Brocach #restaurantweek meal peaked at appetizers

Brocach on the square

Brocach on the square

To kick off this winter’s Madison Magazine Restaurant Week I headed to the Capitol Square with a friend on a Sunday night that already had one bad thing against it — the Packers lost in overtime to the Seahawks in the third round of the playoffs. While the Packers were giving their Superbowl spot to the Seahawks, I was driving to Brocach on the square for a three-course Restaurant Week meal.

Brocach scotch egg

Brocach scotch egg

Before our Restaurant Week courses started I wanted to try their version of the Scotch egg because the one at Cooper’s Tavern was so good. Brocach’s Scotch egg was not as good as Cooper’s Tavern. The biggest problem was the thick batter covering the egg and sausage. The batter was lacking any distinct flavor and so was the sausage. It’s hard to mess up a sausage-wrapped hard-boiled egg, but this one wasn’t great. The pickled vegetables were forgettable.

brocach croquettes

Brocach croquettes

The single best part of the meal  came next — the potato croquettes with aged cheddar sauce. Both of us got the croquettes and both of us loved them. The three golf-ball-sized croquettes were perfectly warm and soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. And the aged cheddar sauced was so good I could have licked my plate…I didn’t, but I did wipe it up with my finger — you know, to try and keep is classy!

Brocach salmon

Brocach salmon

That’s when the meal went down hill. I got the salmon which was crispy, but needed some sort of seasoning and the salad was literally two sprigs of greens. The tangy dressing was good, but considering how cheap greens are I was expecting the salad to be a bit bigger. The puree on the bottom was sweeter than I was expecting (and I don’t remember what it was made of), but it went well with the unseasoned salmon.

Brocach pork belly

Brocach pork belly

My friend got the pork belly and I got to eat the brussel sprouts that came with it. The sprouts were fine…I’ve had better and I’ve had worse. Her pork belly came with a similar sweet puree under it (did they use the same puree for two Restaurant Week dishes?) and sliced apples on top. It was an interesting dish, but not good enough to bring me back.

Brocach flourless chocolate cake

Brocach flourless chocolate cake

The dessert options sounded promising, but they were pretty disappointing. I got the flourless chocolate cake, which was harder than fudge and was almost — brace yourselves — too chocolatey. It was so chocolatey, it was bitter. The berry sauce tasted like bitter, watered-down jam.

Brocach mint sundae

Brocach mint sundae

My friend got the mint sundae, which was mint ice cream that came with a shot of Bailey’s you were supposed to pour over the top. I think she liked it, but I say it should have had some hot fudge on it too. FOOD NOTES: Brocach has been on my “places to eat list” for quite a while and now it’s headed to my “places to avoid list.” The Restaurant Week meal wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. The croquettes were pretty great, but the entrees were OK and the desserts were disappointing. Maybe the negative feelings of the Packers’ season ending loss to the Seahawks influenced the dinner…or maybe Brocach just isn’t that great.

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Tiny tavern boasts big cider menu, unique dishes

Cooper's Tavern

Coopers Tavern

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

Crispin blackberry, pear cider

Crispin blackberry, pear cider

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

Cooper's Tavern Sconnie egg

Coopers Tavern Sconnie egg

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

Cooper's Tavern steak and frites

Coopers Tavern steak and frites

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

Cooper's Tavern pork belly mac

Coopers Tavern pork belly mac

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

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

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.

Graze epitomizes Madison’s food scene

I’ve lived in Madison for more than six years and have been trying to hit all of the best restaurants, but for some reason I hadn’t been to Graze on the square yet. It had been on my list since moving here but it never worked out to go – there were always other options that worked better. So when my mom came in to town this fall I decided a Friday night dinner at Graze was in order. They don’t take reservations so we got there around 5 to make sure we got a table! It was already humming then and the best tables near the front windows were taken. We got a small table in the middle of the room pushed up against other tables for two, but the view is mostly the same from the entire dining room.

graze deviled eggs

Graze deviled eggs

There are a lot of things on the menu that Graze is known for, so going into the meal I had an idea what we’d be ordering. We ordered the deviled eggs and fried pickles for appetizers. I was hoping the deviled eggs would be something special or a spin on the traditional Wisconsin deviled eggs. The Graze deviled eggs were good but nothing special. The thing that would make them worth ordering again was the mustard sauce they were sitting on. It added a great flavor to the rich deviled eggs.

graze pickles

Graze fried pickles

Though the deviled eggs were less than spectacular, the fried pickles lived up to their hype and then some. The pickle chips were perfectly fried and came in a large serving. The batter was not too light or too heavy – it was perfectly salty and crispy. The dill ranch dressing was the perfect dipping sauce for the perfectly-greasy fried pickle chips! I love fried pickles and these are ones to keep going back for!

graze beet salad

Graze roasted beet salad

My mom and I like dessert a little less than the average person so we decided to split the roasted beet salad before our main meal instead of getting a dessert. The salad was a perfect choice! It comes with roasted pistachios, Sartori MontAmore cheese, roasted beets and mixed greens topped with a light vinaigrette. We both love beets so this salad was perfect. I was surprised at the large amount of the premium toppings – the beets, pistachios and Sartori cheese! I can’t say enough about this amazing salad – the pistachios added the perfect crunch to the soft roasted beets and the crunchy greens. The Sartori cheese was perfectly sharp and paired well with the light vinaigrette! I will probably be making return trips just for this salad!

graze mussels

Graze moules frites

I got the moules frites f0r my main course. The mussels were perfectly cooked with a great fennel and white wine sauce. The light sauce paired perfectly with the super salty and amazingly crispy fries. The fries were served with a garlic aioli and I absolutely loved them! It is a very simple dish but it was prepared perfectly!

graze sausages

Graze sausage, eggs, veggies

My mom got a dish with house-made sausage, sauteed kale, sweet potatoes and cauliflower, and a sunny-side up egg. The dish also came with hot mustard for the sausages. Everything was cooked perfectly and it got my mom to like sunny-side up eggs for the first. It wasn’t anything too special but it was very good.

FOODNOTES: The view alone sells Graze as the place to go when spotlighting Madison as a food-loving town, but some of our choices added to the great night. The deviled eggs and both of our entrees weren’t anything too spectacular but our fried pickles and roasted beet salad were top notch. The fried pickles top my list of best fried pickles I’ve ever tried and will definitely be ordered again! But what will bring me back, other than the view and tempting other dishes to order, is the roasted beet salad! It was simple but spectacular! Prices are what you’d expect for a funky bistro across the street from the Capitol. I would suggest getting there early unless you don’t mind waiting 40 minutes for a table.