Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Oct 19, 2011
10:55 AMSmall Dishes
Adventures in Good Eating
That was the name of Duncan Hines’ restaurant guide in 1950s. He was the Tim and Nina Zagat of his day and the leading authority on dining out. Today, most people only recognize his name as that of a popular cake mix. Fame as a restaurant critic is fleeting and taste in food fickle.
Just like what we eat, much has changed about the restaurant business in the last 50 years. For one thing, “adventure” and “good eating” are rarely associated with each other anymore. The success of chains like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken were built on uniformity and no surprises. Now, a restaurant adventure has become a pejorative. Even Duncan Hines admitted, “I've run more risk eating my way across the country than in all my driving.” Admittedly, there’s nothing worse than anticipating a good meal—especially at a place brimming with potential—only to be let down.
That said, I still get tired of the same old things—knowing what’s going to be on the menu even before I’ve had a peek. I wouldn’t complain if I never again saw Caesar salad, crab cakes, blackened whatever or key lime pie. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all, but can make them all at home (and do). I appreciate a little ingenuity when I dine out.
Here is a list of some local restaurants who dare to deviate from the norm, offering options for the more adventurous among us.
Buck and Honey’s. I recently visited this new restaurant in Sun Prairie for the first time and found it much as I had expected. That is, until I saw the first item on the menu: goat cheese, roasted and served with raspberry chipotle sauce and pita bread. A lot of different cultures contributed to this recipe!
Taste of Tibet. Its sandwich board on State Street stopped me in my tracks: “We now have yak meat.” An oddity today, yak may be the red meat of the future (didn’t I hear that one said about ostrich?). Now raised in this country, supposedly its flavor is beef-like but with much less fat. A yak burger patty here comes with mixed vegetables and noodles.
Tornado Steak House. It grills a great steak and has all the appropriate accoutrements like shrimp cocktail, iceberg head lettuce salad and hashbrowns. But did you know it’s not just beef for dinner here? Rabbit and venison are on the menu as well.
Wah Kee. With so many different types of Asian noodles prepared a zillion different ways, it’s probably not surprising that a few might seem a bit odd, at least to Western diners. For example, both the stewed pig hock and oxtail noodles are house specialties. I just read that chicken feet soup would be the next big thing at American Chinese restaurants. We’ll see.
Nostrano. Quail was once familiar on the American table, especially in the South, since they’re easy to catch. This tiny bird is prized for its succulent, sweet meat. Farm-raised, it’s again becoming popular restaurant fare. Nostrano gussies it up with garlic sausage, bulgur wheat and an Italian-style sweet-sour sauce made with blueberries
Harvest. Game on: the annual Holiday Game Dinner on December 8. The $65, six-course menu includes duck, rabbit, guinea hen, wild boar and venison; all paired with compatible wines. Reservations are required in advance.
Ha Long Bay. Phở is noodle soup and Vietnamese soul food. Like American soul food, it’s often concocted with what are politely referred to as economy cuts of meat. The Ha Long Bay deluxe version contains beef flank steak, tendons, tripe and meatballs. Fortunately, I enjoyed it before reading the description on the menu.
Taqueria Guadalajara. My mother fed me tongue sandwiches when I was a kid and told me they were a treat. I didn’t make the connection with what I was eating and what it was until the day I saw it laid out in its entirety in the fridge. As often is the case, ignorance proved to be bliss. Beside the expected beef, pork and chicken tacos, Taqueria Guadalajara is very proud of its authentic beef tongue and tripe options.
Osteria Papavero. Its menu is never boring, but pappardelle al cinghiale—wide egg noodles tossed with wild boar—is a perennial favorite. Also known as razorbacks, this type of hog originally imported from Europe is considered an invasive species in the wild, but is now farm-raised for its exceptionally flavorful meat.
Henry Bain Sauce
I racked my brain trying to think of the most usual recipe in my collection to include here. There were a few with liver and other offal to be sure—once popular ingredients now out of fashion. But obviously, recipes that I keep are ones I like and intend to make again. What I decided on is named after its inventor, a waiter at a Louisville hotel back when Duncan Hines could have been his customer. All of the ingredients are commonplace condiments, but when combined are unusually good if not pure genius. Henry Bain sauce is the perfect dressing for a cold turkey sandwich.
4 tablespoons mango chutney
3 tablespoons chili sauce
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons A1 steak sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon Tabasco
In a blender or food processor purée the chutney until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well combined.
The sauce will keep indefinitely if kept covered in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1 cup