Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Rain began to fall as we stepped out of the parking garage on North Webster to walk to Harvest, the last restaurant we had reservations for during Madison’s Restaurant Week. We were both so unfamiliar with the feeling of water falling out of the skies on our heads that we froze in confused indecision and began to babble our thoughts aloud to each other.

“Should we go get a brollie from the car?” My Darling B asked.

“It’s only a little rain,” I said, as if I knew what “a little rain” looked like any more, “from a passing cloud. We’ll be fine.”

It’s just a block and a half from the parking garage to Harvest. We had to wait in the rain for the light to change so we could cross through the traffic on North Webster, and we made it as far as the overhang in front of the Bartell Theater before I voiced the opinion that it wasn’t only a little rain after all and that maybe we should wait it out.

“We’ll be fine,” B said, so we started out again, sticking as close as possible to the buildings, where the rain wasn’t coming down quite so hard.

As we rounded the corner in front of the YWCA building I caught sight of the staff at Harvest frantically clearing linens and silverware off the tables on the sidewalk, and that’s about the same moment that I realized I was getting SOAKED and was walking rather briskly up the street to the door. Apparently my subconscious mind, which must have been operating on the same frequency as the staff at Harvest, had hijacked control over my body from my devil-may-care conscious mind because HEY DUMMY IT’S RAINING!

The staff at Harvest, apparently just as surprised by the rain as we were, recovered with a lot more poise and dignity than we did. The hostess pretended that we weren’t dripping all over her podium, for instance. Lots of brownie points to her.

This was our first visit to Harvest ever, even though we have been living in Madison for six years and have said to each other at least half a dozen times every one of those years that we really have to visit Harvest one of these days. With all those years of built-up anticipation I was completely prepared to be disappointed because, really, I was expecting a dining experience that would send my very soul to a happy place and make me long to go back. Well, guess what? It was all that. I’m even happier to report that My Darling B thought our visit was, overall, the most enjoyable of all the five restaurants we stopped at this week. Huzzah, Harvest! You’ve been given the high-five by a couple of bumpkins! That’ll teach you for letting just anybody in the door.

The hostess seated us at a table along the wall, offering the chair to My Darling B. She usually sits on the bench seat along the wall and I thought maybe I ought to wait until the hostess went away and let her switch, but then I thought, Hey, just what’s so great about the bench seat, anyway? And I sat down and settled in. You know what? It turns out that there are not one but two really great things about the bench seat: First of all, you’re sitting against the wall so you can watch everything that’s going on. I got to marvel at the skill of the bartender as he mixed many liquid libations, for instance, and I couldn’t help but check out the costumes all the other diners were wearing. We weren’t the only bumpkins who showed up in relaxed attire, but we were a pronounced contrast to the many diners who dressed to the nines. People watching is too much fun.

The second really great thing about sitting on the bench seat against the wall is, I wasn’t hanging out there in the aisle for the diners and all the staff to bump into. And there’s a lot of staff at Harvest. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many staff at a restaurant before. At least ten, maybe twelve people, constantly buzzing through the aisles taking orders, delivering drinks, passing dishes from the kitchen to the tables, refilling water glasses, whisking dirty dishes away. I can’t fault them for service, but it was a little distracting.

First, the drinks. B ordered what Harvest called their signature martini. It was made with vodka. Why are drinks made with vodka instead of gin called martinis? How is that any different from serving a dish you call Chicken Kiev that you make with pork cutlets instead of chicken? Okay, never mind, I shouldn’t have gone there, forget I asked. Besides, it was delicious. The waiter mixed our drinks up and gave me B’s not-martini and I drank a sip and liked it. Quite a lot. So much that I would have gladly drunk the whole thing, but that still doesn’t make it a martini, okay?

Here’s another really wonderful thing about their martini which is not really a martini: If you ask the waiter what’s in it, as My Darling B did, the waiter will ask the bartender and the bartender will come over to the table and tell you exactly what’s in it, right down to the label. That tempted us to ask, later on, what was in the sauce they served with the main dish, to see if the chef would come out to tell us, but we managed to stifle ourselves even though the temptation was nearly overwhelming.

On to the food: We both ordered the tempura chicken for starters and the slow-cooked pork shoulder for the second course. We almost always order different dishes so that we can try each other’s food, but we know what we like and, after looking over the menu last night, we knew that we didn’t want anything else. We even ordered the same wine to go with dinner, a Cotes du Rhone that had just enough zip to it to compliment the pork shoulder. Listen to me. Like I would know what kind of wine would compliment pork. You almost bought that for just a moment, didn’t you?

I wasn’t as impressed by the chicken as B was. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it was very tender and I liked the barbecue sauce they drizzled on it, but I guess I was expecting crispy tempura. This wasn’t that. It was delicious and I ate every bite, but it wasn’t what I expected, is I guess what I’m trying to say, badly. My Darling B thought it was awesome in every way and cut the chicken into tiny little pieces, the more to sop up all the sauce.

The slow-cooked pork shoulder was served over a generous piece of savory corn bread. Wow. Just wow. That’s all I could think of to say about that. Actually, we couldn’t say much at all because we couldn’t stop putting every scrummy morsel into our mouths until it was all gone, so really what I was saying was more like, “Mmm! Mmmmm, mmmm mmm! Mmmmmm mmmmm mmm!” And then B would say to me, “Mmm! MMM!” And I would nod my head and answer, “Mmmm!”

We kept that up through dessert. We ordered the same main dish, but we split on the dessert. I had the chocolate cake because, duh, chocolate. No-brainer. It was served with a dab of bourbon mousse and vanilla ice creme anglaise drizzled all around. I’m not sure what ice creme anglaise is but it tasted really good. B had the berry parfait and, when she finished, said it was the best dessert she’d had all week. Another high five from the bumpkins, Harvest!

harvest | 8:22 am CDT
Category: booze, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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