It's gotten so that I don't take a trip anymore without a thorough consultation of Chowhound.com beforehand. Last weekend, I was in Madison, and took much 'houndish advice, with excellent results:
- Dinner Friday night at L'Etoile. What a great place! My fellow food freak (I'll just call him FFF) and I were greeted by a couple of amuses-bouche: hickory-nut crackers topped with goat cheese and a toasted hickory nut, and roasted beets with blue cheese and a balsamic-honey reduction. Dee-lish. My starter was a salad of greens and strawberries with pulled duck confit and pear-honey vinaigrette; I cleaned my plate. FFF had a sweet onion soup with Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese flan; an unusual presentation (the server presented a shallow bowl containing the flan, then poured the soup into the bowl from a teapot) that was also extremely tasty. We both had fish entreés: red snapper with grilled vegetables for him, halibut with green beans and mashed potatoes for me (both excellent). And because it was Wisconsin, we finished with the cheese plate: a mild white sheep's milk cheese, a blue goat cheese that was barnyardy in the best possible way, an unbelievable 12-year-old cheddar, and a soft creamy blue that was like eating blue-cheese mousse. Our server was terrific -- recommended a great wine, talked to us about the various cheeses on offer, and was attentive without hovering. We really loved this restaurant.
- Saturday morning we went a little nuts at the Farmer's Market, which was displaced from its regular location by the Art on the Square art fair. Highlights included beautiful orange- and red-skinned carrots (which, along with their leafy tops, made a very nice soup last night from a Deborah Madison recipe -- I'll post it on Home Cooking if anybody wants it), yellow tomatoes, a couple of kinds of goat cheese, fresh cheese curds, peach-jalapeno jam, carrot marmalade, beautiful beets, and plump little snow peas. Oh, and we bought pastries to munch on while we wandered. We have a great farmer's market in our hometown (St. Paul, MN), but it's always a treat to taste new things.
- Sunday before we left town we went to Manna Café for breakfast. Gorgeous quiche with smoked trout and fresh dill, a savory cheddar-cornmeal scone with ham, and better bialys than I had last time I was in New York.
Thanks, 'hounds, for the recommendations!