Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Small Dishes
Curds

08/22/10

Curds

This is not a dissertation about my family tree, though I think it would be a reasonable assumption that I had distant ancestors who were cheese makers.  Curds are produced when milk is curdled with rennet, the first step in cheese making.  After being separated from the liquid portion— whey—curds are then used to make cheese.  How they are handled and salted determines the type and shape of cheese they ultimately become. Cottage cheese is nothing more than curds and whey.  However, any other form of fresh cheese curd is rarely found outside of regions where cheese is actually manufactured. Hence the popularity of this delicacy in the upper Midwest where deep frying is the most popular way to enjoy it. Cheese curds have to be the only food whose...

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Weekend in Madison

07/25/10

Weekend in Madison

Out of town guests? New to the city?  Routine in a rut? Or, just need a reminder why this place is truly special, even more so during the summer and fall. Here’s my itinerary for the perfect stay-at-home weekend. Friday 6:30 p.m.Fish Fry at the Old Fashioned.  They don’t take reservations and almost always there’s a wait, but rubbing elbows at the long bar is part of the experience. Relax, enjoy one of its namesake cocktails (made with brandy, of course), or the state’s other revered libation, an ice-cold brewski.  An order of fried cheese curds or one of their Lazy Susan appetizer assortments will help pass the time and enhance the quintessential Wisconsin dining experience. 8:00 p.m.Nightcap at the Edgewater Pier.  It’s...

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The Best of Restaurant Week

07/16/10

The Best of Restaurant Week

It’s now a much anticipated event observed twice a year: Restaurant Week.  It’s also a genuine bargain and opportunity to sample food at some of the city’s most popular eateries.  Participants offer three-course dinner menus for $25; some offer $15 luncheon menus as well. This promotion held in January and July next takes place in one week—July 25 – 30. In years past, many restaurants—fully booked for the official six days—have added on extra nights in order to accommodate customers. Another sign of its success is, many places around town now offer similar, reduced-price menus on a regular if not weekly basis.     As part of my own personal indulgence this past January, I put together a fantasy dining itinerary for...

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My Two Cents

07/11/10

My Two Cents

Lists have been around seemingly forever. I’m not talking about the mundane to-do or to-buy lists we make out everyday; I’m referring to the popularity lists—like Billboard’s Top 100 Songs and the Fortune 500. As the internet has become the primary source of news for many, rating anything and everything has exploded. I have to admit, like so many other people, I’m addicted to these compellations. In the past 24 hours, I’ve checked out the Top Ten U.S. Hotels, the Seven Healthiest Breakfast Cereals and Twenty-Five Novels You Can Read on the Beach Without Embarrassing Yourself. Of course, I’m curious to see how the choices—whether by experts or public poll—stack up against my own. They rarely do of course. Madison...

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What to Make for the Fourth of July?

06/29/10

What to Make for the Fourth of July?

Obviously, not steak and kidney pie (not that I would ever make that)—it has to be something All American.  The first menu that comes to mind is a New England clambake—so many of the founding fathers hailed from Massachusetts. And, it would be nice to have lobster rolls from the leftovers (not that there would be any leftovers). Unfortunately the main ingredients—lobsters and clams— are hard to come by around here and I’m not sure I’m up for digging a pit in my backyard anyway. Benjamin Franklin was from Philadelphia, but cheesesteak certainly isn’t very festive.  Washington and Jefferson were from Virginia and that conjures up ham which likewise isn’t very appealing (had that at Easter anyway). ...

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Local Loco

06/27/10

Local Loco

I’m crazy about local food products.  Obviously, their purchase benefits our local economy and reduces our carbon footprint.  Organizations like the international Slow Food and Madison’s own REAP Food Group support and promote this concept. But, for me the bottom line is, locally produced food products more often than not taste better.  That was not always the case.  When I was growing up, I would groan when my mother bought ice cream from the local dairy—it just wasn’t as good as Borden’s.  This was the era where Wonder Bread—improbably white and soft—supplanted the homelier loaves made at the corner bakery. For whatever reason, consumers became enthralled with food manufactured in factories far away; brought to them...

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Suddenly This Summer

06/13/10

Suddenly This Summer

L’Etoile will move from its venerable upstairs digs to space on the ground floor of the remodeled USBank building.  Attached will be Tory Miller’s new gastropub, Graze. On Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (111) will be Francesca’s al Lago, part of the Chicagoland group of restaurants, Mia Francesca. Peppino’s old space will get a complete makeover and reopen as Nostrano Restaurant (111 S. Hamilton Street), run by chefs Timothy and Elizabeth Dahl. The former Café Montmartre will become the Underground Food Collective (127 E. Mifflin Street). Also, the successful and established Old Fashioned will become bigger when it expands at its current location (23 N. Pinckney Street).

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Rights of Summer

05/30/10

Rights of Summer

It is fitting that summer begin and ends with a holiday.  In Wisconsin, it’s the season where the weather is as close to perfect as it ever gets.  It’s a time to take a trip “Up North” to the lake or just go on vacation from the humdrum. The unofficial kick off is Memorial Day, and appropriately in Madison, the occasion for the World’s Largest Bratfest. Though, I think the argument can be made that summer in Wisconsin is really the World’s Largest Bratfest. Without question, for many it’s the food of choice at backyard cookouts, street fairs and celebratory get-togethers. I think about summer and the Farmer’s Market, Concerts on the Square, State Fair, Taste of Madison—they all come to mind—and food!  For me...

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World's First?

05/24/10

World's First?

A new “gastro cantina” right here in Madison called King & Mane just opened. Located downtown at the junction of King and Main Streets, it’s a joint venture by Patrick O’Halloran (Lombardino’s and The Old Fashioned) and Michael Banas (Lombardino’s) who hope to charm this corner that has housed a series of to date unsuccessful restaurants, most recently the Local Tavern. So what exactly is a Gastro Cantina?  Its roots are in the wine bar, a gastronomic institution in Europe.  Most bars everywhere serve some food, but more often than not, sandwiches or snacks.  Some smart person came up with the idea of taking a mainly-for-drinking establishment and adding many wines by the glass and relatively simple but upscale food service:...

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My Pet Peeves

05/09/10

My Pet Peeves

This rant is all about me; all about those food-related things that annoy me.  Lily Tomlin says “Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.”  I guess that’s why I write:  I have a lot to complain about.  I once read that complaining was like trying to sweep up feathers: a lot of agitation with little effect.  Regardless it’s a good way to channel anger and frustration—and though tempting— more judicious than the alternative. “Easy Open” or “Resealable” when it isn’t. “New and Improved.” The only conclusion I can draw is that stuff they were selling before must have been crap, so why should I believe them now?  Processing for the sake of processing....

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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