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

Posted at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments

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...

Posted at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1

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).

Posted at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments

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...

Posted at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments

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:...

Posted at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments

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....

Posted at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments

Cult Classics

05/02/10

Cult Classics

What makes a restaurant a cult classic?  Obviously, they must have a loyal, hardcore group of customers, important in the food service industry where repeat business is key to success. But some for no apparent reason make it against all odds while others fail.  They posses a mystique that’s indefinable.  The kind of restaurant I refer to is always local, oozes personality and is a bit quirky. Most are inexpensive and the food served without pomp or circumstances.  They all have a history and rarely advertise. For what it’s worth, here’s my list: Drink the Kool-Aid! Nick’s. I actually remember when this place opened in 1959.  At that time the Formica and vinyl accented décor was the latest thing.  Nick is no longer with us...

Posted at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments

Choosing Sides

04/24/10

Choosing Sides

When we dine out it’s all about the entrée. Translated from French, “entrée” means “entry” and that’s why we go to restaurants that specialize in steak, seafood, burgers, and pizza.  But even Eric Cartman knows that a real meal is nothing without fine side dishes.  For too long, sides we’re relocated to a choice of potato, soup or salad (the soup du jour offering the only hope of not being totally predictable).  The mark of a successful side dish is that it not only enhances the main course but would be satisfying all by itself.  Here are my awards for best dishes in a supporting role. Classics French Fries: Coopers Tavern. They make them like they do in Belgium—name aside, French Fry Capital of...

Posted at 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments

A Real Phoenix

03/06/10

A Real Phoenix

The Cardinal rises anew

Posted at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments

March of Malaise

02/21/10

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...

Posted at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1

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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