I’ve taken a couple months off from reviewing restaurants…but after a couple of my adoring fans (bahahahaha jk!) asked if I was ever going to blog again, I figured I should get back to it.
So here’s a quick review that dates back to this summer to get the ball rolling:
I went to El Pastor on Park Street for a quick lunch with two friends over the summer and was not very pleased with any part of it, except the friends part!
First of all, the entire place smelled like a stale cigarette the second we walked in. That’s not an appetizing smell, and definitely not what I want to smell walking into a any restaurant.
Now to the food.
I’m a sucker for a good combo meal so I got the Sabor De Mexico with one chile relleno, one tamale, one pork taco, rice and beans, but I asked to swap out the pork taco for a lengua taco. The only way to describe the entire plate of food is bland. Nothing had any flavor and the hot sauce they put on the table tasted like watery tomatoes.
The chile relleno tasted like a boiled pepper with cheese in it…no seasoning, no grill flavor on the chile. The batter wasn’t salty or crispy. It wasn’t good. The tamale was fine, but nowhere near the best tamale I’ve ever had. The meat on the inside was tender, but again…didn’t have any flavor and the corn dough was dry. The lengua taco (yes…I like lengua tacos…at least I do at other places) was not good. The meat was stringy and didn’t have any seasoning on it at all so it tasted very gamey. I ate so little of the rice and beans I can’t even tell you what was wrong with them. Basically it was not a good plate of food.
FOOD NOTES: On top of the terrible cigarette smoke smell, the food at El Pastor was pretty bad. It wasn’t inedible, but I definitely was not happy with my lunch. My lunch dates weren’t as critical of their lunches, but I won’t be back.
It’s on a roof where you can see State Street, Lake Mendota and the Capitol.
No matter where you sit, inside near the wall of windows or outside on the patio, you have a great view!
The drinks a great. They do the classics well and their specials are super tasty.
The fries are extra crispy and served with great aioli.
The beet salad is an A+.
Those are some pretty great reasons to check out the Blind, but I can’t say enough about the view, especially on the patio…I have repeatedly forgotten to take a picture of the view because I was too busy enjoying it in real time!
The food is also pretty great. I’ve tried most of their appetizers and none of them disappointed. The poutine is phenomenal. I’m usually not a fan of poutine because it usually tastes like a pile of mush, but the poutine at the Blind is cheesy, the fries are crispy and the gravy is super flavorful. The fish tacos are super fresh and light, but they are very tiny. The cheese curds are a great version of the Wisconsin classic.
Like I said, the beet salad with chicken is top notch. If you get the poutine and cheese curds to start, the beet salad is a great entree option. It’s tasty and hearty, but not heavy.
As for dessert, they serve the hand pies sold downstairs in the hotel’s cafe Portage Pi. I got the apple pie a ‘la mode. The turnover-like pie was hot and crispy, but the crust was a little dry and there could have been more filing and ice cream
Based on its location, the corner of Langdon and Francis, and it’s great drinks and food, it’s not a surprise the Blind is usually very busy. I’ve had to wait for a table every time I’ve been there, but the view and food are worth the wait. It is a small dining room, but based on my experience I think part of the wait time has to do with the service. Every time I’ve been there our waiter has either taken forever to come to the table the first time or disappeared halfway through. It also feels like there are no assigned tables because all three times I’ve gone I had a couple different servers.
FOOD NOTES: The Blind is one of my new favorite places in Madison. If the food and drinks don’t keep you coming back, the view should. The service could be faster and more organized, but there are too many other goods things at the Blind that will keep me going back. I’m a sucker for their beet salad so I’ve never tried their burgers, but they look and smell amazing!
Hidden behind East High School is a Milio’s sandwich shop and hidden behind that is 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe. The space is small and industrial, but very warm and inviting. There are only a couple tables, but from my understanding students pack those tables every day.
They have a pretty typical coffee and cafe menu with baked goods, breakfast options and sandwiches. The day Michelle Li and I got to try the place out we had the place to ourselves, and we got to try the chef/owner’s favorites: lemon bread blueberry french toast, and a very interesting turkey sandwich.
The lemon bread blueberry french toast was quite a dish. They use lemon bread for the french toast and then top it was lemon curd, blueberry compote and fresh cream. I don’t like french toast or super sweet breakfasts, so this dish had two strikes against it before I even tried it. So to be honest, I didn’t like it because of how sweet it was, but there were some up sides. The french toast was crispy, the blueberries were sweet and fresh and the cream added a much needed lightness to the dish. If you like sweet breakfast dishes and lemon curd, you will totally love it.
The sandwich had all of the regulars: greens, cheese, crispy bread…and cranberry spread on it. I wasn’t sure if I’d like cranberry spread, but it was a good tangy addition to the heavy sandwich. There was also a mustard on it that I really liked. Based on reviews I’ve read online…I would suggest trying their breakfast options before the turkey sandwich. It was interesting, but not something I would get again.
FOOD NOTES: The location of 4 & 20 Bakery is perfect for East High School students and people who live east of First Street, but otherwise you might not know it’s even there. The dining room is super cute and inviting, and I love the succulents on the tables. The lemon blueberry french toast wasn’t my jam, but Michelle liked it and if you like sweet dishes you will also love it. The turkey sandwich was better than I was expecting, but it wasn’t something I’d order again. There are a ton of other things I’d like to try on the menu if I ever make it back over there.
Soho has been known as one of the go-to food trucks for dumplings in Madison for years, but now that they’ve opened a storefront in Fitchburg, they’ve expanded their menu. And boy were those good additions! Of course they still serve dumplings, but if you’re going to the restaurant in Fitchburg I would suggest some of the things they don’t serve out of the cart.
Before trying calamari at Soho with Michelle Li, I had tried it several other times and didn’t like it — both fried and sauteed. I thought the texture was terrible and the taste was worse. But Rocky at Soho really knows how to do calamari. His secret…promise you won’t tell…is cornstarch. I could eat an entire order of it by myself. The batter is salty and crispy. The calamari is tender and not fishy. And to my surprise, the pieces with the tentacles were the best ones because they were crispier. The calamari comes with a tasty dipping sauce, but it is not necessary. All you need is a little lemon juice squeezed on top and it’s time to dig in! If you don’t like calamari, do me a favor and give Soho’s a try. They will convert you.
We also got to try Soho’s green beans and fried tofu. I know, you’re thinking that both of those sound boring, but trust me…they aren’t at Soho. The green beans are charred, salty and in some sort of sauce that was so good I started eating them before I even had a fork, and couldn’t stop.
Now for the tofu. Every time I try to cook tofu it ends up mushy and tasteless…so I usually avoid it. Well apparently the secret is to deep fry it…because everything is better deep fried! The tofu soaks up the sauce they use, so it’s soft and flavorful on the inside and super crispy on the outside. As a non-tofu-lover I was surprised that I just kept popping cubes of tofu into my mouth.
FOOD NOTES: Soho’s dumplings are good…there’s no question about it, but if you’re going to their store in Fitchburg instead of their food truck I really suggest giving some of their other menu items a try. I would venture to say their calamari tops most of the places in Madison and they really know how to serve up usually boring green beans and tofu with flare.
In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.
The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.
The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.
FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!
There are always new restaurants opening in Madison, but every once in a while a new restaurant opens in one of the small towns around Madison. I heard about Holstein Kitchen in Oregon, and the short 20 minute drive is definitely worth it.
Their website says they speak meat and potatoes with their farm cooking. I love that! I’m not sure what the old building was before it was Holstein Kitchen, but it’s super cute and is decorated like a simple but elegant farm house (think sparkly lighting, barn wood and checkered table cloths). My friend Mary and I went around lunch on a Saturday and it wasn’t very busy, but the owner told us they were pretty busy around breakfast.
I got the Americana Scramble — scrambled eggs with sausage and bacon…and it comes with a pancake. I prefer savory breakfasts, but can’t resist a good pancake, so the Americana Scramble was the perfect breakfast for me. The scramble was the perfect size and because of the crazy amount of sausage and bacon it was very filing. The breakfast potatoes were perfect — hot, crispy and salty. The pancake was a perfect American pancake — and I ate it before I remembered to take a picture!
Mary got the Pain Perdue, which is New Orleans style french toast. It was thick, and fried perfectly so it was crispy on the outside and super fluffy and light on the inside.
Something very unexpected during our visit to the Oregon newcomer happened — the owner and chef came out toward the end of our meal and let us try the special of the day. I don’t remember what it was, but he wanted us to try it just to get our opinion. That was very cool and personable. I also remember the coffee being super tasty and plentiful.
FOOD NOTES: If you’re in the Oregon area (or even if you’re not), Holstein Kitchen is a great breakfast/brunch spot. I loved the homey feel of the dining room, and the owner seems to be very hands on, which is always a good thing. I want to go back for dinner sometime soon because the menu has a salad with cheese curds on top and buttered noodles! I mean..come on! Those have to be winners!
I heard two things about Estrellon when it first opened:
The food (both the paella and the tapas) is amazing
The prices are a bit high
But a girls night out at a bar downtown seemed like the perfect time to try tapas for dinner at Estrellon. We got one of the last tiny tables on the tapas side of the restaurant and after waiting a little too long for a waiter, we ordered a half dozen tapas to start with. But those ended up being surprisingly filling and a perfect mix of fun food for dinner.
Here’s what we got:
The deviled eggs were too mustardy for me…I like my deviled eggs traditionally chocked full of mayo.
This was the worst thing we got. I’m not sure what I was expecting because the menu didn’t say fried cheese curds, but fresh cheese curds (that weren’t even squeaky so they couldn’t have been that fresh) with some dressing and sesame seeds on top was a very underwhelming dish. Definitely not worth ordering.
The toast pieces come with a bunch of different topping options. I got the summer sausage with raw milk cheddar and pickles; the charred beets with manchego cheese and pine nuts; and the jamon iberico with tomato jam and relish. My friend got the sweet pears with candied walnut butter and feta cheese; brie with artichoke, tomato and caviar; and the smoked sockeye salmon with greek yogurt, caviar and truffle honey. They were a lot smaller than I expected, but they were extremely tasty. My favorite was the summer sausage one with the housemade pickle!
These were the best thing we ordered. They were fried mushrooms, but what made them special was that they were stuffed with cheese and came with a great aioli sauce drizzled on top. They were hot, crispy and had a great flavor. And since the cheese and sauce were so rich, the serving size was just enough.
These were pretty much what I expected — crunchy, salty frites with yummy aioli. I always go for papas fritas because they’re easy to do well. Always a good standby.
FOOD NOTES: Once we got everything we ordered, we decided we wouldn’t need another round of food, which was good. Our bill (split two ways) ended up being about the same as if we had gone to another pricier restaurant downtown, which was pleasantly surprising. After we listed off our entire order, I thought it was going to be about double what it ended up being. Estrellon is definitely a fun place to go, and if you drink wine they have a happy hour deal where you buy a glass of house wine and get a free tapa…which would be a great way to check out Estrellon.
Sometimes you just want a burger, and a decent place to get one on Madison’s far west side is Mooyah. Mooyah is in a strip mall in the parking lot of the Super Target in Fitchburg. The dining room isn’t huge and fills up fast during lunch, but they do have additional outdoor seating during the summer.
You order either a single or double Mooyah burger, then you can add cheese, bacon or avocado. But the best part are the extras. You can add anything from lettuce, tomatoes and pickles to grilled onions, fried onion strings or jalapenos. They also have a dozen sauce options.
I got lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, bacon, mushrooms and jalapenos. It was a great custom burger. The one downfall is that with all the extra toppings and the soft buns, the burgers get pretty messy. The regular fries are decent, but rumor has it the sweet potato fries are way better.
FOOD NOTES: I don’t usually go for burgers and fries, but if you’re looking for a decent burger and fries with a lot of topping options, Mooyah is a good spot. They’re not the greatest burgers you’ll ever find, but they’re on par with Five Guys with the amount of options and tasty fries. The metal lunch trays they’re served on are also pretty fun.
I’ve lived in Middleton over four years and the Stamm House has been an empty shell that entire time. That is, until this summer when it opened as a restaurant. The building itself is extremely old and historical, so I can only imagine how bad the inside was, but their remodel doesn’t seem to go with the historical nature of the building. They put up pine panelling on the walls and some of the booths are made of the same panelling. The bar is stark and cold, and the lack of decor doesn’t fit with the warm stone building. We sat outside, which had the best atmosphere. It was simple outdoor seating with a white picket fence and some small lights.
Their menu is pretty small, which is good because it means they’re focusing on getting what they’re serving right. We started with a cheese and charcuterie plate that came with three cheese, a liver paste and some tasty pairings. I liked the option of four items for $17 because we could get three cheeses and one meat. That’s also a very reasonable price for the amount of food we got. The options change, so you can probably never build the same cheese/meat board twice. Ours came with pickled veggies, two different types of preserves, nuts and bread. I could make an entire meal out of charcuterie, so this was my favorite part of the meal.
I got the sirloin entree, which isn’t on the menu anymore. The sirloin dish I got came with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and onions. It also came with a sweet and savory sauce that I didn’t like. The steak was perfectly cooked, had a great flavor and was tender. The serving of sirloin was also about twice as much as I was expecting. In general, the dish was good, but in true American fashion I wanted a potato. And ironically, the new sirloin dish posted on the Stamm House’s online menu has a potato listed with it.
My mom got the burger, which was a standard burger that had one interesting topping — mornay sauce. I love mornay sauce. It’s a creamy, cheesy white sauce that usually accompanies eggs or steak, but putting it on a burger is a great idea. If you’re looking for a good burger that’s a little different than the norm…this is it. The frites and aioli were also top notch.
My mom and I aren’t dessert people, but they had French press coffee on the menu and we wanted something sweet to go with it. So we got the set of three pastries. The crispy shells were filled with a not-too-sweet custard and the crunchy hazelnuts were perfect. They were just sweet enough to compliment the strong coffee perfectly, but not too sweet to be overwhelming.
FOOD NOTES: I loved the cheese and charcuterie board (because those are hard to get wrong), but my sirloin entree could have been better. Based on the menu changes, I would definitely give the Stamm House another chance because the hardest part — the steak — was the best part of my meal. I was just disappointed with the sauce and vegetables. I love that they offer French press coffee with their perfectly balanced desserts. I don’t love the remodeled inside, but once their outdoor patio opens back up for the summer, I’ll give Stamm House another chance.
If fall isn’t your favorite season…you’re basically wrong. The weather is great, the clothes are great, the food is warm and comforting, and then there’s Halloween and Thanksgiving. My friend Riju loves Halloween and in an effort to keep me very busy during the month of October, she sent me the “31 Days of Halloween to do list” to do. This blog will be my recap…with one caveat: some of the items were modified but totally still count!
No. 1 – Bake Halloween cookies. Krista, Nicole and the cookie-decorating master Avery helped out with this one.
No. 2 – Drink cider
No. 3 – Watch a classic monster movie. This one was completed…just not documented. I watched some freaky movie about Halloween.
No. 4 – Make pumpkin bread with fresh pumpkin. This one was also completed with help from Krista.
No. 5 – Collect different color fall leaves. I didn’t know what I would do with a handful of leaves, so I just took pictures during a hike.
No. 6 – Eat a caramel apple. I got this one at Treinen Farm in Lodi.
No. 7 – Build a fire. This one was very unconventional…but fire is fire right?
No. 8 – Go on a hay ride. The hay ride at Treinen Farm was pretty interesting. It was one of the only cold and rainy days in October, but Nicole, miss Avery and I made the best of it!
No. 9 – Eat a Halloween Oreo. They don’t taste different, but I feel like they should!
No. 10 – Wear orange. I don’t own anything orange, so this scarf will have to do.
This picture also qualifies as No. 21, which is eat a caramel apple Milky way…but they don’t make those anymore, so I had a caramel apple pop instead!
No. 11 – Watch Hocus Pocus. Thanks to Mary and Kevin Arbuckle for the movie access and the prop!
No. 12 – Drink a pumpkin spice latte.
No. 13 – Eat candy corn. This nasty Halloween treat goes pretty well with coffee!
No. 14 – Play in the leaves…see No. 5.
No. 15 – Drink spicy tea. The Trader Joe’s version I got was not good.
No. 16 – Bake an apple pie. I thought this was going to be one of the hardest ones on the list…but Krista and I made a pretty great pie!
No. 17 – Carve a pumpkin. Steph and I carved Frank the Pumpkin…harvested at Treinen Farms for No. 23.
No. 18 – Host a spooky movie night. I’d say mine was technically a movie afternoon…but it totally counts.
No. 19 – Eat Frankenberry, BooBerry or Count Chocula. I chose BooBerry…
No. 20 – Drink pumpkin ale or beer. Thanks Marissa for sharing your pumpkin beer!
No. 21 – Eat a caramel apple Milky Way. See No. 10.
No. 22 – Roast pumpkin seeds. Steph and I roasted the shit out of Frank’s seeds!
No. 23 – Visit a pumpkin patch. Nicole, miss Avery and I braved the rain and cold to find Frank the Pumpkin at Treinen Farm.
No. 24 – Dance to Thriller. Mary Arbuckle and I got our groove on. A short, yet extremely entertaining video, is available on Facebook.
No. 25 – Visit an OctoberFest…was replaced with “drink an OctoberFest beer.” Thanks Kevin Arbuckle for the beer!
No. 26 – Collect cool pumpkins. Thanks for the pumpkins dad!
No. 27 – Sit on the porch and smell the rain…this one seemed odd, but here’s a rainy picture from my balcony.
No. 28 – Visit a haunted house. I hate haunted houses, but Mary Arbuckle found one for little kids…so I consented. Favorite quote of the night: “Hannah…stop screaming, you’re scaring the giraffe (who was probably about 2 and being carried by her dad).”
No. 29 – Make a Halloween playlist.
No. 30 – Decorate the house – inside and out. Thanks to the instigator of all of this, Riju, for the new Halloween owl!
No. 31 – Go trick or treating. I gave away candy at Kevin and Mary’s…I also got trick-or-treat candy at the haunted house…all of this counts…none of it is documented.