Go Without Your Gut
Sample the city’s most obscurely delicious dishes
It’s easy to get into a dining rut by ordering the most familiar items on the menu; more often than not, the safe choice is a satisfying one. But your gut’s comfort zone can lead you astray. Unusual or intriguing ingredients like bone marrow, wasabi and truffle oil are on the menu for a reason: their presence is a culinary stamp of approval. Give ’em a try!
Brunch Item: French Toast Strata
Head over to Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery for the French toast strata. Similar to a quiche or frittata, stratas are baked egg and bread casseroles. In fact, it was the first breakfast item created at Daisy, says owner Daryl Sisson. “We started with stratas because we wanted to introduce a specialty offering and couldn’t find anyone in Madison who featured strata at the time.
Other strata flavors include apple and cinnamon, crimini and gruyere, and chorizo and pepperjack. “The French toast strata and crimini and gruyere strata fight it out for first place amongst the four, but all of them have their die-hard fans,” Sisson says.
Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery, 2827 Atwood Ave., 241-2200, daisycafeandcupcakery.com
Appetizer: Truffled Fries
At Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro, the quintessential greasy finger food meets its sophisticated match: truffle oil. Thickly sliced and topped with a salty parmesan cheese, the truffled fries are served with three distinct sauces: Thai ketchup, creamy garlic aioli and aged-cheddar fondue. Each enhances a different flavor.
Huge portions leave diners wondering how it is possible to finish them all. But as server Becky Cherkasky observes, “They always say, ‘It’s so much! I could never eat it all.’ And they always do.”
The fries are available for happy hour, dinner and late night munchies.
Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro, 601 Junction Rd., 664-9565, eno-vino.com
Side Dish: Wasabi Green Beans
Butter fiends, beware: The wasabi green beans at Alchemy Café are prepared solely with oil, water and quintessential salt and pepper. There is no soggy, buttery consistency; the beans are cooked less than most green bean dishes to preserve their crunchiness. Expect a “crisp, earthy” flavor with subtle spice from the wasabi sesame seed garnish.
Though unique, the beans are far from under-appreciated. In addition to being an original menu veteran, it ties with fries as the restaurant’s most popular side dish. “I can’t remember a complaint [about it] in the four years I’ve worked here,” says chef Dan Zaremba.
Alchemy Café, 1980 Atwood Ave., 204-7644, alchemycafe.net
Main Course: Roasted Bone Marrow
Graze on the unexpected with the roasted bone marrow seasonal dish at Graze. An entire beef bone seared in half fits in small heaps onto a few toast points, with braised beef marmalade and picked shallots as flavorful accompaniments. This decadent dish bodes well as a shared appetizer or light main course. The bone is locally sourced from Fountain Prairie Farms.
Executive chef Tory Miller has used bone marrow in other dishes at sister restaurant L’Etoile, including in vinaigrette for his seasonal Fountain Prairie Farm salad, pictured here.
The bone marrow dish is available in gluten- and dairy-free versions. But late diners beware—despite its unexpectedness, this dish is known to sell out quickly.
Graze, 1 S. Pinckney St., 251-2700, grazemadison.com
Drink: Rain Organics Vodka
Not all vodka is considered equal, according to Bluephies. The restaurant and vodkatorium boasts more than ninety options, and staffers are raving about Rain Organics’ line. Made untraditionally from corn (an experimental vodka base), it is the only truly organic brand on the market.
Rain’s cucumber lime vodka is featured in Bluephies’ cucumber fizz cocktail, which intertwines tart with sweet. With garden-fresh cucumbers, fizzy club soda and the cucumber lime vodka, you’ll keep sipping to pin down one dominating flavor. Don’t be surprised if you still don’t have an answer by the end of the glass.
Daredevils should try the house-infused bacon and jalapeno vodkas. Other risky vodka flavors worth trying include Three Olives’ cake, Stolichnaya’s salted caramel and Square One’s basil. The latter is so good; it’s best straight, no chaser. “It’d be a travesty to put it in the cocktail or anything else,” says assistant general manager Amanda Bauer.
Bluephies Restaurant and Vodkatorium, 2701 Monroe St., 231-3663, bluephies.com
Dessert: Guava Bavarian
Consistencies collide in 43 North’s guava bavarian. The refreshing dish resembles a mousse, but conventional texture halts there. The half cookie, half cracker made from polenta offers a crunch, while the allspice caramel adds spice. After tasting the banana foam finish, whipped cream never seemed so drab.
“It might not sell as much only because people often don’t associate guava with American contemporary food,” says executive chef Franchesca Hong. “But because it is served in Bavarian style, it’s a bit more like a mousse so it’s a little more approachable.”
What’s more, the guava bavarian is currently Hong’s favorite dessert.
43 North, 108 King St., 255-4343, 43north.biz
Next rule: Eat Where Feng Shui Matters
Brianna Wilson is a former editorial intern at Madison Magazine.