Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wisconsin: L'Etoile Restaurant

Madison, Wisconsin...

I'm a cheese lover but that wasn't the reason why I was in Wisconsin. I was there on business visiting one of our business units to discuss market research (my day job). Madison is about a two hour drive from Chicago. I know this because I had to drive my rental car from O'Hare to Madison. It was an interesting drive since I witnessed a diesel truck blow up in flames (no one was hurt btw). Luckily, it was on the other side of the freeway so it didn't delay my commute to Madison. Here's a glimpse of my commute. Lots of greenery and views of large rustic barns along the way.

I had to get to Madison within two hours or I would have missed my dinner reservation at L'Etoile. Could you ever imagine a fine dining place in Madison? L'Etoile is known to be the Chez Panisse of the Mid-West. Gourmet Magazine named it on its Top 50 Best Restaurants. That says a lot.

Anyways, L'Etoile is located in downtown Madison across the street from the Wisconsin Capital building. I had 15 minutes to spare so I walked around and took a few photos of the capital building and surrounding area.

I walked across the street to find this quaint little place. As I open the door, a staircase is in front of you which leads you to the second floor. Unfortunately, the photos stop here. The restaurant was very small and I didn't have the guts to take out my camera. Besides, after a 5 hour flight then another 2 hour drive, I was ready to eat.

As I was seated, my server presented a fairly large, single-page menu. He goes off to explain that L'Etoile takes pride in supporting Wisconsin farmers and uses local ingredients all season long in their menus. My server also noted that the owner of MacFarlane in Janesville was dining at the restaurant that night.

Fortunately, I was able to take home a menu. Here is what I had.

Canapé: Hickory Nut Crackers topped with Herbed Goat Cheese, and Hickory Nuts from Ray's Hickory Nuts

First Course: Fantome Farm Fresh Chevre, Nettle & Wild Watercress Risotto with Shaved SarVecchio and Black Truffle Oil - $14

Main Course: Pan-Seared MacFarlane Pheasant Breast and Crispy Pheasant Confit with Driftless Organics Mash Potatoes, Braised Plant Farm Baby Bok Choi and Cognac Jus - $37
*This entree was a nod to the entree that President Obama had during his inauguration luncheon.

Instead of dessert, I decided to go with a cheese plate. Why not! We're in Wisconsin where cheese is king. OMG, there was a selection of 30 cheeses to choose from. I had my server personally select four cheeses.

The selection of Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses were served with Toasted Honey-Walnut Bread and Future Fruit Cox Orange Pippin & Fuji Apples. Delish!
  • Carr Valley Benedictine (Cow, Goat, Sheep)
  • Hooks 10-Year Cheddar (Cow)
  • Bleu Mont Dairy Bleu (Cow)
  • Capri Govarti (Goat)
Lastly I was presented with Mignardises (tiny, bite-sized desserts) which consisted of homemade fiddle-faddle and chocolate-covered bacon.

After a long flight and drive, it was well-worth the extra trip to dine at L'Etoile. With fresh local ingredients and a pursuit for top-quality dining, I highly recommend this place if you are ever in the Madison area. It's the crown jewel of restaurants in Madison.

Things to know:
  • Valet parking is not available. Your best bet is to park on the street near the capital building. Free after 6pm.
  • You must order the cheese plate. Go with the 3 selection plate for $12. A complete cheese tasting is $53.
  • If you call in advance, request to be seated near the windows which has a fabulous view of the capital building.
  • The menu changes periodically.
  • On Tuesdays, L'Etoile and Cafe Soleil offers a family-style comfort food dinner for $22. Seating is limited.
  • A prix fixe menu is also available for $39. Available Tuesday through Thursday.
25 N Pinckney St
Madison, WI 53703-2871


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