Adventures in Eating

Photographs by Martha Busse

Life’s too short for boring meals! Especially when Madison brims with eclectic, fun and delicious dining destinations and experiences. Pack your appetite, an open mind and set out on your own culinary quest.

Think Globally, Eat Locally

When the flavors of Peruvian and West African cuisine tempt, look no further than Inka Heritage and Africana Restaurant and Lounge. These newcomers to Madison’s thriving ethnic dining scene offer up (clockwise from top left): a signature dish of grilled beef tenderloin served with a fried egg and a deep-fried sweet plantain; a Peruvian classic of bite-sized, marinated fish, mussels, shrimp, crab and squid; juicy pieces of beef grilled with a blend of flavorful herbs, green peppers and onions; and chicken breast mixed with vegetables and herbs and served with Moroccan couscous.

Go Fish

Tips from Eric Benedict of Ocean Grill take the mystery out of buying and cooking fish. Benedict has cooked his fair catch of fish as sous chef at the seafood restaurant and since taking over as executive chef in June.

Buying fish Look for firm, bright flesh. Eyes should be clear and not sunken. • The fish should smell of seaweed or saltwater—”like where it came from.” Any other aromas are “definitely a black flag,” Benedict says. • Request fish nestled deep in the ice; it is probably fresher than fish on top. • Ask your fishmonger whether the fish was sustainably harvested. • Avoid fish high in mercury, like swordfish. Check the Environmental Protection Agency website ( for a complete list of mercury-rich fish. • Try seafood from the Seafood Centers, Asian Midway Foods and Willy Street Co-op.

Cooking fish Practice with your knife so you don’t waste parts of the fish when cutting it. • Slide your hand over the flesh to feel the bones. Use kitchen tweezers or needle-nose pliers to pull bones straight up and out. • Cook the fish to around 135 degrees (this will make it almost well done). Test the temperature of the thickest part of the fish. – Marie Joanis

Breakfast Bright Spot

Amp up your weekend morning routine with a trip to an anything-but-ordinary eatery. Open only Saturdays and Sundays, Sophia’s is a quirky little bakery and café on East Johnson that Hungary native Sophia Barabas opened in 1995. Organic-egg omelets feature ingredients ranging from dried tomato, summer squash and artichoke hearts to caramelized leeks, dill and bacon. Cherry crepes, various pancakes (how ’bout chocolate chip pancakes with orange sauce, huh?) and homemade baked goods also tempt diners, many of whom walk or bike from nearby neighborhoods for a morning bite. Chat up the staff or nab a spot at a communal table. Who knows, you could make a new friend over that order of blueberry waffles. – Esty Dinur

Wine List Discoveries

One of the most common questions diners ask is how to “read” a restaurant’s wine list. They want to know what’s good. Next time you’re out, ask to speak to the house’s wine specialist—it will enhance your dining experience immeasurably. Or try these wine directors’ picks.

Michael Banas, Lombardino’s
Hidden Gem: Petra “Ebo,” Tuscany 2004. This is Sangiovese, tamed by Cabernet and Merlot. Juicy and fragrant, it’s especially powerful on the finish.

Mel Trudeau, Tornado Steak House
Hidden Gem: Stag’s Leap Petite Syrah, the benchmark producer of this underappreciated grape in Napa.

Tami Lax, Harvest
Hidden Gem: Catina del Tuburno “Falanghina,” 2005. With flavors of peaches and almonds, this southern Italian white is pure delight. A perfect wine.

Richard Chapman, Fleming’s
Hidden Gem: R&B Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001. Chocolatey and spicy; at once complex and easy to drink.

Patrick Ducey, Samba Brazilian Grill
Hidden Gem: Montes Alpha Syrah. A northern Rhone style from Chile; restrained and elegant.

Finn Berge, Restaurant Magnus
Hidden Gem: Can Ràfols “El Rocallis.” This dry, full-bodied Spanish white is made from the very obscure Incrozzio Manzonni grape and drinks like a parfait of apricots, flowers and minerals.

– Michael Kwas, wine director at L’Etoile

Madison Magazine - October 2008
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