Although this was the first time we could remember when a restaurant closed before we could publish the review we'd written of it, there were still plenty of new restaurants that made their mark since we published our last issue of Dining. We all benefited, with restaurants featuring cuisines from Japan to West Africa, menus at all price points, an increasing emphasis on local and organic foods, and even a restaurant created especially for kids.
We kept up with the openings (and closings), menu revamps, and special event dinners in the pages of Isthmus and on TheDailyPage.com. If you've been meaning to try out some of the newest kitchens in town, or revisit old favorites that have tweaked their menus, this compilation (gleaned from reviews written by Raphael Kadushin, Jerry Minnich, Linda Falkenstein, Kyle Nabilcy, Adam Powell, Sarah Minasian, Ann Shaffer and Robin Shepard) is a good place to start.
2701 Atwood Ave., Madison.
The nem appetizer is similar to Thai eggrolls, only the dipping sauce here was a hot, smoky, red pepper blend. Maffe is the signature dish of West Africa. The stew of peanut sauce with onions and tomatoes comes, like most other entrees, with a choice of chicken, beef, goat, lamb or portobello mushroom. - L.F.
1980 Atwood Ave., Madison.
The burger is one of the best in town. Called the AppleRum Burger, it is a one-third-pound patty layered with applewood-smoked bacon topped with a sweet onion rum relish, Wisconsin cheddar, lettuce and tomato, all on a beautiful homemade raised roll. Also noteworthy is the tarragon ham sandwich, honey-glazed ham topped with melted Swiss, lettuce, tomato, slathered with tarragon-chive mayonnaise on a cornmeal-crusted roll. - J.M.
6719 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton.
The Bunchkin Burger sports a very tasty turkey burger in a wheat bun, garnished with lettuce, a pickle spear and tomato. Tasty, healthy and affordable - take that, Happy Meal. Main dishes are available in three sizes, and sides are served with all. - A.P.
610 University Ave., Madison.
Big Red's features several varieties of the vaunted cheesesteak: plain, which rests on the quality of the meat, a very thinly sliced, very lean rib-eye; original, which sports a generous slathering of Cheez-Whiz; North Philly (American cheese); South Philly (provolone); pizza steak (pizza sauce and mozzarella); and a steak hoagie (lettuce, tomato and mayo). - L.F.
1026 N. Sherman Ave., Madison.
At Café La Bellitalia, you'll get good, fresh, simply prepared Italian food, and plenty of it, all at most reasonable prices. Ever since Pietro and Josephine Pipitone moved into the space vacated by Ole 'n Rick's North Side Inn, they have been building a loyal neighborhood clientele with homemade dishes - pizza, ravioli, eggplant Parmigiana, lasagna and other Southern Italian dishes. They make their own marinara, which is sweet in the Sicilian style, and, of course, their own meatballs. - J.M.
127 E. Mifflin St., Madison.
The classic Cubano sandwich was a hit with everyone at my table. Ham, tender braised pork, sliced hard-boiled eggs and pickles were stacked up inside what the menu calls a baguette but which turned out to be something better: a big, brioche-like bun that offered a sweet counterpoint to that swirl of meaty flavor. - R.K.
25 N. Pinckney St., Madison.
When the Cafe follows through on its focused attention to detail and zealous local sourcing, it can't lose. I like the cheese sandwich, which stacks Farmer John's provolone, sweet/tart slices of Ela Orchard Ida Red apples and Snug Haven spinach, plus house-made pesto mayo (more of that, please) on a baguette that would be better with a bit more of a crust. - R.K.
315 E. Linnerud Dr., Sun Prairie.
The shrimp Diablo was excellent, with a generous number of jumbo shrimp sautéed with peppers and onions in a chipotle cream sauce, served over pasta. Likewise, the Cannery ravioli, filled with mascarpone, artichoke and spinach, was well served by a creamy marinara, topped with fresh Parmesan. The Friday lake perch special was another winner. Lake perch are delicate things, easily ruined, but these were done perfectly, lightly breaded with cornmeal, served with the restaurant's homemade tartar sauce and lemon wedges. - J.M.
5734 Monona Dr., Monona & 1616 Beld St., Madison.
A plate of ackee and codfish merits a double-take, as it is almost indistinguishable from scrambled eggs. David's follows the standard recipe: boiled ackee, sautéed onions and tomatoes and salted cod. Black pepper and salty fishiness are the dominant flavor notes, and it's no surprise that this dish is a breakfast staple in Jamaica. Alongside a mound of black beans and rice and a hot cabbage and broccoli slaw, it was a full meal indeed for the money. - K.N.
1 W. Dayton St., Madison.
The Grille's entrees stick to the basics, from grilled lamb chops and Atlantic salmon to pork chops, diver scallops and New York strip. What lends them some excitement, and lets you turn each dish into a little global smorgasbord, is the snaking list of 33 side sauces. You can choose three sauces for each entree, and the menu suggests a preferred trio for each dish. - R.K.
449 State St., Madison.
The "Memories of Prague" is a Dobra specialty, a blend of black Assam tea mixed with a small amount of bitter chocolate. It comes with pitcher of milk, a mini-pot of honey, and a couple of Bohemian spicy nuggets - Prague's cross between a doughnut hole and Pfeffernusse. The hummus plate is almost perfect, a simple blend of chickpeas, sesame and olive oil, sprinkled with za'atar. If you're looking for heavenly sweet comfort, try the couscous Casablanca. Sweetened with honey, the couscous is mixed with slightly cooked apples and bananas and crispy salted cashews and almonds. - L.F.
1325 Greenway Cross, Madison.
The fried chicken is dipped in egg-and-flour batter and deep-fried in vegetable oil. The crust is substantial and delicious. If you are a fried chicken fan, or, even better, if you've never liked it much (evidence you've never had the real thing), this is a must-order. - A.P.
14 W. Mifflin St., Madison.
The best deal for lunch is the buffet. Beef dopiaza is terrific on a cold day: chunks of tender, seasoned beef in a succulent preparation of tomatoes, onions and thick gravy. Karhi pakora is made by rolling balls of chickpea flour and frying them in vegetable oil, then serving in yogurt sauce. This classic north Indian interplay between savory and sour is an excellent example of the regional style Flavor of India showcases. - A.P.
319 N. Frances St., 115 State St., Madison.
The mixed greens are fresh and varied. The outstanding maple vinaigrette is a mellow balsamic with a hint of maple that offsets wonderfully a salad made with any of the sweeter toppings like Craisins and walnuts. - L.F.
106 King St., Madison.
Kushi Bar features small plates (a Japanese take on tapas) with an extensive drink menu that features sake and shochu. The menu is divided into three sections: kushi (skewers), ippin (sides) and donburi (rice bowls). Go ahead and experiment, since all of the skewers are so reasonable. This is where the sauces really come into play. Four side sauces are handy at every table: tonaktsu, curry coconut cream, spicy miso and the house hot sauce. - A.P.
25 N. Pinckney St., Madison.
A duo of pulled pork, lightly sauced, and a dry-rubbed and sauced pork rib sat atop a square of jalapeño cornbread. Tangy and light coleslaw from Driftless Organics and crumb-topped Hook's cheddar mac and cheese rounded out a perfect plate. The cornbread, with just the right flourish of green heat, was a sneaky masterpiece beneath all that pork. - K.N.
7424 Mineral Point Rd., Madison.
La Baguette's quiche is the real lunch eye-opener, a version that single-handedly reclaims the dish from the culinary dustbin. The Vigys' quiches (I had the chevre and brought home two big slices of the mushroom) are delicate, thin crust, savory tarts - as light as a soufflé and the antidote to all those glutinous deep-dish quiches that gave the dish a bad name. They are simply perfect. - R.K.
2862 University Ave., Madison.
The menu is all about good, wholesome, natural food. With a name like La Brioche, you might think "French cuisine," but the menu includes Italian and upscale USA country comfort as well. True Food's breakfast centers on eggs, omelets and the baked goods that the original La Brioche was known for. Lunch offers soup, salads, sandwiches, pizza and omelets, overlapping somewhat with the dinner salads and pizzas. Tapas join more substantial entrees like lamb chops, gnocchi and chicken pot pie in the evening. - S.M.
4915 Commercial Ave., Madison.
Start with pupusas, Salvadoran cornmeal pancakes (supposedly for breakfast, but made to order any time, if you ask). The pupusa is made from a masa harina dough, stuffed with cheese, beans or pork. The cornmeal patty was super-crisp and best when combined with the traditional curtido, a sharp, vinegary cabbage slaw with onions and a few hot red peppers in the mix. It's all topped off with a spicy-hot salsa roja. - L.F.
2951 Triverton Pike, Fitchburg.
The sea scallops with ratatouille, fennel-leek mash, fried leeks and olive oil were excellent, the scallops cooked to tender perfection. Especially pleasing was the fennel-leek mash, the potatoes enlivened with - besides leeks and fennel - white wine, Pernod and garden herbs. Andouille, chicken and blackened shrimp papardelle pasta with roasted red pepper cream sauce was another winner. The andouille, a highly spiced Cajun sausage, brought this dish to life, while the pasta and red pepper cream sauce added a welcome cushion of comfort. - J.M.
2609 E. Washington Ave., Madison.
It's tough choosing among 150-plus bottles and 18 tap beers. Those on draft are dispensed through three imported European beer towers, each with a unique glass rinser at the base. One-third of the taps offer Wisconsin beers, another third Belgian beers, and the final six serve whatever strikes the owner's interest. - R.S.
2611 Monroe St., Madison.
The almond-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates have received strong reviews to date, and I'm not going to disrupt that pattern; they're wonderful, oily and sweet. Also available for starters: a big charcuterie plate with local cheeses and crackers, three salads and the hallmark frites. For richer palates, the seared duck breast with cherries is a must-try. - K.N.
745 N. High Point Rd., Madison.
Your meal proper should begin with a orba (soup); try the thicker-than-usual mercimek, with red lentils, onion and spices. This is a truly sublime concoction, and the homemade bread is wonderful dipped in the soup. Don't miss the lamb kebab; it's smoky, subtle and suffused with earthy herbal undertones. At Oliva the meat is served across rice - no sauces or butters or cheeses interfere with the showcase of adroitly seasoned meat. - A.P.
6405 Mineral Point Rd., Madison.
A house specialty is the grilled salmon in grape leaves, with pine nuts, lemon-currant vinaigrette, thinly sliced Yukon Gold roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach. This is a beautiful creation, the vinaigrette enlivening the dish, raising it to a new level. - J.M.
4527 Cottage Grove Rd., Madison
Papa Bear's pork spareribs are cut St. Louis style - i.e., the very end of the rack is trimmed off. And the trimmings? They are turned into rib tips, also on the menu. Rib tips are often a forgotten item in barbecue land - in fact, butchers used to throw them away after trimming them from the rack - but in recent years they have begun to command greater respect. These tips are just as tasty as the rest of the rib, and they are always a better buy. - J.M.
410 E. Wilson St., Madison.
Kastro kabobs were a hit. These are chunks of moist and tender chicken breast marinated in garlic, olive oil and oregano, served over rice pilaf with vegetables. Also recommended is the spanakopita dinner, spinach pie endowed with herbs, onion and feta cheese. - J.M.
6720 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton.
My plate-sized flapjack was crispy on the edges and cakey on the inside. The egg dishes were served nice and hot in large portions. We started with the two-egg Prairie Scramble. Out of 13 possible mix-ins, we chose artichoke relish and cheese. Thanks to the chokes, the pillowy eggs were green enough to please Sam I Am, and we liked them with the crisp and nutty whole-wheat toast on the side. - A.S.
225 King St., Madison.
Muramoto's signature sautéed shrimp in a spicy coconut sauce is as good as it sounds, and so is a supernal lamb curry that features tender lamb tossed with tomato, zucchini, bell peppers and onion, in a dusky, complex, subtle curry. - R.K.
36 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Madison.
The curry puffs (basically a samosa, with potatoes, spinach and onion) and veggie potstickers are superb. Move farther off the beaten path with the catfish dish called pad phet pla duke. The delicately fried catfish - accompanied by bamboo shoots, mushrooms and basil - is amped up by a red curry both musky and lively. If you're not a big basil fan, beware; it's a power chord here. - K.N.
802 Atlas Ave., Madison.
The signature Pasta Talula features shallots and mushrooms sautéed with jumbo shrimp and herbs in white wine cream sauce and tossed with fettuccine. Getting both the shrimp and the pasta to finish concurrently tender is no mean feat, but the kitchen pulled it off. - J.M.
2817 E. Washington Ave., Madison
Toua Yea Her's Ginger Chicken is vibrant with its namesake ginger, both with a lovely gingery sauce and slender ribbons of tender fresh ginger that give a kick to the chicken. The sautéed squash with egg, another Hmong entree, was made with a mash of bright orange winter squash, bright yellow hard-boiled egg yolks and onions. The sweet flavor of the onion and squash married with the chalky texture of the egg yolk makes for a mellow blend. - L.F.
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