Monday, January 16th, 2017

Sticking with our Friday the 13th tradition, we went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Last Friday we picked A Pig In A Fur Coat. (It’s apparently named for a dish from Kazakhstan, in case you’re wondering.) We’ve been there once before and liked it a lot. It’s got the kind of frou-frou foods that appeal to us: small plates of food so we can order a whole bunch of different things and share them. Last night we nibbled our way through a plate of olives with our cocktails, then ordered a charcuterie platter of three thinly-shaved meats, two cheeses (one hard, one soft), a dollop of foie gras, another dollop of mustard, and some jam, all with four slices of toasted baguette slices (I thought they could’ve added at least two more slices). After that, we split a raviolo, which is the singular of ravioli, which blew my mind because it never occurred to me before that there’s a singular form, but of course there is. Why just one? It was a big raviolo, about the size of a tea saucer. We sliced it in half and shared. And we finished off with a serving of duck-fat french fries, which we didn’t have enough room left in ourselves to finish eating even though they were astonishingly yummy.

pig in a fur coat | 10:23 am CDT
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Saturday, August 27th, 2016

When B asked where I wanted to go to dinner for our anniversary, I suggested Lombardino’s first thing. We hadn’t been there in months, probably in more than a year. They haven’t changed a thing, thank goodness. There are still pinups of Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollabrigida in the men’s room (B says there’s a movie poster and a potted plant in the ladies’ room; doesn’t seem fair) and they still bring you such a big pile of pasta and sauce when you order the spaghetti bolognese that you have plenty left over for lunch the next day. I wasn’t even tempted to try to finish it, not after our traditional appetizer of calamari.

The Cinemateque has reopened for the season, and they’re showcasing the work of Brian De Palma, starting with Dressed To Kill, which we went to see last night. I left the theater wondering if it was a film that used to be good but hasn’t aged well, or if it has always been a bad film. I’m leaning toward “always been bad.” Renowned film critic Roger Ebert praised Dressed to Kill for being “Hitchkockian,” but B and I described it with terms such as “cheeseball,” “unintentionally funny” and “laughably bad.” I saw Body Double when it came out in theaters and I remember just enough of it to think that maybe Brian De Palma has this one cheesy movie inside him that he keeps making over and over that brought audiences to the theater because it was chock full of sex and gore.

Even so, B wants to go see more of the De Palma movies they’re playing through the rest of the season (except Mission: Impossible, which I’m not a fan of, either; nobody makes Jim Phelps out to be the bad guy and gets away with it!). I’m willing, but only because they’re going to screen Carrie, which I’ve never seen all the way through before, and The Untouchables, which I’ve seen two or three times and I’m looking forward to seeing again. They’re also going to screen a documentary that appears to be a one-on-one interview with De Palma, and I always go for those behind-the-scenes films.

B wanted to stop at the Robin Room before the movie, where they were serving cubanos by special arrangement with a guest chef. We discovered at the last minute that they didn’t start serving until seven o’clock, the same time the movie started, so we had to fall back and regroup. We ended up at Buraka, an African restaurant on Willy Street. It used to be a place that served Jamaican food when it was called Jolly Bob’s, but it got new owners this summer and a complete makeover.

I can’t recall the dishes we ordered because they had native names; mine was something like “darowot” and B’s was maybe “tippi.” Both were spicy dishes, mine with chicken and hers with shrimp. I didn’t think they very spicy at the time so I wasn’t too worried that I might have trouble sleeping, but by the time we were headed home from the movie I was singing a different tune and even stopped at a drug store for some Pepto Bismol I could chug before bed time. I like spicy food, but most of it doesn’t like me very much.

The Pepto worked, but I woke anyway to the roar of pouring rain. It let up after a while, just before the cats went berserker crazy and started running back and forth through the house. After they got that out of their systems and I started to drift off to sleep again, I snored loudly enough to jolt myself awake not once, but several times. It was not a restful night, and was made less so because my back ached and there was a shooting pain from my right hip down the outside of my thigh. I hate getting old.

jumble | 1:44 pm CDT
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Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

My Darling B and I went to the El Dorado Grill for dinner on Thursday night. It was restaurant week, as if we needed an excuse to go out to eat. We were looking over the menus when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to start off with something to drink, which sounded like a great idea to me, so I ordered a martini. B told me later that when she asked, “Do you have a preference on the vodka?” I made a face like she’d just waved a dead squirrel under my nose. That must be the face I make when people ask me a question that seems to be completely disconnected from what we were just talking about, because at that moment I was thinking to myself, “Vodka? Is there vodka in a martini? I don’t think so. Why is she asking me about vodka?” It came and went, a quickly-passing senior moment, when I remembered that vodka martinis are a thing, but I still fumbled around for a bit trying to tell her that I wanted a martini made with Hendrick’s gin. Turned out that I got all the Hendrick’s gin left in the place, about two or three ounces, which they turned into an acceptable cocktail, but because it was smaller than they usually make them, they treated me to it, on the house! The best-tasting martinis are Hendrick’s martinis, but the most delightful are free martinis.

gratis | 11:26 am CDT
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Friday, December 4th, 2015

I was in charge of feeding us last night, but I had given literally zero seconds to thinking about what to make for dinner so I defaulted to stopping at Stalzy’s Deli for hot sandwiches, which has never been disappointing before and wasn’t last night. B ordered a slab of fried walleye on a hoagie bun, and I had a Ruben, and we were both so hungry that we ate every bite rather than save half for later, our usual modus operandi.

That was the second night in a row this week that we ate out. Wednesday was the first. After a long and especially busy day at work, B didn’t want to make dinner, she wanted to relax and have someone make dinner for her. I didn’t see how I would have a leg to stand on if I were to argue against her, so I didn’t. Take that back; I argued just a bit. She suggested Alchemy, but I’d been thinking about how long it had been since we visited Grandpa’s, a pizzeria on Willy Street, so I suggested that, and she went along without a moment’s regret.

The pizzeria’s in a building that used to be Grampa’s Gun Shop. It was right next door to what used to be a store that sold bibles and other Sunday-school tchotchkes. Both stores went out of business years ago; with a new coat of paint, the bible store became Jane’s Junk Shop. Gil Altschul and Marissa Johnson, the pair that have opened several crafty restaurants and bars in the area, bought the gun shop after it closed, gutted it and reopened it as a very cozy little pizzeria, naming it Grandpa’s as a nod to its previous life.

The front of the shop, where gunsmith Larry Gleasman used to sit and work on guns behind the big picture window when it was Grampa’s Gun Shop, was turned into a dining room with one long community table. We were seated there the first time we visited, but when we’ve gone back every time after, they’ve seated us in the dining room that was added to the back of the shop and faces the gardens. Paneled in dark wood with windows all around, the addition has the homey look and comfortable feel of an old-fashioned family room.

Our second visit was on a Tuesday, which they’ve declared Date Night, so we ordered the Date Night Special, which comes complete with special pizza, appetizers and a bottle of wine at a very reasonable price. Since we missed Date Night by twenty-four hours on our most recent visit, we had to pay for the bottle of wine; it was overpriced, but drinks everywhere always are so what the hell.

We built our own pizza last night, or rather B did. I suggested too many toppings and combined pepperoni with basil, a culinary no-no, if B’s reaction was anything to go by. She suggested roasted red peppers and sausage instead of pepperoni, which turned out to be a fabulously delicious pizza indeed. We gobbled up all but two slices, which I saved for lunch the next day. And we got to take home the olives we didn’t eat. So, a very nice night out indeed.

eating out | 1:22 pm CDT
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Saturday, November 14th, 2015

“I think we finally have found a new Fri 13 restaurant to replace the beloved Peppino’s,” My Darling B posted on Facebook while we were having dinner at Estrellon, Tory Miller’s new restaurant on Johnson Street in downtown Madison. I believe she may be right, although I would quibble with her use of the word “replace.” I don’t know how we’ll ever find another restaurant that will have the both the cozy feel and the terrific food that Peppino’s had, but Estrellon is the best substitute we’ve found so far.

We went there for tapas several months ago and passed the better part of an evening noshing away at a table in the bar while the waitress brought us one dish after another, and maybe a few glasses of wine to go with them. It was such wonderful food that we knew right away we would have to come back, and when Friday the Thirteenth rolled around this month, My Darling B made reservations.

The dining room is beautiful, very open and airy with high white ceilings crossed by darkly stained wooden beams. The walls are paneled with dark wood and the back of the room is open to the kitchen so you can watch Chef Tory Miller and his staff go to work (he happened to be there last night during our visit).

The staff is fantastic. Everybody’s smiling and helpful, and our waitress – she happened to be the same young lady who waited on us when we stopped in for tapas in the summer (I think she said her name was Christine; hope I got that right) – had an impressive knowledge of the foods – how they were made, what they were made with, and how to pair them with which wines.

We chose three tapas dishes to start, a dish of garlic shrimp swimming in oil, and a dish they called “estofado de vegetales” that was a stew of Italian sausage, root vegetables and chickpeas, served with a crouton topped with tomato relish. I would’ve been satisfied with the stew alone, it was so good and the portion so generous.

Our entree was called “valenciana” and was a big fry pan filled up with rabbit, shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo, cherry tomatoes, flavored with sarvecchio cheese and served on a bed of bomba rice. I thought we’d have plenty to take home for a midnight snack, but it was so good that we gobbled up every little bit of it.

We learned on our first visit that a meal at Estrellon is not complete without the churros. They’re served with a cup of melted dark chocolate that you can dip the churros in, or spoon into your coffee; they give you more than enough for both.

Estrellon | 7:59 am CDT
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Sunday, October 25th, 2015

The view from Ishnala Supper Club's dining roomWe had dinner last night at the Ishnala Supper Club near Wisconsin Dells. It’s a bit of a drive, just under an hour, but as things turned out, our visit there was worth every minute on the road.

We learned about Ishnala from “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club,” a documentary we watched at the film festival. If it sounds a little dry and boring, it really isn’t; it gave us the urge to visit every Wisconsin supper club in the film. We didn’t, but ever since then we have wanted to visit Ishnala, a relatively short drive from Madison.

I have to admit, I wanted to go there for the ambiance alone. The supper club is in a log-cabin themed building perched on the very edge of Mirror Lake. The bar is the most prominent room, jutting out over the lake and surrounded on three sides by picture windows that gave us an uninterrupted view of the fall foliage. The dining room is much the same: a long, open room with floor-to-ceiling picture windows on the side facing the lake. Our visit was maybe a week past the peak time for fall colors, and the evening was overcast so the colors were a bit muted, but it was still gorgeous.

I frankly didn’t expect much from the food, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. B and I each ordered a seven-ounce fillet mignon with sun-dried tomatoes in a wine reduction, one of the specials, and it was fantastic. I ate every bite and used my potato skins to sop up as much of the wine reduction as I could. The little bit of sun-dried tomato that was left over got buttered onto slices of melba toast and I shared it with My Darling B.

Tim treated us to his company on this trip and reported that the New York strip steak he ordered was every bit as wonderful as our fillets. We were there a little more than two hours, lingering afterwards over a slice of chocolate gateau and coffee before hitting the road back to Madison.

Our First Dinner at Ishnala | 9:36 am CDT
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Saturday, April 25th, 2015

A coworker and I stopped at a Perkins restaurant for lunch on a recent business trip. After we finished our entrees, the waitress took our plates away and asked us if we had saved any room for dessert. I wasn’t interested, but my coworker asked about the cookies he’d seen in the display case on the way in.

“We have a special on those,” the waitress told us. “If you buy three, you get three.”

We looked blankly at each other for a couple seconds, both thinking the same thing: What’s so special about that? If you pay for three, you ought to get three.

Then the nickel dropped. What she meant was that if he bought three, she would give him three more. It was a two-for-one deal.

pay for three | 8:10 am CDT
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Sunday, April 12th, 2015

B & O at the Greenbush BarB & I had enough time on Friday night between the last two movies to check out the Greenbush Bar, a place we’ve been meaning to visit for years that is so hugely popular, we had to wait twenty minutes for a table. No worries; I grabbed a beer from the bar and we cozied up in a couple of chairs by the door while we waited.

Greenbush Bar is on the 900 block of Regent Street in the basement of the Italian Workmen’s Club and, in a lot of ways, it’s just what you would expect a basement bar to look like. The ceiling is low, the walls are panelled in pine, and the ceiling is painted black so that the colored Christmas lights that are strung everywhere stand out all that much better.

The bar is a long, gentle curve of wood along the right wall as you walk in; when we got there, all the seats were taken but it was not yet three deep, the way it would be by the time we left. The rest of the room is low two-person pine tables, pushed together here and there where larger parties have been seated. Pizza seems to be their signature menu item; every other table had one on a wire stand that diners eagerly tore pieces from.

B and I weren’t looking for a pizza; B tried the special instead, which I forget right now. I had spaghetti and meatballs; the spaghetti was not bad, the sauce was good and the meatballs were very good.

We lingered for as long as it took us to finish our beers without gulping them down; there was quite a crowd waiting along the walls by the time we were finished.

Greenbush Bar | 7:46 am CDT
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Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Omigod. I am so full. Still. We went to Stalzy’s Deli for dinner last night and they served us so much food and we ate all of it. WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

We didn’t eat ALL the head cheese. That was the only exception I can remember. In the spirit of the event we tried the head cheese, and agreed that it was good, but we also agreed that a little head cheese goes a long way and also that head cheese is a food that is probably in need of a robust rebranding effort. “Cheesehead” sounds whimsically funny, but somehow “head cheese” sounds … not right.

The rest of the appetizers were eagerly gobbled up by everyone at our table. Smoked deli meats, pickled cukes and Brussels sprouts, breads sliced & stuffed – it all got snatched up as the plate was passed hand to hand.

We ate all the cabbage rolls. Because they were sooo delicious.

I don’t think we ate all the spaetzel, but I’m going to stand fast on the claim that they gave us way more spaetzel than any six people could eat no matter how much beer was liberally poured to help wash it down.

I didn’t mention the beer? The good folks at Karben4 Brewing aided and abetted the crew at Stalzy’s to pair one of their fine brews with each course of the meal: A seasonal beer with the appetizer, a red ale with the first course, a black IPA with the next and a firkin of specially-crafted, barrel-aged IPA with the final course.

I was feeling full by the time I finished the spaetzel but couldn’t say no to the schnitzel, because Stalzy’s schnitzel is about as good as schnitzel gets. I really shouldn’t have eaten all of it, but I did. And hated myself for it. And loved every bite.

The final course was a cherry-stuffed pirogi drizzled with cream. I tried to eat it all. I really did. I just couldn’t. I could barely lift my fork by then.

I will eat nothing but leafy greens from now on.

fat fat fat | 8:50 am CDT
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Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Our last stop during Madison Restaurant Week was Johnny Delmonico’s Steakhouse. This was our first visit to Johnny’s and to make it an extra-special celebration, we met good friends Becky and John there.

My appetizer was Flash-Fried Calamari tossed in sweet and spicy chili sauce and crushed peanuts. I can’t remember the last time I had calamari as delicious as that. Everybody but Johnnie was ohhhing and ahhhing over it except John, who couldn’t bring himself to eat octopus and went with the Caesar salad instead.

Becky and I had Alaskan Cod and Shrimp for our entree: wild-caught Alaskan cod and shrimp poached in a spicy tomato and saffron broth, served with grilled bread. Not bad at all, but a little soupier than I thought it would be. My Darling B ordered Certified Angus Beef Short Ribs: tender port-braised short ribs served with creamy polenta, roasted root vegetables and demi-glace. Johnnie went with the New York Strip: sliced certified angus beef New York strip served with garlic mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus and bordelaise sauce.

For dessert, I had German Chocolate Cake served with chocolate sauce and shaved coconut. It was so gobsmacking good I don’t even remember what the others had.

Johnny Delmonico’s | 11:15 am CDT
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Friday, January 23rd, 2015

By now, you’ve noticed that our third meal in our whirlwind tour of Madison Restaurant Week venues has been missing from this drivel. “What the hell?” You were thinking. “Has he forgotten his duties?” It’s a natural reaction, and I have a good reason: I’m lazy. I started to write it up, but didn’t feel like finishing it. It happens to me all the time. Like right now. I started to make fun of myself for not finishing the drivel I wrote about going out to eat, but I don’t have any ideas for a way to finish the joke and I’m not sure I want to any more. Well. Anyway.

We went to Sardine on Tuesday night. Sardine is one of our favorite places to eat, and ironically so, because we so rarely go there. It’s got great food, the staff is very nice, very professional and very fast, and the bar is well-stocked with any kind of wine, booze or beer you could think of. Well, that I can think of. Maybe you can think of a lot more than I can.

My appetizer was fish soup or, as it’s known when it’s the soup du jour, “soupe de poisson.” Don’t ask me why “soup” doesn’t have a silent e and then it does. I don’t know French so I asked The Google, and I just wrote down what it told me. So. This may be the first time I’ve ever had fish soup. Every time the option of fish soup was presented to me before I thought, Fish is an odd thing to make soup out of, and I didn’t get it. But Restaurant Week is all about trying new things, so I tried it and I liked it. B’s appetizer was a goat cheese and onion tart with black olives and oven-roasted tomatoes. B loves a good tart.

My entree was a grilled Norwegian salmon because, when I see salmon on the menu, nothing else has a chance. They served it with French lentils, sautéed spinach, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, and beurre blanc. That’s a sauce made of butter. Don’t be impressed that I knew that. I asked The Google again. B’s entree was a French casserole that foodies call Cassoulet, which seems weird to me because “casserole” is a French word. Why would the French have two words for the same thing? Turns out they don’t. “Casserole” comes from a word that means “saucepan,” so you’re eating a saucepan when you call it a casserole. B loves her saucepans, but she loves Cassoulet even more. The Cassoulet at Sardine was braised white beans, lamb, garlic sausage, duck confit and bread crumbs. She let me taste some of hers. Oh my.

For dessert, I asked for Gianduja Crunch, because the menu described it as chocolate-hazelnut ganache on a crunchy feuilletine crust, caramel sauce and hazelnut brittle tuille. I don’t know what half of that means, but I didn’t have to ask The Google about any of it because you had me at “chocolate-hazelnut ganache.” B had the Crème Renversée au Caramel. Ditto hers, except you had to get all the way to “caramel” to hook me.

Sardine | 5:48 am CDT
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Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

We had dinner tonight at Quivey’s Grove, our fourth meal during Madison Restaurant Week. It’s a comfy restaurant, we’ve enjoyed the meals we’ve had there before, and the menu they published looked enticing.

For an appetizer, I asked for the roasted garlic and cauliflower soup served with parmesan cheese croutons. Very tasty. B enjoyed Wisconsin raclettes, a dish made of Roth Kase Raclette cheese, baby red potatoes, baby dill pickles and pickled onions. B loves her appetizers hot and gooey.

For the entree, I went for the lamb shank, an impressively large shank of lamb slowly braised in Wollersheim Domaine du Sac red wine until it was fall-off-the-bone tender, served with root vegetables in pan juices and a generous helping of rosemary garlic mashed potatoes. Very nicely done. B went for the Pork Trio: pork tenderloin medallions on caramelized apple with cider cream sauce, a pork shank lollipop (no, really, that’s what they said it was) glazed with honey mustard sauce on bacon and caraway kraut, and cottage pie made with braised pork cheek and mashed potatoes – sort of a tiny little shepherd’s pie served in what looked like a soup bowl.

I was especially looking forward to dessert: their published menu promised chocolate sauce cake, rich and gooey chocolate cake baked on chocolate sauce, upended in a bowl and served warm with vanilla ice cream. “Not so pretty, but just try to stop eating this!” they bragged. And that’s all they did, because chocolate sauce cake wasn’t on the menu when we got there. I had to settle for a so-so standby in vanilla flan. B’s dessert wasn’t on the published menu, either. It was some kind of whipped cream and chocolate sauce confection in a cocktail glass. Put up or shut up next time, Quivey’s.

Quivey’s Grove | 8:40 pm CDT
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