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.
My third Restaurant Week stop in January was at 43 North on King Street. Based on their normal menu, the tiny “modern bistro” features classic appetizers, salads and entrees with modern twists (different sauces, interesting ingredient combinations). But I’ve learned that anything with the word “bistro” in the description usually means the portions are small and 43 North was no exception. Usually the point of small dishes is that the flavor makes up for the size, but that was not the case with the dishes I tried at 43 North.
**NOTE: sorry about the bad pictures…it was super dark in there!
For appetizers they were offering a radish salad, roasted dates with goat cheese and a sweet potato soup, which is what I got. The soup was smooth, but not creamy and didn’t have any complex flavors. It just tasted like savory sweet potato puree. To be honest, it almost tasted like it had curry in it, but that was not in the description. It was not memorable.
The entree options seemed to have more components. The two friends I went with got game hen with lentils, thyme vinaigrette, bacon and butternut squash, and curried cauliflower with polenta, kale and eggplant. The curried cauliflower had a very light (almost nonexistent and less than the sweet potato soup) curry flavor.
I got the salmon with red potato, spinach and mushroom ragout. I will use two words to describe the dish: small and boring. My salmon was cooked well and was crispy on the outside, but it was the absolute smallest piece of fish I have ever been served at a restaurant. The spinach was unremarkable and the mushroom ragout was lacking the savory flavor I expect from mushroom sauces. The red potatoes were mixed in with the mushroom ragout, so I can’t imagine they had any great flavor on their own.
The dessert options actually sounded the most exciting. They offered a Wisconsin cheese platter with jam and mustard (but the cheese options were a blue cheese and goat cheese — why not offer a cheddar?) and a very interesting dessert called a Pavlova. After some research we learned it is a meringue-based cake with a crisp crust and usually topped with fruit and whipped cream. The Pavlova at 43 North came with coconut cream, blackberries and passion fruit coulis. It looked very interesting, but because of the coconut I didn’t try it.
I got the almond panna cotta with balsamic macerated strawberries and hazelnut shortbread. The panna cotta was light in texture, but had a dense vanilla-y, almond flavor. The panna cotta by itself was the single best part of my meal. The toppings were a little odd. The balsamic macerated strawberries just tasted like cooked strawberries…I was missing the sweet tang I was expecting from the balsamic vinegar. The hazelnut shortbread was hard to identify. I was expecting it to be a cookie or larger chunks, but it was basically crumbles on top that I kept trying to scoop up. I’m not sure what the hazelnut shortbread tasted like because I could never get enough in one bite to get a good sense of its flavor.
FOOD NOTES: All in all, I was pretty disappointed with my meal at 43 North. The soup was lacking in flavor. The salmon dish featured a perfectly cooked piece of fish, but everything else on the plate was bland. The dessert was the best part, but only the panna cotta. The toppings followed suit with the rest of the meal — boring flavors and small amounts (why does a hazelnut shortbread have to be mashed into minuscule pieces instead of served in larger, edible chunks?). I’m glad I finally got to try 43 North (especially during Restaurant Week when I didn’t shell out a ton of money), because now I know it belongs on my “do not visit” list.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I always walk into chain restaurants with low expectations in an effort to not be extremely disappointed by my meal. Usually it works, but when I went to Jason’s Deli with a friend the food and dining experience actually far exceeded my chain restaurant expectations and met most of my regular expectations for a good meal.
Jason’s Deli opened a couple weeks ago and on my first visit I was pretty impressed. The building behind West Towne Mall just off Mineral Point Road has a large dining room with Madison-themed pictures, an open kitchen and a great outdoor seating area. The staff seemed very green (I did just open), but they were extremely nice throughout our entire visit.
The menu has a lot of different options, including soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis, a couple pasta options and baked potatoes. They also have a nice-sized salad bar and free ice cream when you dine in (one of the super nice employees told us they deliver, and we noticed they have a drive through!). Everyone who eats there also has access to their free dry bar, which includes bread, mini corn muffins, crackers and pickles. I love pickles and corn muffins, so this was an awesome perk to find out about!
My friend got the Cuban panini and it got a thumbs up. All sandwiches come with chips, even when you get the manager’s half-sandwich special, which means you get a half sandwich with either a cup of soup, fruit or salad bar.
I decided to try the Mighty Wild Salmon Salad. The description has a special box around it on the menu denoting it as something developed with the MD Anderson Cancer Center…I know it sounds kind of gimmicky but it was also the only thing on the menu that had the calories listed. The salad is a mix of organic field greens, beets, beans, nuts…and more, topped with grilled, wild Alaskan salmon for 610 calories with the oil and vinegar dressing. Everything on that list sounded great except for the ‘and more.’ I was concerned the ‘and more’ would be some sort of goat or blue cheese but the guy taking my order said it was a mix of craisins and seeds! When the salad came out I was pretty happy with the size and extremely happy with the quantity of ingredients on top. The lettuce was fresh, the beets were…well they were beets and would have been better pickled…but I like beets! The salmon was a good size, but it was a little dry. But because it was a little dry and didn’t have a lot of seasoning it went well with everything on top of the salad. The beans consisted of lima, garbanzo and kidney from what I remember and the nuts included sunflower, pepitas, and walnuts. There were also large florets of broccoli and a couple tomatoes! The light oil and vinegar dressing mostly helped keep the salmon from tasting too dry, but I didn’t need any more flavor assistance from the dressing because the rest of the toppings had so much flavor!
Both of us decided to get a cup of soup. I got the broccoli cheese and my friend got the potato. Both of them were pretty typical restaurant soups…nothing special, lukewarm, heavy with not a really great flavor, but still good. The best thing about my soup was dipping the crispy chunks of bread in it from the dry bar!
FOOD NOTES: Jason’s Deli has a ton of different menu options — it seems they have something for everyone! The food was a little pricey, but in comparison to Panera I felt like I got more food — and better quality food — for my money. The extra freebies diners get are super fun and were really unexpected. The Mighty Wild Salmon was tasty, pretty healthy for a dinner out and not too high in calories for what you get. The soup was forgettable. While we were there I did notice one thing being delivered to tables that I want to try next time I go — the Plain Jane baked potato. It comes stuffed with cheddar, sour cream, butter, bacon and green onions. That doesn’t sound plain Jane to me!!
When I walked into the new Flying Hound Pub across from my old stomping grounds (the Fitchburg Super Target) I was expecting a heavy lunch littered with french fries, cheese and sauces. When our lunch came all of those expected pub food components were there, but the salad we ordered was surprisingly light, fresh, flavorful and filling.
To try out the traditional pub food at the Flying Hound we got the schnitzel, which is a fried piece of meat (I think the one at the Flying Hound is a pork chop), that comes on top of a Clausen’s bun with muenster cheese and arugula on top. It also comes with a container of housemade onion gravy. The schnitzel was tender and battered perfectly, but it was a little greasy and with the bun and cheese it was a very heavy sandwich. The onion gravy looked a little scary (it was dark brown and lumpy) but it was definitely the best part of the sandwich. Without the onion gravy the schnitzel didn’t have enough flavor and would have been very dry.
For a little extra we decided to get the sweet potato fries instead of regular fries. They were thin and crispy and not greasy, but they definitely needed more salt. The other added benefit of the odd-looking onion gravy was that it went really well with the sweet potato fries.
As for the salmon kale salad…I would definitely get that over the schnitzel if I go back. The salmon was perfectly cooked and came on top of a massive pile of tender kale. The salad also had walnuts, craisins, croutons, parmesan cheese and an herb vinaigrette. I’m not a huge fan of craisins, so I mostly avoided them but the couple I had with the other ingredients added a good sweet flavor. Other than the craisins, I loved the rest of the toppings. The walnuts were great with the vinaigrette, and the parmesan cheese added a nutty, savory flavor that paired well with the salmon. The one note I have is that the salad is pretty large and filling with a higher-than-normal price tag for a lunch.
FOOD NOTES: The new pub is in a perfect location — there aren’t any other non-franchise options in the area, plus it has a great patio. The schnitzel was made with quality ingredients, but definitely needed the housemade onion gravy to top it off. The sweet potato fries were good, but not spectacular. The surprising thing about the Flying Hound was that I was more impressed with the salmon kale salad than anything else we got. The salad had the perfect combination of yummy and healthy ingredients. If you’re heading to the Flying Hound for lunch definitely give their salad menu a look over the heavier pub fare on the menu.
I’ve been driving past a house turned into a restaurant for three years and never stopped in because the menu never made an impression on me, and online reviews didn’t thrill me. Well that was probably one of the biggest food mistakes I’ve made in awhile. The chic pizza bar and Italian restaurant Villa Dolce is a hidden gem in downtown Middleton that serves up great Italian-inspired dishes and amazing pizza.
The building that houses Villa Dolce used to be a house before it was turned into a restaurant, and the owners really used that to their advantage. They use every inch of that building and have great nooks and crannies with different table setups. I loved the warm, inviting decor and the modern lighting elements. The inside of Villa Dolce was definitely surprising after looking at the outside for so long. For lunch, they do counter service and bring your order to your table. For dinner they do normal restaurant service. The menu is huge but my friend Michelle Li and I got to try some really amazing options.
First we tried their artisan sausages, which are their specially-made beef and lamb sausages, grilled and served on a small crostini with feta cheese, a piece of cucumber and cherry tomatoes on top. It also comes with a garlic aioli for dipping. The sausage was a great balance of the beef and lamb, but the fresh ingredients on top really made the dish. The feta added a great tanginess to the heavy sausage, and the cucumber and tomato balanced the whole dish out. I usually love garlic aioli, but these sausages were so good I never even tried their aioli; they didn’t need it!
The antipasto platter that was delivered to our table was almost too pretty to eat. ALMOST! There was a ton of different ingredients on the beautifully laid out tray. It came with roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, olives, marinated artichoke hearts, prosciutto, soprosata, marinated onions, pesto and fontina cheese. Everything went very well together. My favorites were the soprosata with the fontina cheese, because the meat had a good spice that was perfectly complemented by the creamy cheese.
Their summer salad is a super creative way to serve up a fresh, healthy, flavorful salad. It is salmon, beets, walnuts, farro, strawberries and quinoa served on a bed of shredded kale. It comes with a perfectly tangy balsamic dressing. I don’t think I could pass up some other super amazing options on the menu for this salad, but if you’re looking for a very flavorful, healthy option, this salad is it.
The best part of our meal was 100 percent the prosciutto and arugula pizza. I’m not the biggest fan of pizza and usually opt for something healthier and lighter when I go out to eat, but this pizza is something special. It comes with a three cheese blend and prosciutto topped with arugula, oven dried tomatoes and an aged balsamic glaze. First, it’s a beautiful pizza. It is super simple and the ingredients are super fresh. The light, crispy crust was the perfect base for the rich prosciutto, peppery arugula and tangy tomatoes. The cheese and balsamic glaze took the pizza over the top and makes it my favorite pizza to date. There’s no tomato sauce, there’s no heavy crust, and there’s no grease. This pizza is what I imagine pizza to be like in Italy, and is the type of pizza I actually enjoy!
Villa Dolce also has some pretty spectacular desserts on their menu including homemade tiramisu, creme brulee, Nutella crepes and gelato, but we got to sample a gelatini. Gelatinis are beautiful dessert martinis made with gelato. I took a sip and trust me, they taste stronger than they look!
FOOD NOTES: The worst part about going to Villa Dolce was that I realized that I had been missing out on some amazing food less than a block from my apartment for almost three years! The antipasto platter was amazing and would be a great starter for a small group to chat over while waiting for the rest of the amazing food to come. Their new summer salad was super creative and had great flavors for being so healthy, but nowhere near good enough to pass up the prosciutto and arugula pizza for. There’s a reason I usually don’t like pizza. It’s because most pizza isn’t good. Villa Dolce’s pizza was the first truly good pizza I’ve ever had. I can’t say enough good things about that amazing pizza. Word to the wise: be smarter than I was and save room for dessert!