Have No Reservations About Reservations
Four occasions when calling in advance is well worth the effort
In a smaller city like Madison, getting a table without reservations is usually not a problem. In fact, most restaurants don’t even accept them. But certain dining experiences require—and deserve—advanced planning.
In Beijing, some restaurants are so traditional that they offer only one menu item: Peking duck. But traveling to China is not required for a taste of this foreign delicacy—it’s available locally at Imperial Garden. The restaurant’ only request? Twenty-four-hour advance notice for proper preparation.
Chinese Peking ducks are generally hung on hooks in open air, allowing the spices to permeate the skin for flavor. Eventually, they are roasted above a searing flame. At Imperial Garden, the process is adapted to more contained settings, including an oven. Though it’s a less-authentic process, visiting residents of Beijing have provided their stamp of approval, according to co-owner Karen Meyer.
The duck can be served in two fashions. The skin and meat traditionally stay intact and are sliced thinly and served with Mandarin pancakes, scallions, green onions and hoisin sauce. Larger parties often share this style of Peking duck as an appetizer.
Alternatively, the duck can be prepared in three courses, generally shared by groups of two to three diners. The first course consists of crispy skin, Mandarin pancakes and all of the fixings. “The skin is very crispy, that’s the hallmark,” Meyer says. The crispness evolves from honey used during the drying process. The next course is a clear soup of duck bone and vegetables. Lastly, the meat is sautéed with winter mushrooms and vegetables in the wok for the final course.
Each Sunday, the restaurant’s special is Peking duck; each Sunday, it sells out. On all other days of the week, however, twenty-four-hour advance notice is required, a small demand for such a cultural experience.
Imperial Garden, 2039 Allen Blvd., 238-6445, imperialgarden.com
MaCha Tea House
With one phone call to MaCha Tea House, Madisonians can request all the makings of an intimate tea gathering. It’s an Asian fusion spin that’s more casual than British-style afternoon tea.
Customers work with co-owner Rachel Verbrick to create a specialized menu and ensure a swag setting. Intimate gatherings of two can be arranged, though rooms can accommodate ten to twelve guests.
Upon arrival, parties are shown to their own private room, which is preset with tea, food and fixings. Parties can choose between the basic and deluxe services. Both include tea and pastries, and the deluxe option also includes sandwiches celebrating the Asian theme with wasabi, spiked cream cheese and even Asian pear.
Scheduling a tea party is the only way to reserve rooms at MaCha. Reservations can be made by phone or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The owners request a minimum twenty-four hours of notice, though bridal parties and larger groups generally reserve well in advance. Tea service available on weekends only.
MaCha Tea House, 1934 Monroe St., 442-0500, machateahouse.com
With an American niche, 43 North is generally confined to serving contemporary food, but their monthly theme dinners provide a treat for chefs and diners alike.
Chefs choose the theme, which is often culturally based or even centered around one specific ingredient. “It’s really a chance to give our cooks a chance to showcase their skills and do something different,” says executive chef Franchesca Hong.
Owner Shinji Muramoto, Hong and sous chef Christopher Ketarkus all rotate, with one chef in charge of each month. Previous themes include Korean barbeque, Scandinavian, German, Asian Fusion, vegan and goat.
The event is a communal dining experience; meals are served family style around tables of eight, and include four to five courses, including dessert. Chefs introduce and describe each course with its arrival.
Courses are sometimes supplemented with wine pairings from local wineries, or otherwise with beer or cocktail pairings courtesy of the in-house bar manager.
The monthly dinners are held on Sunday evenings, and reservations usually fill up a few days in advance.
43 North, 108 King St., 255-4343, 43north.biz
Steenbock’s on Orchard
Steenbock’s on Orchard’s Game Day in Style event invites you to skip the rowdy Camp Randall crowds and fraternity parties for a more sophisticated Badger football experience. The restaurant’s three fifty-three-inch screens allow you to see all the action.
The customized menu can be traditional, with brats and burgers, or more gourmet with dishes like shrimp cocktail and seafood towers. As for location, diners can choose between the bar and dining sides, each accompanied with its own patio. All spaces can be transformed from casual to formal, depending on the theme.
It’s best to make reservations well in advance, but with multiple spaces, the restaurant occasionally allows more last-minute bookings. Call Lisa Loup for reservations at 469-2316.
Steenbock's on Orchard, 330 N. Orchard St., 204-2733, steenbocksonorchard.com
Next rule: Choose Desserts over Dinner
Brianna Wilson is a former editorial intern at Madison Magazine.