July 26, 2012 El Dorado Grill

July 28th, 2012

Pat says: It’s restaurant week and a chance to try out another Food Fight restaurant.  El Dorado Grill is on Williamson Street just past Blair when you’re coming from the west on John Nolen Drive.  It’s southwestern cuisine,  which for me is somewhere between upscale Mexican and cowboy food.  From the abbreviated restaurant week menu, Kevin and I chose (and shared) chips & salsa, pork nachos with green chili salsa, tortilla soup, grilled salmon, pulled pork dinner, and berry mousse & lemon pie for dessert.  Kevin enjoyed the tortilla soup, and said that it had a nice bite to it, but the pork nachos were the best.  Fresh crisped tortillas, tender bites of pork, salsa and a drizzle of sour cream all over a scoop of guacamole.  This appetizer could easily be a dinner in itself, but only if accompanied by a house margarita or two.  Kevin had the pulled pork on toast with barbeque sauce, a corn pancake, pinto beans, and cole slaw.  He wasn’t thrilled with the dinner – his comment – “It was good but not that good.”  My dinner was better – salmon grilled to a crispy outside, with a citrus glaze, mashed potatoes and collard greens.  Loved the salmon but after the nachos could only eat half (a good reason to bring Kevin along), I thought the mashed potatoes could have used a bit more something (garlic? chives? cheese?) and I never need to eat collard greens again.  Are they supposed to be bitter?  Partly because we had already eaten a big dinner, we were less than enthusiastic about the desserts.  The key lime jalapeno pie was served on a warm plate right out of the dishwasher – right out of the freezer would have been much much better – but Kevin ate every bite.  I left the berry mousse after the first bite.  I expected a smooth consistency and strong berry flavor – this was neither of those.  It just wasn’t tempting enough to follow the big dinner we had enjoyed.  I’m looking forward to trying El Dorado Grill again, and next time I may just stop after the pork nachos, the chips and salsa, and a couple of wonderful margaritas.  I’ll wait to give a rating when we’ve had a dinner off the regular menu.

June 7, 2012 O’Grady’s Pub

June 9th, 2012

Neil’s new apartment is within walking distance of O’Grady’s on Mineral Point Road, so we decided to give it a try.   Neil and Kevin had the burger with bacon and fried egg, I had a Cobb Salad, and our resident vegetarian had the veggie burger.  I ordered the salad with parmesan peppercorn dressing, but they didn’t have any, so I went with Ranch instead.  (Neil wants the staff at O’Grady’s to know that there’s a grocery store with multiple kinds of salad dressing right across the street, just in case you run out .)  The salad had all of the things I love about a Cobb – bite size pieces of chicken (and lots of them), cheddar cheese instead of blue, really crispy bacon bits, and a whole hard boiled egg sliced on top.  When a salad is your whole meal, it should have lots of the good stuff on top of lettuce, and this one absolutely did.  It came with whole grain toasted bread, which was very good.  I tried Kevin’s hash browns (crispy brown outside, buttery smooth inside, just like they should be) and Neil’s fries (not crispy enough for me).  It’ll be a good place for the new apartment dwellers to stop in after work for a drink and an appetizer, and when we’re in the neighborhood visiting, we’ll keep this on our list of places for a weeknight dinner.  Good food, friendly service, and a casual atmosphere make this a place worth going back to.

Perkins (Beltline)

March 21st, 2012

erin says:  Brian and I have been wondering what is going in next to the Beltline Perkins, and today he forwarded me this Madison.com article about the new Perkins that they’re building right next to the old one!  I’m glad to hear that Perkins will be staying, but I wonder if the new place or the parking lot will be smaller.  And will the new place just have a view of the Beltline ramps?  We’ll have to check it out in July.

February 14, 2012 – Valentine’s Day

February 15th, 2012

erin says:  Talking to people about their plans for Valentine’s Day made me realize that many of us make plans at home to avoid the hype and bustle of one of the busiest nights of the year for local restaurants.  Wherever you ate this Valentine’s Day, I hope you got to spend time with the ones you love.

This Valentine’s Day, Brian and I made lasagna.  I don’t remember when it started or if we have missed a year, but making lasagna is our tradition on Valentine’s Day.  One year, when Valentine’s Day fell on the weekend, we went so far as to make the pasta from scratch.  That was fun, but far too much work for a Tuesday night this year.  Despite making lasagna for several years, we still don’t have what I would call the PERFECT recipe.

This year we went with the more typical oven-ready noodles approach.  We still made the sauce and filling.  No bake noodles, whole milk ricotta, and tomato puree (not crushed tomatoes) seem to contribute to a good structure (not too watery).  This year we used the hearty meat lasagna recipe from “The New Best Recipe” with some additions and modifications.  We have made that recipe before, and we find it far too boring with just beef or beef and veal.  This year, and at least once before, we put in half beef and half mild Italian sausage.  Still, when I tasted the sauce before assembly, it was boring.  This time I added some dried hot chili flakes to liven it up just a little.  I think next time we should do half mild, half hot Italian sausage.

A few years ago we made Marcella Hazan’s lasagna recipe from our borrowed copy of the “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”.  That was the time that we made spinach pasta from scratch.  It was delicious at dinner, but we did not like it as leftovers.  I don’t recall exactly why, but it’s a lot of work to go through when we didn’t enjoy every last bite.  I’m not necessarily blaming the recipe.  I know our pasta was too thick, so we may  have made other mistakes.  I have enjoyed other recipes from that cookbook – it revolutionized my Alfredo sauce.

This year I also made chocolate covered strawberries.  I ate FAR TOO MANY of those, but they were very good.  I make them with melted chocolate chips.  They’re best to eat on the day that I make them, so I don’t worry about tempering or anything fancy.

February 9, 2012 – Craft Table & Tap (Middleton)

February 15th, 2012

Visit the website of Craft Table & Tap for menu, hours, and location.

erin says: Craft was very busy on the Thursday that we chose to visit, but apparently some diners chose to eat at the bar, which opened up a table for us almost right away. The decor is sort of industrial/warehouse with framed tools on the walls and chairs that reminded me of 70s dorm furniture. I don’t know if they ever use the upstairs, but it was closed on our visit. Part of the dining room was taken up by long bar-height tables that looked like they could fit 18 people (or more?).  They appeared to be set up as part of the dining room with place settings on two ends, but it seems like a nice, flexible idea to accommodate large or small parties. We ordered drinks and cheese curds. These were some of the best cheese curds I’ve had. The batter was golden, light, and crispy, and they were lightly seasoned and served with delicious dressing. They arrived at our table in a little metal pail tipped onto a platter. At first, it looked like a small serving, but that bucket wasn’t all for show – there were some cheese curds hiding out in there.  One order was sufficient to give the four of us a reasonable sized appetizer. After initially struggling to decide between the Craft burger and the blue cheese burger, I decided on the Craft burger. I think my taste in burgers runs toward moderate seasoning and medium-thin patties, and this was a great burger for me.  The bacon was nice and crispy, the patty was medium thickness and juicy, and the garlic mayo was added a nice kick. This is one of the better burgers I’ve had lately.  The only downside to my meal was the mac-n-cheese, which had an unsatisfying texture.  My companions called it gritty, but I think it was maybe a little dry.  The noodles were perfect, though – not overcooked to mush like other restaurants that serve macaroni as a side.  Pat ordered a Reuben, and Brian and Kevin had the Pulled Pork Brisket. The only comment I recall from the brisket-eaters was that they wished for some more sauce. Two of us ordered fries as the side, and no one seemed thrilled by them.  I tried one – they were skinny and crispy, but nothing exciting. The menu is just appetizers, salads, and sandwiches.  I’m curious to see if they will expand the menu and use the upstairs space.  8.5 out of 10.

October, November, & December, 2011 – Bison Jack’s [Middleton]

February 12th, 2012

Visit the Bison Jack’s website for hours, location, and menu.

Erin says: My dad, Bob, has been to Bison Jack’s a few times, and he had some useful comments.  I apologize that it took me so long to get them up here.

Bob’s October report: I went to Bison Jack’s. It is definitely geared to be fast food. They are also concentrating on hot dogs (95% weighting) of various types plus a hamburger. They store the already cooked sausages/hot dogs in big warming pots. The burger they got from under the counter. Probably from a warming drawer. Nothing is fresh cooked but at 11:20 a.m., it tasted fine. The quality of the bison burger was exceptional most probably due to freshness (probably not previously frozen) and leanness. The burger was very tender and obviously low in fat as it just barely stuck together.

They have hot toppings like grilled onions waiting in a crock pot like device. They have about a dozen and a half iced containers of cold toppings like tomato and lettuce, etc. They have several sides like potato salad, franks and beans etc. They have several choices of roll types.

All together a quick lunch or dinner. It opens early and stays open late. They do have soft serve. I’ll need to go back to try a hot dog and an Italian sausage. They do have hot marinara on hand. You have to go real hungry as the hot dog and burger are huge.

I’m mixed on the place. I would like the items cooked on the spot but that’s not fast food.

The place was filled with worker types. They were all dressed as if they worked with their hands installing piping, wiring or building buildings. The place filled up immediately at 11:40 a.m.

Bob’s November report: I visited Bison Jack’s at lunch. Tried their leader items; hot dog and baked fries. Both were good but nothing to get real excited about. $9.33 with a drink. It seems they don’t use preservatives. I have no sense they use them. After you leave you feel great.

They have a frequent diner card now. Five visits gets you $5.95 or the like off your next. Minimum purchase is $3.95. That drops the lunch price by almost 20% if you keep it up.

To date, the Italian sausage is spectacular, the burger is great, the sides so far are a matter of taste but go for $2.95+ per side.

Bob’s December report: Bison Jack’s are finally getting their pricing in line. They have a posted special of $9.50 for any dog including the Italian with any topping and one side (other than chili) plus a drink. That is at least $4 off the regular price of the standard fare. There is a special on the burger too but I don’t remember what it was. Similar I expect. The drinks are now .99 cents rather than the $2 they previously posted, which I doubt is a special. I think the client has put some price pressure on them. I agree wholeheartedly with the change. That makes them competitive and not just for the uniqueness aficionados.

They did give me a bowl twice the size of dog and beans as a side. The previous bowl was a bit small. Now it is a bit big. The Italian dog topped with marinara only is still the best. The burger is next best. The standard dog is nothing special other than the fact that it is made of Bison.

No more Bella Vita

February 12th, 2012

Brian says: I hear Bella Vita has closed down.  During our last visit, we seemed to get bombarded by bread products (bread sticks, some sort of crunchy bread for spinach and artichoke dip, bread for eating with oil..) but the experience was reasonable, and it seemed like a good Italian restaurant for families (rather than the expensive or seemingly business meal-oriented places).

I’m trying to think of what other casual Italian restaurants there are on the west side:

  • We’ve had a couple good meals at Tutto Pasta (Middleton) but the place is quiet on nights when you’d think they’d be busy.
  • I can see Biaggi’s from my office and I tend to associate them with business lunches rather than a casual family dinner.
  • Avanti (Verona) has declared themselves a three-dollar-sign fancy “Italian Steakhouse” now.   Oh well.
  • We didn’t especially care for Benvenuto’s (Fitchburg) years ago when they opened that location, but we went there a couple months ago with Erin’s parents and it wasn’t bad.  I’d like to try them again sometime and see what I think.
  • What else am I not thinking of?
I get the feeling it’s hard to make money on a casual Italian restaurant.  If a chain like Romano’s can’t stay around, it’s probably even harder for the small independent places.
A lot of new places starting up seem to be “local food/craft beer” establishments, which is fine, but I still just want somewhere to have good lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, fettucine alfredo, etc. and be able to invite friends with kids along, and I had hoped Bella Vita would be that place.
I wonder what will happen to that building.  TGI Friday’s apparently had the right idea when they left the West Towne outer ring for Greenway Station..

January 5, 2012 – Dumpling Haus (Hilldale)

February 6th, 2012

Visit the Dumpling Haus website for menu, location, and hours.

erin says:  I’m late in posting this, but I wanted to make sure to write down a summary of what I recall hearing from our group after we visited Dumpling Haus.  There were four of us, and I believe we ordered Haus Stickers, Veggie Wontons, Haus Lo Mein with shrimp (with side of Haus Dumplings), Haus Noodle Soup (with side of Haus Dumplings), and a fried rice dish that I don’t see on the regular menu, but might have been a special that day.  It was a Thursday night, and it got pretty busy while we were there.  I thought everything tasted very fresh.  The freshness was especially apparent in the lo mein.  I usually find lo meins that are pan fried and salty, but this was very light and had a good balance of vegetables.  There weren’t any “filler” vegetables  – just scallions and carrots and veggies that added to the dish.  Pat also commented on the freshness.  She noted that if she was looking for her usual, less healthy Chinese fix, she would head down the mall.  Brian was daunted by the mechanics of eating noodle soup, but he liked the flavors.  I enjoyed the Haus Stickers and Haus Dumplings with their sauce.  The Veggie Wontons were unexciting.  When she ordered them, Pat thought that they would be fried, and she expected more from the filling from its description.  It is notable that they deep fry anything at Dumpling Haus (I believe).  The kitchen is only feet away from the tables, so that is probably a blessing.  The consensus of the group was that the prices were expensive.  Even so, I would go there again.  I am a big fan of dumplings, and I hope to try some of the other types on offer. 8 out of 10.

January 28, 2012 – Steenbocks on Orchard

February 2nd, 2012

Pat says: This is a relatively new Food Fight restaurant -it’s on University Avenue in the Discovery Center.   The good: really delicious, locally grown organic food, well prepared and artistically served. I had a short rib of beef with orecchietti pasta for an entree and the beet salad as a first course. The beet salad had multi-colored early beets with a citrus flavor.  The beef was cut with a butter knife tender and served with pasta in a brown sauce. I loved every bite.

January 13, 2012 – Green Lantern (McFarland)

January 14th, 2012

Kevin says: Homey, traditional, tasty, inexpensive.

Pat says:  Have to say that I really like this place.  I met some friends here after work, then had dinner with Kevin.  The bar has comfortable tables, the background music is just loud enough to stay in the background, and the cheese curds and nachos were the best that I’ve had a long time.  There is no table service in the bar, but it wasn’t hard to get the attention of the bartender when it was time for another round.  Even if you’ve never been here before, they do a good job of making everyone feel welcome.  For dinner, Kevin had fish fry with roast potatoes and I had baked salmon with hash browns.  The fish fry was good, not great – I had a couple of bites and thought that it could have been a bit crispier.  Same thing with the hash browns – they could have been crisper.   The salmon was very good – not too salty, served with melted butter.  The dinners came with a side salad – nothing special, just bag lettuce and carrots.  The ranch dressing had a strong undertaste of smoke flavor – definitely not my favorite.  We had great service – from the bartenders, to the host who seated us to the waitress to the guy at the register, everyone acted like they were glad that we dropped in.  I’m looking forward to our next visit.  9 out of 10.

© Copyright 2008, Brian Ruppert