Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Feb 21, 2010
01:15 PMSmall Dishes
March of Malaise
The holidays have come and gone. You’d never know it by the number of Christmas decorations that still abound. (I especially find the brown wreaths with their bright red bows depressing.) And, the New Year now seems very much like the old one. I’ve gone to Mardi Gras and returned with only a lot of worthless plastic beads. Worst of all, by even the most optimistic prediction—I’ve lived in Wisconsin too long to be optimistic—spring is at least a month away.
What was up until now comfort food is unbearable: mashed potatoes and root vegetables; gravy and heavy sauces; cream and baroque desserts. I need something to perk up my palate. I crave food full of flavor, fresh, spicy and exotic is all the better. I’ve got many recipes in my repertoire that fit the bill, but I want something different. I’m looking for dishes with ingredients I’ve never heard of—what is an ortanique and where can I get one? I gravitate toward improbable combinations like bacon and chocolate. Anything loaded with spices and peppers is attractive.
I love going to the Asian and Hispanic markets and buying interesting things, having no idea what they are. (There are a lot of them in the back of my cupboard). Too often, however, the ingredients I am looking for I can’t find. Sure, you can order them online but by the time they arrive I’m out of the mood for whatever it was I wanted to make.
I did pick up a bottle of Absolut Berri Açaí vodka this weekend and am looking forward to trying it. And I still have one bag of Zapp’s spicy Creole tomato potato chips spiked with Tabasco left over from my trip to New Orleans.
But with all this thinking about food, I’m working up an appetite. Maybe I’ll just go out. Here’s a short list of places to go and get your taste buds out of the winter doldrums.
Brickhouse BBQ. I haven’t been there yet but I always like going to new restaurants. Beside, nothing does it for me like smoked meat with tangy barbecue sauce.
Ha Long Bay. Pho is Vietnamese soul food—noodle soup with a punch. They have 10 different kinds but go for the house specialty, the authentic “Deluxe Ha Long Bay Noodle Soup” (just don’t look at the ingredients).
Jolly Bob’s. So you won’t be able to sit outside but there are a lot of Caribbean-inspired dishes here. I love just about anything jerked and if you need proof that you’re still alive, slather on some of the Scotch bonnet hot sauce.
K-Pepper. If you’re up for something different this place has a lot going for it. The yubu chobap—fried tofu stuffed with vinegar rice—and haemulpajun—green onion crepes filled with seafood and pepper sauce—are just starters.
Lao Laan-Xang. By nature Laotian food is fiery, but if you go “native” here, watch out! The curry squash is one of my favorite vegetarian dishes in Madison.
Maharaja. I love Indian food and sometimes it’s difficult to get away from the chicken tikka masala, but when I really want to spice things up I order the shrimp Vindaloo .
Restaurant Muramoto. Sushi can be tame, California rolls are boring, but Shinji’s special rolls like duck (with mango and avocado) or the bumble bee (fried salmon skin, with escolar, yuzu and habanero tobikko) really rock.
Taqueria Guadalajara. Okay, I’ll probably pass on the tongue or tripe tacos—the tacos carne al pastor—barbecued pork—are too good to pass up especially with the hot sauce they keep under the counter.