It took just 20 days to transform the former Cafe Continental to 43 North, while other recent notable openings have taken months.
43 North is Chef Justin Carlisle's new restaurant at 108 King St. It is named for the 43 North latitude that Madison occupies on the globe. Although Shinji Muramoto is one of the backers, it's not a Japanese restaurant and it's not, strictly speaking, one of the Muramoto restaurants.
That said, Muramoto had sent out invitations for the soft opening dinners almost immediately after the paperwork was signed taking over the space from the Schiavo family, so "procrastination was not an option," says Carlisle.
Shinji's wife Kimiko created the nail relief-map model of the world that decorates the front wall, and the swoosh that's part of the 43 North logo might remind the visually astute of the flourish in the Muramoto logos.
The space is dark and sophisticated, with a distressed grayish "wood" floor, black chairs, white tablecloths, and black napkins. Jackets are suggested, although Carlisle wants people to also feel comfortable arriving in more casual wear. Capacity is around 55 persons, and the small private dining room back on the Main Street side of the narrow building is, well, still available for private dining. Most of the rest of the tables still run down the long wall opposite the bar.
The menu, says Carlisle, is his take on contemporary American dining, but also "whimsical." Moreover, he wants it to represent the kind of food that Madison should have. "Madison has all this great produce; why can't it be known as a dining city?" he asks. Like the food at a number of the new downtown eateries, the entrees are less conventional, more "progressive," as Carlisle puts it -- understated, sophisticated, appealing to Madison diners while at the same time educating them on foods they may not yet feel familiar with.
The inaugural menu is divided into first, second, and main courses, plus cheeses and dessert. Carlisle mentions the French onion soup and the corned pork jowl as a couple of his own favorites, and acknowledges the work of cheesemaker Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy, whose product (along with Fantome Farms) makes up the current cheese course.
Other notables include a crab and sunchoke salad, poached lobster with celeriac and fennel and roasted cod with a poached oyster "stew."
Carlisle is committed to local sourcing, but also wants the best product he can get, even if it has to be shipped in. The basic current menu will be in effect until January and thereafter will change quarterly. However, 43 North will soon offer a vegetarian tasting menu, a fish tasting menu, and a Chef's tasting menu that will offer the kitchen opportunities to introduce new items into the menu on a temporary basis.
First and second courses range from $6-$13, and main courses are $18-$28.
Sunday brunch will be added by the end of November, with Saturday brunch starting up in spring. 43 North is open for dinner from 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.