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!

Look past bad service to find amazing food at Pasta Nuovo

pasta nuovo menuPasta Nuovo took over the old Tutto Pasta spot in Middleton a couple months ago. I was kind of disappointed that my neighborhood was getting another Italian restaurant instead of a good Mexican restaurant or casual deli, but figured I should give it a chance. The inside was cozy and open, but it was a beautiful night so we sat outside on the patio. A restaurant definitely gets extra points with me when they have outdoor seating.

pasta nuovo bruschetta
Pasta Nuovo bruschetta

I want to start with the one reason I won’t be going back to Pasta Nuovo for a bit. The service here was awful. Our waiter was inattentive, arrogant and a little inappropriate. The other waiter serving on the patio filled our water glasses more than our waiter. Our appetizer and entrees were brought out by two different people other than our waiter. Our waiter spilled an entire bottle of beer on the woman behind us. He disappeared the entire time we were eating our entrees. He also told us about the two times he lost his credit card and had his identity stolen and how dumb he felt when that happened the second time. The cherry on the top of being a terrible waiter was when he condescendingly told me he would take care of my coupon after he didn’t take care of it the first two times I asked. The woman who brought out our appetizer and the other guy serving on the patio seemed like very nice and competent servers…maybe we just got the cream of the crop!

pasta nuovo bolognese
Pasta Nuovo pappardelle bolognese

I found a coupon for $10 off the purchase of an appetizer and two entrees so we started with the bruschetta. It came out on a large chunk of pizza dough, which was different than I have ever seen. The menu said it was topped with an heirloom tomato basil salad. The description was a little misleading because the stuff on top of our pizza crust was halved cherry tomatoes, a couple slices of basil and a ton of arugula. Everything was really fresh but the dish was definitely lacking in flavor. The flavorless pizza dough with cooked tomatoes and peppery arugula would really benefit from some balsamic vinegar and either mozzarella or Parmesan cheese. Also, the tomatoes were in such big pieces only one out of every two or three bites actually had tomato in it. Chopping the tomatoes up into smaller pieces would make it better.

pasta nuovo summer pasta
Pasta Nuovo tomato basil angel hair

They have a couple of non-pasta options for entrees but since they make the pasta in house I don’t think there was any questions that we wouldn’t get pasta. I got the pappardelle bolognese and was extremely happy that I did. The pasta was so fresh and was cooked to a perfect al dente. The bolognese sauce was, in one word, amazing. It was creamy and hearty but not too heavy. I think what made the sauce special was that it had a little bit of cream in it. Most bolognese sauces are strictly meat based and this one stood out from the crowd with the creaminess combined with the traditional hearty flavors of a bolognese. My mom got the tomato basil angel hair pasta. The pasta was also just as amazing as the pappardelle and the accompaniments were very fresh. The tomatoes were perfectly cooked and plentiful, and the sauce a perfectly sparse buttery drizzle with basil on top. It was very different from the pappardelle bolognese but an extremely flavorful version of buttered noodles. Both were a great choice.

FOODNOTES: The location is a plus for me and I loved the outdoor seating. The portion sizes were plentiful for the prices. Our server was terrible so I will be giving them some time to weed out the bad servers and assemble a good serving staff. Unless there are changes made to the bruschetta I probably won’t be getting it again. As amazing as the bolognese was there’s another dish on the menu I want to try. Next time I go I will be getting the roasted beet pasta. It is fresh beet and spinach fettuccine with roasted beets, goat cheese and pine nuts drizzled with olive oil. I don’t like the flavor of goat cheese but they said they would substitute Parmesan and I think that would be a great substitute. I would suggest getting the bolognese during your first trip and I will definitely update you on the roasted beet fettuccine dish. I also plan to check our their dessert options next time.