Monday, February 12, 2007

Comerc 24

This is a repost from my blog over at and i have some other food writings there as well. Here is a link to the pictures of my trip Photos.
Comerç 24 (Molecular Gastronomy)

Spain has been on the forefront of the whole new food movements in terms of expanding what a kitchen produces and how it presents food. Catalonia has embraced this movement as its own in many ways and defined many of the principles and ingredients that are used. El Bulli, which is the flagship restaurant of the movement, is just kilometers north of Barcelona in the town of Girona, where renowned chef Ferran Adrià keeps inventing and moving beyond the expectations of what a meal should be like. The food is more then just flavors it is in some sense all about the contrast of textures, flavors and tastes and in the end you are to have an experience more then a meal. As some who cooks I find none of these concepts off putting even if I would tend towards other ideas in what I find inspiring and many times I think that the food that many of these new chefs are creating is absolutely brilliant, but I must admit that I am a bit of a skeptic because on some level there seems to be a certain amount of passion missing. At its worst you get a meal that is a set of chemical reactions that was concocted in order to impress visually and educate the eater on what one chef would think the world is missing in what they eat. On the other hand I am continually curious by some of the creations that these chefs are doing and even if it is moving outside of food I’m okay with that and am interested in experiencing what can be done. So Sara and I decided to check out Comerç24 which is located about 100 feet from our house, it is the restaurant run by Carles Abellan who was the sous chef at El Bulli for ten years before branching out onto his own. One of the things that made going here interesting to us was that Abellan is still privy of the six months a year of research that Ferrran Adriá holes up in a secret location in Barcelona and experiments with food. Since we could neither afford El Bulli, get a reservations (they are filled for 2007) and lastly they don’t open till April we decided that this was our best option.

I will try breaking down the courses and what I liked and didn’t like about each aspect of it without being to long winded about the specifics of everything. We did order the tasting menu, on suggestion from the maitre d’ that if we wanted to have the full Carles Abellan experience it was the best choice (I hate this experiencing a chef language and worship). It was a serious of snacks followed by seven tapas dishes followed by a dessert. We did not order a bottle of wine even though the wine list was quite reasonable (why can’t American restaurants charge only a minimal markup, it would make things so much better) but rather ordered different glasses to go with the different courses because we had no clue what was coming other then it was a surprise. Here is a link to the Menu

Snacks: This was a collection of different types of tapas that you would see at almost any bar you went in Spain, potato chips, olives, anchovies nuts but they put on the glitz and did some interesting twist with it, the potato chips were good nothing special but they were fried in olive oil but they had a dip which was an Olive Foam . They do this by This is a mixture that is made out of vinegar that olives were brined in gelatin and water that was then put in a container that was meant to make whip cream and pulled out to look like this. You read about foaming things as being a trademark of the whole nouvelle cuisine and bam there it was with the first dish, supposedly there to have the essence of flavor with an interesting texture but it did neither for me, the flavor was there but lacking any special olive essence especially since good olives are in easy demand here. The rest of the snacks were a plate of regular olives with an anchovies in the middle, classic Spanish and both the olives and boquerones were two of the best I’ve had here in Barcelona, a plate of Tuna tartar with caviar on top a few micro greens on top laid over an egg yoke vinaigrette, in some ways this dish embodied what they were trying to do with the contrast of textures within food. The raw tuna mixed with the caviar was brilliant and the crunch of the microgreens added such a nice end to the bite. They egg yolk vinaigrette was a bit problematic as there was a very strong soy sauce flavor in it but no color resemblance it seemed that the flavor was a bit chemical which might have been done in order to preserve the color of the egg but it was a mistake, I think a lighter colored real vinegar would have worked really well for the dish and not ruin a perfectly good dish with a chemical aftertaste. But I can’t complain too much about this dish because overall it was a fantastic piece.

Course #2: ORCHATA, FICOIDE GLACIALE AND SCALLOP SOUP-SALAD A pretty nice dish, the scallop served raw was wonderfully creamy in my mouth along with the almonds and sunflower sprouts topped with a marinated piece of shaved fennel. The concept of the dish was to be a soup and salad and the salad element was beautiful the soup an horchata seemed a little off in the dish, I couldn’t quite give a reason on why it didn’t work but in the end I would have enjoyed the dish perfectly well without the rice sauce.

Course #3: Onion Soup is one of my favorite foods in the world. I still have fond memories of this dish as a child and while in the states it is known as mainly a French dish the Catalans have been claiming their own superior version on this dish. The experimental element of this dish was that they added a poached quail egg with a truffle gel an onion broth. This dish absolutely failed the broth was either overly salty (something that is very hard to do when I’m the one eating) and did not bring out the onion flavor well (I would have caramelized the onions much longer then was done) the poached egg was nice and I liked the texture in the soup but the truffle gels were nothing to special, actually I disliked them quite a bit.

Course #4 CUTTELFISH AND MOREL RAVIOLI This was a winner of dish, probably the best thing I ate at the restaurant. The rice paper made a great wrapping for the cuttlefish and morel filling that just exploded when you bit into it. Nicely plated and really brilliantly flavored, I enjoy this dish because it is just plain good food, nothing extra ordinary about the technique other then a good amount of creativity and thoughtfulness.

Course #5 Seared Hake? I don’t remember what the waiter called this and I can’t locate it on the menu. This was a solid dish, maybe I missed some of the flavors that would have given it an more original fell but it seemed to be a nicely put together plate and a good job searing the fish. Nothing special but I enjoyed it.

Course #6 DUCK AND FOIE RICE I can’t explain how much I hated this dish, not that it was all that bad but the concept of it annoyed me more then anything the foie gras that was topped with grounded up kikos (corn nuts) was absolutely a waste, I still have the chemical aftertaste in my mouth from the processed food and it ruined a nice piece of foie. I don’t eat foie gras for ethical reasons but if by chance it ends up on my plate (it was a surprise tasting menu) then I can enjoy it, but the corn nuts topping really ruined the whole dish. The rice cooked in a duck broth was okay but it could have had a bit more acidity to it in order to bring about a stronger flavor contrast because as it was alone the flavor was a bit bland. The presentation and color of this dish was overall pretty bland as well, brown on brown.

Course #7 BEEF ENTRECOT WITH POTATOES AND WASABI I think this might have been Ox but the menu online says it was beef, either way it was good, the cut was a ribeye if I remember correctly and was barely cooked which is how I prefer my meat. Again quality food nothing fancy but prepared well, the potato part of the place was a steamed potato square with a round cut out of it and a wasabi egg placed inside. I watched in the kitchen as they made the eggs. It was an interesting process as they took some wasabi mixture and dropped it in hot water and the liquid formed into what could be described as egg yolks. The wasabi and potato was a decent combination of flavor but again whatever chemical they added into the wasabi really affected the flavor and left an aftertaste that I didn’t enjoy so much. I think a regular quail egg yolk slightly cooked would have worked better and I can even imagine doing that as a dish.

Dessert Dessert This is getting a bit long winded so I will only describe the worthwhile dishes here as the pictures give a fairly good account of it. The Whipped Yogurt was really good and the process of whipping it made the flavor really stand out (I guess the idea of foaming things is worth a bit in this context) and the fresh fruit didn’t hurt the concept at all. The beverage as a bit of celery and apple, the apple flavor was a bit tart to be real but I enjoyed it, almost like a jolly rancher mixed with celery. The other four dessert, nothing special.

Okay I normally don’t believe in over analyzing a meal like this because in the end I did enjoy my experience at Comerç24 and I do become much more critical as I move further away from the original meal. I will say that the more the focus was on the food the better they tasted, the more on the experience the more it failed in my opinion.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Restaurant Week!

Where should you go? Honestly, I'm less than enthusiastic. Below is a full list. Here is a summary of the "Yes" and "Whatevers" (the rest are nos).

YES: Harvest, Lombardinos

Whatever: Cocoliquot, Fyfe's, The Old Fashioned.

The rest: No, or I don't know. That gives you five places to visit. Make your reservations now!

Full list:

Blue Marlin: NO

Captain Bill's: DK

Café Continental: No

The Casbah: NO

Cocoliquot: Whatever, yes, I guess.

The Dardanelles: NO (good God no)

Fyfe's Corner Bistro: Um, whatever. Sure

Harvest: YES (but I thought you hateded it, you say. Well, still... Give it a shot, I'm going to again).

Laredo's Mexican Restaurant, East: HELL NO
Laredo's Mexican Restaurant, West: HELL NO

Lombardino's: Yes

The Mariner's Inn: D/K

Monte's Grill Verona: D/K

The Nitty Gritty, Downtown: OMG NO!!! Seriously, could you even spend $25 there on a normal day?
The Nitty Gritty, West: See above

The Old Fashioned: Um, I don't know. Sure. Whatever.

Ovations at The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor's Club: NO

Quivey’s Grove Stable Grill: D/K
Quivey's Grove Stone House: D/K

RP Adler's: D/K

Tutto Pasta Cucina Italiana: NO

Friday, January 26, 2007

So what DO you like?

Fair enough. The Walnut burger with hot chips at Harmony. Tornado (though the kitchen has be shakey recently). China Palace (on some nights). The Lao place on Willy Street. A rave about Tru to come...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dear Coffeeshops...

Please serve your coffee in cups that don't get cold IMMEDIATELY. Throw away your cups that have a tiny bottom and a HUGE top, resulting in enough surface area to go from hot to cold and nasty in about 37 seconds.


I went to Marigolds today. Everyone in Madison seems to love Marigold’s.. I do not. Here is why:

1.) Their menu never changes. This is the sign of one of two things: (a) a bad chef; (b) a lazy kitchen. Neither is particularly desirable to me. Readers know that I am a proponent of local food. This means seasonal food. Even if you don’t care about this, it should be clear to you that what tastes good varies by the season. Right now it’s 10 degrees (F) in Madison. It’s dry and cold. In the summer it will be 90 degrees and incredibly humid. Who wants to eat the SAME food under these two conditions? Not me. And probably not you. But apparently the folks at Marigolds do. But not really. Either they can’t cook anything more than what’s on the menu, or they’re lazy.

2.) The dish composition is poor. My dining mate had the tuna melt. It tasted fine. The problem: it was impossible to eat. The bread was hard. So you have to remove the tuna from the top of the bread to cut it. The result: a messy pile at the bottom of your plate, with cut up bits of bread and tuna. It was like what a kids plate looks like when you have to cut up her food. Note to Marigold’s: food has to be eaten. Tasting good isn’t enough. It has to make it into your mouth. A lot of your dishes are poorly designed. One should think not only about how a dish tastes, but how it is eaten. Marigold’s doesn’t do this. This makes me think that (b) is the case above. The kitchen is lazy.

3.) There is no such thing as a universal side. What tastes good with one dish doesn’t taste good with ALL DISHES. The cabbage with caraway is ok (though it could be salted before it is dressed to remove the water, so the diner isn’t left with a puddle of cabbage juice on the plate). But it’s not idea for all dishes. Actually, it’s not that good. My dining mate got the potato salad instead. It wasn’t good. So if you ever do get around to constructing a new menu, perhaps you could work on the sides as well.

4.) A further note on the sides: the breakfast potatoes are disgusting. They are left to cook for a long time. They don’t’ develop a crust. Instead, the starch in them develops and breaks down, leaving an oddly wet, at times almost gooey mess on the plate. I love potatoes. It’s a bad sign that I can’t bring myself to eat Marigold’s.

5.) Oh, and the breakfast menu hasn’t changed since the place opened either. It’s been what, four years? Learn to cook something new! I know you left Zuni a while ago and took what recipes you could with you (ah, that Chicken and Bread Salad). But you could learn to cook something new. And if you ever do bother to do so, perhaps you could walk outside. On Wednesday and Saturday the Farmers’ market is just outside your door (in the summer). At the WORST, you’d realize the weather. And maybe make something relative to the time of year! Imagine that.

6.) Finally, if you’re going to charge as much as you do, provide table service. Or run the distribution of tables better. People hover over you when you eat. Folks in the back of the line grab tables ahead of those ordering. Dining out shouldn’t produce anxiety – will I get a table; will this person stop standing over me; why did that person just grab a table in front of me; will I be able to sit before my food comes; etc. Don’t off-load the work of assigning tables to customers. Do it yourself. Plus, that way people will also tip your employees better. And they could get paid more and be happier.

The food blog is back.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Dinner at L’Etoile

Friday I had dinner at L’Etoile – long consider the top restaurant in Madison. There were some very high points (our amuse busche), and some low ones (our service and wine). The experience was a mixed one. Overall, I’d have to say I was disappointed. While the food was well prepared, it lacked vision and was, in many cases, quite boring.

I began my meal with a Kir Royale – a hackneyed drink that I nonetheless really like. It was fantastic. Put me in the mood to eat a good meal. Being at L’Etoile, I knew such a meal was in reach. Only a couple years ago I had one of the finest lamb dishes I’ve ever eaten: a lamb belly, rolled like a roulade with lamb fat. Sounds gross (if only because lamb fat often tastes rancid); it was fantastic. Yet Friday night was one of my first experiences with the “new” kitchen of the restaurant. I was excited that the place might be heading in a more exciting direction (the “old” kitchen I felt was a little constrained by L’Etoile’s history).

Rather unfortunately, the place felt like the same old L’Etoile (in a bad way). Few of the dishes were inventive, and the food, while well prepared, did not shine. The meal began, as it always has (this was my seventh visit in about six years) with cheese and crackers. I honestly like this appeal to L’Etoile’s origins, and the snack was lovely. Next came our amuse busche – what would prove to be the finest part of the meal. An apple soup with bacon, it was more than I could have hoped for. Sweet (apple), salty (bacon), with a clean acid (apple) and smooth fat (bacon), it created a huge range of flavor with two basic ingredients. Brilliant! The prefect amuse insofar as the dish’s serving (small) was perfect for its presentation. A bowl may have been sickening; a small shot excited the mouth for the food to come. Unfortunately, such food never did.

Next was one of our low points of the evening: negotiating the wine with our waiter. We decided to begin with a 1995 Foreau Vouvray. Made from Chenin Blanc, Vouvrays can have power and acidity and are one of the great wines of the Loire valley. Our bottle had clearly turned. The nose presented so strongly of sherry that I hardly wanted to taste it. And tasting the wine confirmed that in fact the bottle was off. The couple I was eating with had spent a year living near Tours (where Vouvray is made) and also confirmed that the wine was not right.

Our waiter, however, was rather difficult. He said, “I think this is how the wine tastes when it turns… Yes, this is how it presents later on. I agree, it smells strongly of sherry and I hardly want to taste it, but that’s the way it is.” In short, he said, “Yes, the wine tastes bad. That’s because it’s beyond its ideal presentation”. Question: Why would you serve a wine that was beyond its presentation? But more importantly, this was NOT an aspect of the 1995 vintage (which is actually a very good one), but rather it was a problem with our bottle. Now I can understand a waiter not wanting to serve another bottle of a wine that a patron has sent back, but when the patrons clearly KNOW wine (hell, two of us lived in the Loire valley!), I find it a little condescending. We asked that he take the wine to the wine captain, who instantly confirmed that the bottle had, in fact, gone off. The experience was a disconcerting one if only because it began the kind of smug contempt that I would feel for the rest of the evening.

We decided to turn elsewhere on the wine list for our first course. This revealed one of the weaknesses of the “new” L’Etoile: an extremely limited wine list. While I certainly don’t mind a small wine list (in fact I often prefer fewer, well selected options), the wines were very limited in terms of providing available directions. We decided to remain conservative with our wine choices for the rest of the evening.

For appetizers two of us had the beef carpaccio, and one had a salad with lardons and a poached egg. The salad was lovely. The tartness of the Frisee, Sylvetta, and Arugla was a nice complement to the lardons and egg. The carpaccio was another story. While the beef was fantastic and the salad an adequate compliment, it was covered with a “vinaigrette” that was really more of a mayonnaise. Someone in the kitchen had decided to go crazy with a squeeze bottle. And the result made the dish taste more like mayo with beef (with the beef secondary). Given the quality of the beef, this was a crime. Adding to my frustration at this point was that we had to ask twice for bread. A simple annoyance that shouldn’t happen at a restaurant like this (some day I will write a post on how Madison has, quite possibly, the worst service of any place I’ve ever lived).

For the main course I must say I made a mistake in my ordering. Our waiter pushed the rib eye “the best rib eye you’ll ever eat” and I yielded. I must first say that the beef – from Fountain Prairie farm – was fantastic. I love their highland cattle. And the preparation was nice; I was glad I ordered it rare as the beef flavor really came through. However, the dish itself would bore you to tears. Guess what it was? You guessed it, beef with mashed potatoes, seared greens, and a Red Wine demi-glace. While I didn’t scream (as I said I would in the last post), I was saddened. You would think L’Etoile could think of a more interesting way to present this fantastic cut of meet. Either they couldn’t or they were too lazy to try. Either way, it was disappointing.

The highlight of the maincourses was my friend’s Walleye. Served with potato ribbons, clams, spinach, and a shallot broth, it was quite a nice dish. Whoever is cooking fish in that kitchen knows (1) how to put a dish together, and (2) what they’re doing. While the beef was well made, it lacked vision. I think this would be my general complaint with the place. The food had none of the problems that I found with Harvest (where the kitchen seemed not to know what to do with ingredients, only that they should buy expensive ones and hope they did the work for them), the food at L’Etoile was, well, boring. Well made, but dull. Sure, adding a lot of mayo to beef makes it taste good, but it doesn’t really highlight the carpaccio. It doesn’t make you think of beef in any new way (we can eat a roast beef and mayo sandwich any day). The same could be said for the steak. Good, but at the end of the dish you just want to shrug your shoulders and say, “Was that it?”

After our dinner was put on our table with wait staff pretty much disappeared for the night. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it was slightly annoying to have to wait for them to recall that, in fact, we were still there. On the other hand, I was a little sick of being made to feel that it was my great pleasure to be sitting in their restaurant. Just because the restaurant is lauded as the best restaurant in town doesn’t mean that the wait staff can smugly treat you in such a way as to say, “aren’t you lucky to be here?” So with our rough abandonment we were better able to enjoy each others’ company without being continually reminded of our great privilege to pay a lot of money for well prepared but dull food. (As a side note: while I’m a smug bastard in my reviews, I’m actually quite nice to waiters in restaurants. I used to be one. I know the shit they put up with. So we weren’t abandoned because we were pretentious assholes).

Finally, the desserts were fine. The apple beignets were tasty doughnuts with a great fruit flavor from the apple rings. The Espresso chocolate mousse was smooth and rich – but somehow a little hallow. The bread pudding was an interest take (quite dry instead of moist) that lacked any real depth of flavor. But they were fine. And the Calvados I had (a health pour!) was a nice accompaniment.

So, overall? Well, overall the food was well prepared (the only real disappointment being the excessive mayo on the carpaccio – and yes, the kitchen would be made for calling their stravecchio vinaigrette mayo, but that’s what it was). But it lacked vision and in general was quite boring. The service was smug and generally absent (as I said, a mixed blessing). My only hope is that the “new” kitchen has felt a little constrained by L’Etoile’s legacy and is trying to find ways to break out of it. Yet I fear that the place is merely replicating a vision that was unique back in 1976 when L’Etoile first opened, but by 2005 it feels a little tired.

Want a better L’Etoile experience? Grab a croissant (or market bun) from the Café and save yourself $200.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


So my first entry will be about Harvest. It's one of the few high end restaurants in town. Highly praised as one of the best dining experiences in Madison, during my recent visit I found it thoroughly disappointing. l went to Harvest with fellow cook Ben Hunter. He shared my sentiments. Harvest's food has little to recommend it. In fact, the only reason to visit the restaurant is if you wish to encounter the finest service in town.

Our meal began, as it so often does, with bread. Made in a cast iron skillet, it had a wonderful crust and a surprisingly chewy texture. It was undoubtedly the best course of the evening. Yet it was plagued by a problem that recurred throughout our meal: it was inappropriately salted. I LOVE salt. More so than is healthy for me; perhaps more so than is healthy for an elephant. Yet the bread was over-salted. Rather than bring out the flavor, in many bites it was the flavor. And while I appreciated the high quality grey salt, I didn't appreciate how it dominated the dish. The bread was served with a very disappointing butter. Given that we live in "America's Dairyland" and there are many many farmers around Madison who make fantastic butter, I'm not sure how or why Harvest served us the bland butter they did.

Next we were treated to an "amuse busche": something that is meant to amuse the palate before a meal. Really it's just stuff they give you in pricey restaurants so that you don't think you're paying too much (after all, you got something for free!). Ideally, this should have come before our bread, but no bother. It was a celeriac soup with black truffles. It was fine. Boring, the kind of thing anyone could make at home if they were willing to put that much butter and cream in a soup (trust me, you wouldn't be willing to do it). The "truffles" did nothing for the dish. Three little drops of truffle oil at the top provided extra fat and little else. I found no black truffles in the soup. I couldn't detect their flavor. Since Harvest is part of the trend to use local seasonal ingredients, someone may want to tell them that the truffles they used are well out of season. This is perhaps why they didn't taste like anything. "Black truffles" come into season in late December through March (the high season being January). Perhaps they used the summer truffle, but even so, the season is in May-August. Put simply, they added no taste, only cost, and made little sense this time of year.

For appetizers we ordered the Foie Gras and the Sweetbreads. Yes, Foie Gras is immoral. And yes, Sweetbreads are organ meat (thymus gland). Deal. Sweetbreads are usually delicious. Like other "worked" parts of animals, they have flavor, unlike, say, filet mignon, b/c they have blood flowing through them (they're working!). The blood carries the flavors of what the animal eats (where it lives) and makes for tastier food. Yet both dishes were incredibly disappointing.

The Foie Gras was not proper cleaned. The liver comes in two lobes, with a vein running through the two. The kitchen had (probably) removed then main vein, but had left several of the secondary veins. And we got a piece of Foie Gras with plenty of these. This means that rather than being smooth and silky, it was chewy and veiny. Doesn't sound pleasant? It wasn't.

The Sweetbreads, on the other hand, were well prepared. Perfectly cooked, of good quality, they pointed toward optimism. But they soon disappointed. Like the initial bread course, they were incredibly over-salted. So much so that they were only just edible.

Both courses were missing something on the high end. In other words, they were rich, heavy, and full bodied. What they needed: acid. Something to cut through the dish, if only slightly, to provide a little spark on the palate (ideally, vinegar or citric acid in any of the sauces). I suspect the chef tried to provide this spark with the salt. But it couldn't do it. And I was disappointed that the chefs wouldn't know that.

For the next course I had veal two ways (belly and shank), Ben had Hanger steak. The veal bordered on edible. The Hanger steak was nowhere near it. Hanger steak should be chewy. Again, it's a worked part of the cow, from the underbelly. This makes it super flavorful, and if cooked well, chewy yet tender and delicious. It was far from cooked well. It was pretty much a plate of gristle, a cut that should not have been served. When the chef cut the meat (it is usually cut against the grain before served so that it presents as tender), (s)he should have sighed, and gotten another cut out of the fridge and made it anew. Instead, it was served to Ben, and it was terrible. Further, to continue with the salting problems, the steak was completely devoid of salt (a crime!). What came out was a plate full of beef connective tissue. And no amount of the reasonably good sides could save the dish.

The veal, by contrast, was quite good (but a Big Mac might be good by contrast to the Hanger we got). The leg was well cooked (although a bit beyond medium rare), the belly fatty and tasty (as one would expect). But AGAIN, the salting was completely off. While the belly was vastly oversalted (I didn't mind that much), the leg had hardly seen any salt. The sign of a good kitchen is often that it knows how to salt its food. This one clearly does not. And AGAIN the kitchen had difficulty bringing in any high end - anything that could cut through the richness of the dish, provide a hint of contrast, and bring out the full flavors of each meat. If I were ever to return to Harvest I might bring the chef a present - a bottle of red wine vinegar, say - and tell him/her, "This is acid. It is your friend. It cuts through heavy dishes, provides a spark to many sauces, and allows people who eat your food to appreciate a wider variety of flavors within your dishes".

Two final notes about the main course. First, what somewhat saved it was our wine. We ordered the Chateau La Fleur Peyrabon (1999 - a Bordeaux from Pauillac). It was reasonably priced, still a little young, but it opened quickly and was tasty. It was someone harsh with low acidity, but the harshness cut through the food. Ben said to me in the middle of the meal, "well, at least the food makes the wine taste great". I agreed. It was too bad the reverse wasn't the case. Second, could a restaurant in town PLEASE cooking with some interesting combinations? Let me sum out the main dishes: meat, starch, veggie. Sound familiar? Yeah, that's cause it's something you eat every day. At home, out, etc. But as it turns out, you don't have to eat that way! Restaurants could introduce not only new flavors, but new ways of looking at eating food. But I guess restaurants in Madison won't do that. Still, if I see steak, potato, and seared greens on another "high end" menu in town I'm going to scream.

Finally, the dessert. Ben's apple cake was like what you'd get in any good coffeeshop. Which is fine. But not when you're at what's supposed to be a very good restaurant. Fine doesn't cut it. The ice cream (made in house, I suspect) was quite good. But Haagen Daaz makes good Ice Cream. And at $3/pint it's a real bargain by comparison. One doesn't order dessert that is only good ice cream. Again, it should be a dish that pushes you to think of food in new ways (or causes you to rethink a classic). My dessert, however, was the finest dish of the night. A pumpkin cake topped with a pumpkin cheesecake topping, it was, I must say, delicious. The cake had a nice crust and a spongy inner texture. The pumpkin cheese top was smooth creamy, and full of pumpkin flavor (it was the only dish that reminded me that I was eating during Fall!). Did it make the meal worthwhile? Certainly not. But I was appreciative that our waitress steered me in its direction. I was further appreciative that she gave is a fine dessert wine that paired well with the desserts. The course made me realize that the baker (bread, desserts) was by far the most talented person in the kitchen.

The only thing that did make the meal worthwhile was our waitress (in fact, the entire wait staff, with the exception of the maitre d'). She was attentive, friendly, and seemed to know exactly what kind of dining experience Ben and I wanted. While the food didn't provide it, she certainly did. In fact, the only reason I'm not filled with rage given the amount I paid for the meal is that out waitress made the experience a pleasant one. Ben had his 16 month old daughter with him (not ideal for a high end restaurant), and the entire staff was responsive to her, us, and seemed relatively unbothered by her presence. In fact, many seemed pleased to see her. While brining a child to a fine restaurant would normally put one on edge, the Harvest staff (again, except for the maitre d') put us at complete ease. This was not small task, and it was greatly appreciated. And I must say, having an adorable girl with you during an otherwise bad meal makes you somehow forget how bad things are.

So, overall, what did I think?

Food: 2.5/10
Service: 9/10
Price: Very Expensive (want pricey ingredients butched by a kitchen? go to Harvest)

I wouldn't recommend the place.

This Friday I'm off to L'Etoile - the other top restaurant in town. I'll tell you want I think...