut sauce. It was salty, savory and thick enough for dipping. The egg rolls were much better than the spring rolls. They had a good crunch and the mixture inside was perfectly steamed and seasoned. The egg rolls also come with a decent side of pickled veggies on the side. The carrots, cucumbers, white carrots and cabbage all had a light pickle and still had a good crunch. Out of the two, I would choose the egg rolls over the spring rolls, and both were great with the house sauce.

Saigon Noodles Pho
Saigon Noodles Pho

My mom and I ordered a small bowl of Pho and split it. I’m super glad we went with the smaller bowl because it was huge, definitely enough for two. We got the regular bowl with beef tenderloin, and the beef was perfectly tender and there was a lot of it. An order of Pho comes with a plate of add-ins including crunchy bean sprouts, jalapenos, onions, limes and we opted out of the cilantro. We threw the bean sprouts, jalapenos and onions right in and squirted both limes all over. The bean sprouts and onions added a great crunch and freshness to the heavy broth. The jalapenos added a good spice, but you definitely have to be careful to not get two slices in one bite! The limes added a great acidity in the beginning but the juice was overpowered by the broth after a little bit. There were a ton of perfectly cooked noodles, and the broth was heavy and flavorful, but not too salty. Overall we were very happy with our large bowl of Pho.

FOOD NOTES: Vietnamese food is not my go-to choice for dining out, but if that’s the type of food I want or I want to take someone out for Vietnamese food Saigon Noodles would be a good choice on the west side. I preferred the Vietnamese dishes I got at Ha Long Bay on Willy Street, they seemed more flavorful and maybe a bit more authentic. The spring rolls were nothing new, but the egg rolls were better than expected. The Pho had a great flavor and the add-ins complimented the heavy broth. The service was good, and the dining room was nicer than expected. If you’re looking for quality Vietnamese food on the west side Saigon Noodles won’t disappoint.

Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano is definitely a NO NO

Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano opened last December in a spot on Whitney Way that used to be a Mexican restaurant. I’m not sure why the Mexican restaurant closed, but I never ate there and I never heard anything good about it. But I had heard some decent things about Nonno’s after it opened. I figured lunch would be good opportunity to try it, because hopefully it wouldn’t be too busy and the prices would be lower.

The decor at Nonno’s feels a little strange. S0me of the dining room is brightly colored, and basically seems like they didn’t paint after the Mexican restaurant closed. There are booths by the windows with big built-up archways that make the rest of the dinning room super dark.

Nonno's bread
Nonno’s bread

They brought out a basket of hot bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in. It was an odd type of bread, that basically had the consistency of thick, super soft breadsticks. The olive oil and vinegar was nothing special, but the bread with the mixture was a nice touch.

Nonno's farfelle rustico
Nonno’s farfelle rustico

I ordered the farfelle rustico ($10), which is bow tie pasta with olive oil, garlic, grilled chicken, mushrooms, peas, onions, bell peppers, parmesan cheese and white wine. The pasta came out super fast and was extremely hot, but it cooled down so fast that it made me think it was microwaved. The sauce was light, but had absolutely zero flavor (I didn’t taste the garlic mentioned on the menu). The noodles tasted like they were out of a box, so if they were homemade they were done super poorly. Some of the noodles on the menu say they are homemade, but the farfelle does not say that. The chicken was OK…not amazing, but not super processed. It was probably taken out of a package precooked and they just reheated it. There were a couple chunks of mushrooms and a couple peas, definitely not enough to make them a substantial part of the dish. The bell peppers and onions were just as sparse. The portion size was pretty decent (I took enough home for lunch the next day), but the quality of the product wasn’t great.

FOOD NOTES: The decor and location of Nonno’s is a bit off. The prices weren’t bad for the portion sizes, but they were a bit high for the quality of the product (microwaved pasta?). I was very unimpressed with the noodles and the processed chicken, but the flavorless sauce and lack of veggies listed on the menu put me over the edge. I will probably not be going back to Nonno’s.

Quality fried chicken hidden in sketchy strip mall

Harold's Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack

I have a soft spot for fried chicken. I’m not sure why, because my family didn’t eat it a lot and it’s not something either of my grandmothers ever made for me, but there’s something special about a good crispy fried piece of chicken. And when you pair it with good french fries and coleslaw…comfort food just doesn’t get any better than that. I’ve had some decent fried chicken in Madison, but probably nothing compared to good down-home southern fried chicken. I’m not sure if Harold’s Chicken Shack is the best fried chicken, but it sure is good.

Harold's Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack

First I have to start with the location and the rumors. Harold’s Chicken Shack is in the middle of a rundown strip mall by Woodman’s on the west side. I’ve driven past it probably thousands of times, but couldn’t get up the courage to go in because of what I’d heard about it. Many reviewers say the food is good, but there’s a rude guy who sits right by the door and tries to sell you DVDs, and they say people who work there aren’t very nice. When I finally decided to try it out, I was not surprised by the small, slightly dingy restaurant when I walked in. However, I was surprised by how nice the two people behind the counter were. Almost every review online said no one was nice and they felt more like they were bothering them than appreciated customers. I had the exact opposite experience. Both people were super nice and explained the 1/4 and 1/2 chicken dinners to me.

Harold's Chicken Shack to-go
Harold’s Chicken Shack to-go

I do recommend ordering ahead of time, because even after I ordered over the phone and came in 15 minutes later I still had to wait 5 minutes. But that wait is good, because it means my food was being cooked to order and was extremely fresh. Their menu is pretty basic. They have fried chicken, fries, fried catfish and chicken wings.

Harold's Chicken Shack 1/4 chicken meal
Harold’s Chicken Shack 1/4 chicken meal

I opted for the quarter breast meal, which comes with a fried breast and wing, french fries and coleslaw for $5.99. It also comes with two pieces of bread at the bottom of the cardboard container the food comes in, but I did not eat them. The coleslaw was good but the portion size was extremely tiny. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were hot and fluffy on the inside, and were seasoned with a good amount of salt and pepper. Th chicken was the highlight of the meal, which is what I’d expect from a chicken shack. It was hot and juicy on the inside, and crispy on the outside. The best part of the fried chicken was that the batter was filled with black pepper. Harold’s Chicken Shack definitely uses black pepper a lot and knows how to do it well. I love black pepper so I really liked the fried chicken batter.

Harold's Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack

FOOD NOTES: I needed to look past the sketchy strip mall and reviews of rude employees, and so do you. The chicken was stellar and the sides were definitely quality. Everything could definitely be improved, like a bigger serving of the coleslaw, but the prices 100 percent make up for that. There’s nothing quite like cheap food done well. Make sure you order ahead of time and give them about 20 minutes to complete your order. I’ll definitely be back for their perfectly peppery fried chicken and french fries!

Los Gemelos’ Mexican fare cannot compare to Taqueria Guadalajara

Tienda y Taqueria Los Gemelos
Tienda y Taqueria Los Gemelos

I have posted before about my quest to find good Mexican food that is as close to authentic as you can get in Madison. A couple months ago my quest ended in the dining room at Taqueria Guadalajara, but I had heard some really great things about Taqueria Los Gemelos on Odana, so I couldn’t pass it up. The combination Mexican grocery store and restaurant is hidden away in a junky strip mall on Odana Road. Based on the size of the strip mall and the grocery store I was expecting a super small restaurant, but it was actually massive. If I had to guess how many tables there are I would say more than 20.

We got there right around lunch time and there were plenty of tables open, but we had no idea what to do when we walked in. There is a small counter where everyone ignored us. There were also wait staff walking around who completely ignored us. Finally, after standing in the doorway for a couple minutes I asked one of the wait staff if we should sit or wait to be seated, and she told us we could sit wherever. Once we were at a table they brought us a basket of chips, guacamole and two salsas in squeeze bottles. The green one had a lot of cilantro in it and not much other flavor. WARNING! WARNING! The red bottle has super hot salsa. I tried a little on a chip and didn’t get any heat at all, so I squeezed a bunch more on the next chip and had quite an interesting next couple of minutes, which was made worse by the fact that we hadn’t gotten any water yet. Besides the ridiculous heat, the runny red salsa also didn’t have a lot of flavor. I know that sounds weird…it was super spicy but didn’t have any flavor? I’m a true believer that a sauce or salsa can be spicy and also have good flavor. What’s the point in having a salsa that is pure overpowering heat without some good pepper, vinegar or garlic flavor. Also, the “guacamole” they serve is the farthest thing from guacamole I’ve had in a while. It was flavorless and super runny. It’s like they mix it with something to stretch their avocado. I was really not impressed by it. I would rather have to pay a couple dollars for quality guacamole (like the kind at La Mestiza across the street) than be given this crap.

gemelos chips and salsa
Los Gemelos salsa, guacamole, chips

The menu was the first warning sign that the food wouldn’t be too great. There are pictures all over the menu and every time I see picture menus I think of IHOP, Denny’s and Perkin’s. In my experience, places with pictures of their food on their menu don’t tend to have great food. The second warning sign that this wasn’t going to be quality authentic Mexican food was that they didn’t have tongue or tripe on the menu (not that I would try tripe, but tongue has become one of my favorite Mexican meat options).

Los Gemelos menu
Los Gemelos menu

After scouring the decent-sized menu I opted for two smaller dishes. First I got a tostada, which comes with your choice of meat with Mexican cheese, lettuce, avocado, tomato and mayo. I also got a sope, which comes with your choice of meat, Mexican fresh cheese, lettuce, avocado and tomato. They are very similar dishes, but the sope comes on an oval corn tortilla that is thicker and soft, and the tostada comes on a very thin and crunchy corn tortilla.

Los Gemelos chicken sope, beef tostada
Los Gemelos chicken sope, beef tostada

I got a beef tostada, and it was super hard to eat. My first bite sent most of the toppings flying all over the place and the rest of the tostada shattered. The beef was tender, but was completely flavorless. The Mexican cheese and tomatoes were standard, but the avocado was fresh. I got a chicken sope, which was basically the same as the tostada as far as toppings go, but the soft corn base made it 100 percent easier to eat. The chicken was fine, but not great and the rest of the toppings were the same as the tostada. The best part of what I ordered (and this was also one of the reasons I ordered what I did) was the avocado on top of both dishes. Avocado makes everything better! Everything was good, and exponentially better than Tex-Mex restaurants in the area, but not nearly as good as Taqueria Guadalajara.

Los Gemelos dining room
Los Gemelos dining room

FOOD NOTES: Basically, I went in comparing Los Gemelos to Taqueria Guadalajara and it failed every comparison test. The food was not as good, the service was awful (did I mention once I did get my tiny water cup it was never filled again?) and the restaurant was kitschy and a little dirty. But, if I were to compare their food to Laredo’s or Tex Tubb’s or Abuelo’s on the merits of authentic Mexican food it would win hands down. There was nothing wrong with the food, it just gets beaten out by a better competitor. I wish the food was better because the prices are great and the location is better for me than Taqueria Guadalajara on Park Street. Simple review: As long as Taqueria Guadalajara is open, I won’t be going to Los Gemelos.

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.

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.

The best, most unhealthy dessert ever!

Bluephies menu
Bluephies menu

I have been to Bluephies multiple times and every time I have been too full to even think about ordering dessert. So when the opportunity presented itself to go there specifically for dessert I happily took it because of their well-known chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls.

Bluephies chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls
Bluephies chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls

They sound a little gross but are basically chunks of cookie dough rolled in wonton wrappers and deep fried. You get two in an order and they top it with vanilla custard and chocolate sauce. It was the most amazing and yet guilt-ensuing dessert I’ve ever had. The cookie dough was hot, melty and chocolatey. The wontons were perfectly crispy and added a good balance to the super sweet cookie dough, and the custard was another great addition. It is such a genius idea!

On the flip side I definitely regretted eating it when I was done. The entire bowl is probably three days worth of calories and should not be eaten on a regular, or even semi-regular basis. I probably won’t go back for them at least for the next five years…I will leave them for  a special occasion!

FOODNOTES: The $6.29 chocolate chip cookie dough egg rolls at Bluephies are fantastic and amazing and ridiculously good, but should be consumed rarely and with caution!

This place put a sandwich on Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread!!!

brasserie menu
Brasserie V

I thought the novelty of Brasserie V (pronounced “V,” not five) on Monroe Street would be lost on me because they’re known for their beer selection, specifically Belgian beer. But when I went there for lunch with a friend before the holidays I was pleasantly surprised by the menu options. The restaurant specializes in mussels, french fries, steak and duck. A couple years ago I was very reluctant to try mussels at a Restaurant Week dinner I was at, but ever since jumping in with both feet I usually get mussels when I see them on the menu. Their menu also has sandwiches, burgers, salads and pub-style appetizers.

brasserie moules et frites
moules et frites

My friend got the Moules et Frites (mussels and french fries). The mussels came out in a huge crock covered in steaming garlic and wine sauce. Mussels aren’t really special unless the sauce they are cooked in is special. This light, garlicky broth was good but nothing I haven’t had before. The frites were super good. They were crispy, fried to perfection and were perfectly salted. I have a weak spot for french fries and probably always will, so they were my favorite part of the meal. The aioli was a good combination of creaminess and garlic flavor. All in all, the Moules et Frites were good and for $11 at lunch, not a bad deal either.

brasserie roast beef
roast beef sandwich on Stella’s spicy cheese bread

I’m glad my friend got the Moules et Frites for two reasons – one: because I really wanted to try them, and two: because I had my eye on something else. I’ve lived in Madison for a little over six years now and definitely consider myself a Madisonian, so the list of ingredients on the roast beef sandwich got my attention. The sandwich is made with Stalzy’s roast beef (I’ve given them rave reviews multiple times), house-made giardiniera (I love spicy, pickled peppers and veggies!) and dill sour cream on STELLA’S SPICY CHEESE BREAD. I mean, come on! Any sandwich would be 100% better on spicy cheese bread! Without all of those amazing ingredients the sandwich probably wouldn’t have been as good. The roast beef was perfectly seasoned and lean. The giardiniera had  good pickle, but could have been spicier and there could have been more of it on the sandwich. Same thing with the dill sauce – it was good but there could have been more of it. And then there’s the Stella’s spicy cheese bread. That’s definitely what takes this sandwich over the top! Any other bread just wouldn’t do. With the amazing ingredients this sandwich could be my favorite in Madison – they just need to put more giardiniera and dill sauce on it, otherwise it is a bit dry. The price for the sandwich ($12) was a little high considering all of the ingredients on my sandwich came from Madison and the $11 mussels had to be flown here. The couscous salad I got as a side (probably should have gotten the pub chips or salad) was forgettable.

brasserie bar
bar in 2nd room

I can’t speak for the beer selection because I don’t drink beer, but the atmosphere of the place was nice. There are two rooms. The first one is a smaller room with a small bar, about a dozen tables and is cozier. The second one (a recent addition according to the owner) is bigger, with a large bar, more space for mingling and additional tables.

FOODNOTES: If you’r craving mussels and wonderfully prepared french fries, Brasserie V would be a good choice. It’s in a good location (usually easier to get to than downtown restaurants that offer moules et frites). The roast beef sandwich could be a crave-able sandwich with two small tweaks – but the Madison ingredients really make the sandwich special. Whoever thought about putting a generic roast beef sandwich on Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread deserves an award! The prices are a bit high, especially the lunch prices. I got a gift card for Brasserie V from my Secret Santa this year, so I will return – probably to try their steak and frites this time.