The latest restaurant to open under the Muramoto umbrella, 43 North, has undergone a change in head chef. Former executive chef Justin Carlisle departed to take a job at the Bristol in Chicago. This left the door open for Nicholas Johnson, formerly chef at Restaurant Magnus, to return to a high-profile Madison kitchen. Magnus served its last meal on Dec. 31.
Johnson, a native of Stoughton and graduate of the Madison Area Technical College Culinary Arts program, says that after Magnus closed he "just took a break" and tried to figure out what he wanted to do next. He figured there wouldn't be much open for him in Madison unless "I opened my own place."
He was in the process of interviewing for restaurant jobs in Milwaukee and Green Lake, Wis., when "Shinji [Muramoto] called. I like Shinji and the people who work [at 43 North], so I jumped at the opportunity." Johnson adds that he knew Carlisle from culinary school and Muramoto from his stint as a chef at Restaurant Magnus.
Johnson, a semifinalist for a "Best Chef of the Midwest" award from the James Beard Foundation in 2010, was a part of Restaurant Magnus' switch from a South American to a New Scandinavian menu in 2009.
Although he's looking forward to injecting a little more of his personality into the menu at 43 North, no wholesale changes are in the offing, says Johnson, who's been at the restaurant about three weeks. He's been collaborating with sous chef Dan Almquist and culinary team member Francesca Hong; the emphasis will continue to be on contemporary American cuisine. "It will still be a fine dining spot, a destination restaurant, but also someplace to come in and get a glass of wine and something to eat" more casually.
Johnson is also excited about getting creative with 43 North's nightly chef's tasting menu, the vegetarian tasting menu and the fish tasting menu, as well as the Saturday morning brunch, especially as Farmers' Market season once again approaches. Look for Saturday brunch to start up toward the end of April; currently brunch is on Sunday only.
Next door to 43 North, the Haze is still vacant. The space at 106 King St. had previously been occupied by Kushi Bar Muramoto and was the original site of Restaurant Muramoto, but it's been given back over to the landlord, says Muramoto general manager Daniel Momont, who feels it's unlikely the space will remain empty long.
Jade Mountain Cafe is getting ready to open at 2611 E. Johnson St., in the space formerly occupied by Nilda's Chocolates. Co-owner Justin Manners says that it's modeled after a "typical Taiwanese tea shop" - which means "modern, but not going overboard," serving bubble teas and red teas. "Places like this are really popular in California, but for some reason they've never done that well here."
And because Manners is "a coffee person," the cafe will also serve specialty coffees from Fitchburg roaster True Coffee.
Taiwanese tea shops also serve lots of little foods, Manners says, but Jade Mountain will move toward that only gradually. To start with, Jade Mountain will partner with Stella's Bakery to provide baked goods.
Manners says that he'll be doing a "soft open" soon and hopes the cafe will be fully up and running by the beginning of April. For the time being, 608-308-3050 is a good phone number to use, although it may not remain Jade Mountain's permanent number.
Gail Ambrosius has introduced a new line of chocolates inspired by Parisian pralines: pecan, hazelnut, orange almond and pistachio bomb. In addition to the namesake nuts, the interiors hold surprises. The pecan, for instance, contains pecan butter, candied toasted pecans and apple wood-smoked sea salt; biting into the pistachio bomb reveals pistachio nut butter, lime zest, white chocolate, chili verde salt and a toasted pistachio. Available at the shop at 2086 Atwood Ave.
The folks at the Roxbury Tavern will be celebrating the end of winter and the coming of spring with the "Burning Socks at the Rox" fundraiser for the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council and the Sauk Prairie River Project Association. This is the second annual event, in which participants throw their winter socks onto a bonfire to hail the coming of warmer weather, along with music by the Cajun Strangers and Cajun food.
The event is a takeoff on an event held by a Maryland Yacht Club in which members also burn their socks. However, the Sauk Prairie contingent have not been shy about making the event their own, adapting a poem ("Ode to the Sock Burners") to suit their purpose: "These Prairie folks got an old tradition/When the sun swings to its Equinoxical position/They build a little fire out at the Rox/They doff their shoes and they burn their winter socks." The event is March 20 3:30-6:30 p.m., with a $10 donation, at 8901 County Hwy. Y, in Roxbury.
The Tenant Resource Center is holding its annual "Iron Chef"-style cook-off fundraiser, always a lot of fun. Eight chef teams will face each other in a battle of the hors d'oeuvres; voting will determine the victors. Guaranteed there will be lots of good noshing. It's Friday, March 25, 5-7 p.m. at the Brink Lounge ($25 donation).