Restaurants near West Towne Mall have been popping up left and right, including a Chick-fil-A,Jason’s Deli, Freshii and now Bonefish Grill. I tried Bonefish Grill out with my mom after a day of shopping and hanging out. Even though it was only the middle of April we decided to sit on the patio. The dining room was very nice, but the sunny weather and patio heaters were enough to get us outside. The disappointing thing was that the impressive dining room and nice patio were the highlights of our lunch.
I got the caesar salad with salmon, which was pretty marginal. The lettuce was probably a day past its prime, the dressing was generic and the croutons were flavorless. The salmon had a good grill char on it, but it was super small and was not seasoned at all.
My mom got the arctic char seasonal special, which came with pasta and spring veggies. It looked like a decent dish, but it wasn’t worth the higher price tag.
For some reason we both decided to get dessert, which was regrettable considering both the key lime pie and creme brulee were huge and not great. My creme brulee tasted like cold vanilla pudding with a crunchy topping. Creme brulee should be a little lighter than gooey pudding, but this one straight up tasted like pudding. The one thing to note about the desserts it that they are huge. My creme brulee could easily have served three people.
FOOD NOTES: Bonefish Grill is a typical chain restaurant. Our lunch was edible, but not great. The quality was a little disappointing considering the $10-$15 price range. The service was terrible…it took almost 20 minutes for our desserts to come out (key lime pie and cold creme brulee should not take 20 minutes!). I probably won’t be going back, but I do know quite a few people who love the bang bang shrimp.
One of my all-time best meals was the dinner I had with some friends at Merchant during the 2013 Restaurant Week. I think it stands out to me because it was the first time I had mussels and now I love mussels! I also love the atmosphere of the restaurant, which doesn’t lose it’s appeal in broad daylight. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been back since my first visit until the I went to Merchant during the 2014 Restaurant Week for lunch. Merchant serves up classic foodie food for dinner, but for lunch they mostly serve salads and sandwiches.
For restaurant week they offered a soup and three salads for appetizers. I ordered the buttermilk salad that came with golden beets, radish, buttermilk dressing and blue cheese. I’m not a fan of blue cheese so I ordered it with feta instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh. My friend Michelle ordered the Caesar salad, but it was too anchovy-y for her, so we switched. The Caesar salad was pretty simple (romaine hearts, creamy anchovy Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese), but what made it memorable was the flavor of the dressing. What Michelle didn’t like about the salad ended up being my favorite part. The tangy, salty flavor was interesting and something I had never tasted before. It was very good.
For entrees Merchant was offering about a half dozen sandwiches, but it was a no brainer that we order the fried chicken sandwich. A couple weeks before our visit a local website did a poll for best sandwich in Madison and this sandwich was near the top. There were two options: classic or buffalo-style. Michelle and I decided to order one of each and split the sandwiches to see which one we liked better. The classic fried chicken sandwich came on a brioche bun with coleslaw. It was fresh, tasty and surprisingly not too heavy for a fried chicken sandwich. The batter on the chicken was flavorful, crispy and not greasy. The coleslaw was perfectly creamy and crunchy. But the one thing the classic sandwich was missing was the extra ingredient on the buffalo-style sandwich: buffalo sauce. That little bit of spice and vinegar added a great contrast to the creamy coleslaw and the savory fried chicken. If I were to order the sandwich again I would definitely go with the buffalo-style. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were good.
For dessert they were offering sorbet, gelato or a brownie sundae. Of course, I chose the brownie sundae with chocolate sauce, pecans and whipped cream. The brownie was not overly sweet — it tasted almost like dark chocolate. The entire sundae was a fancier version of a classic brownie sundae. It was super good! I also got a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly flavorful and smooth.
FOOD NOTES: Both meals I’ve had at Merchant exceeded expectations. Merchant will always be one of my top picks for places to visit during restaurant week because their food is so good and the price is so right. The Caesar salad was very unique and had a great flavor. The fried chicken sandwich lives up to the hype — especially the buffalo-style version, and the brownie sundae was a great upgraded version of a classic. The only complaint I have is that we had to sit at an awkward table attached to a pillar on high stools — kind of uncomfortable and kind of in the way.
A friend of mine got married Friday and the week before her nuptials we decided to have lunch. She is a bit chocolate and sweets fan so when I heard about this new cafe on the near east side I knew it would be perfect for us. I mean, it has chocolate in the name! Chocolaterian Cafe opened almost a year ago at its Atwood location. I’ve been frequenting Atwood for a couple of years and I’m really glad the building at 2004 Atwood Avenue finally has tenants. It’s a really neat old building and the cafe definitely took advantage of the building’s features. There are two entrances (because the building is on a pointed corner), there are a bunch of neat built-ins, and the color choices were unique and appropriately fun. The decor was modest but fun with the main wall behind the bakery counter filled with antique chocolate molds.
The cafe features bakery items but also offers lunch items. There are regular items that frequent the bakery case and daily specials. Recently I’ve been obsessed with french macaroons so when I saw them in the display I knew I had to get them. They had a decent amount of flavor options and for $5 you got three. That’s a pretty regular price but the size of the macaroons was smaller than normal. I got the lemon vanilla, raspberry and pistachio. All three were very tasty! My friend got a chocolate tart that I’m pretty sure she loved because it was 100% dense chocolate. She did recommend they edge the top of the tart with fresh whipped cream instead of chocolate cream to make it a little less rich. The bakery case was filled with two other flavors of tarts, a half dozen different types of cookies, and a couple other decadent desserts. The also had fondue on the menu!
They offer two types of quiche and paninis daily as well as a cheese plate, soups and salads. They also offered regular coffee and tea options. I got the grilled chicken Caesar salad. It was very fresh and there was the perfect amount of dressing on top. It came with a full chicken breast but I was a little disappointed in the size of the total salad for the price (it was $8.50 for a small plate a lettuce, a couple tomatoes, and the chicken). My friend got the cheese plate, which came with three Wisconsin cheeses, crackers and jam. The odd thing about the cheese plate is that it didn’t say on the menu or the plate what type of cheeses they were. She enjoyed the cheese plate and that’s probably what I’ll get next time I go. That is if I’m not interested in the panini or quiche combinations again.
FOODNOTES: The location is great and the decor/ambiance is even better! The macaroons were good but could have been larger. Ditto for my salad. The cheese plate needs labels but was very impressive. I definitely plan to go back for coffee and baked goods (and will hopefully bring some home)!