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Madison, WI trip Review – food is happiness

MariQ | Jul 15, 200312:22 PM

What a great chowhound weekend! Thanks for all the great tips about Madison.
We started this epicurean journey with dinner at L’Etoile on Friday night. Superb. From the two delicious amuse-gueules (chèvre-nut and the FRESH FRESH FRESH peas with prosciutto), to the last spoonful of dessert, everything was a masterpiece.
Our group of four shared 3 first courses – asparagus spears with prosciutto in mustard-seed vinaigrette, a salad of exotic mushrooms, and a delicate crab cake with sweet pea sauce. The beauty in all these plates was the freshness and the subtle/intense flavors of the ingredients – combinations that bring up the individual flavors, instead of losing them in an unfortunate blend. I had never had asparagus with prosciutto this good – and quite frankly would not have believed that it existed (I’m a believer now!).
We all shared the 4 main courses: wild stripped bass with wine-bacon cream sauce, wild salmon seared with a “fennel-pollen citrus crust”, tea-smoked quail (“with cinnamon accents”!) and beef tenderloin with red wine jus. The beef was excellent – but it was the weakest of the four entrées! The two fish dishes were fantastic – once again, the fresh ingredients and produce were combined to highlight each flavor, to amaze our palate – to compliment the exquisite taste of wild fish. The best of the entrées was the quail. I cannot begin to describe this incredible dish. Each bite was to die for, and the next bite was better. That’s all I can say!
The cheese course was rich and exceeded my high-expectations (and I expected a LOT from cheese in WI). The rhubarb and strawberry crisp and the chocolate vesuvius “with chocolate cinnamon red hots truffle center” were sweet and a great ending for an unforgettable dinner. It was the best dinning experience I have had in a WHILE – and the attentive service (thanks Kevin!) made it even better. We were the last ones to leave the restaurant, reluctantly…

So what’s better than a great dinner? A great dinner with a sweet morning-after – especially when it’s farmer’s market day in Madison. My infatuation with fresh food just grew stronger and stronger. Although the market was scaled down because of the art fair, the food we tasted and bought there was a true testimony of the market fame. Bursting cherries tomatoes (Baraboo Bluff), intense spicy cheese bread and a yummy apple muffin (Stella’s Bakery), crisp and flavorful “diva” cucumbers and deep-flavored eggplants (Tipi Farms), amazing garlic scapes (Harmony Valley), strawberries (Blue Skies farm) and raspberries so sweet that I fell on my knees (which was not a good idea, and I have the small scar to remind me). With these products, plus some gougeres, a brisket sandwich and a chocolate cookie from L’Etoile, we headed for a picnic in the country - another pleasure trip.

That evening we had dinner at Lao Laan Xang. Great appetizers: two types of spring rolls (Chinese sausage with plum sauce, and shrimp with fresh mint leaves and traditional peanut sauce), the crisp cucumber salad and a really delicious Tom Som Koong soup (where will I find something like that in Mpls?). For entrees, we had the three house specialties (papaya salad, catfish in banana leaf and larp beef). We ordered “two star” spice level (out of four), but unfortunately the papaya salad and the catfish were too spicy – and we couldn’t fully savor them.

The rest of the weekend was great, but the food wasn’t remarkable. The ice cream at the University Memorial Union was good, but not outstanding – or maybe it was that we ate so much all weekend that our taste buds were just going numb!

So write down the recipe for an INCREDIBLE weekend – pack great friends into a car, head for Madison, and eat-eat-eat. Isn’t it simple? Well, simplicity IS happiness.

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