Lavish starters at Tempest Oyster Bar.
It was a memorable year in Madison-area dining, as local sourcing, small plates, upscale pub fare and ethnic dishes captured our imagination. Come along with us in this recap of some of our favorite food adventures of the last 12 months - both to new restaurants and those with newly revised menus.
Please note! With a growing number of restaurants re-creating their menus seasonally, some of our favorite items may no longer be on the menu. Full reviews are searchable at TheDailyPage.com/eats.
8310 Greenway Blvd., Middleton
Bison meat is used in a food in which Americans usually find beef or pork: sausages. It's as much a nutritional choice as it is a culinary one. Bison Jack's does not cure its sausages, and bison's flavor is milder, with less stick-to-your-tongue fattiness. PICKS: "The Reuben"; a savory wild rice sausage; a juicy Italian sausage redolent of fennel.
222 W. Washington Ave., Madison
There's nothing depressing or brown-baggy about takeout here. The heart of the menu is sandwiches, seven hot and seven cold; seven salads, too. PICKS: smoked beef brisket Philly sandwich; grilled lemon herb chicken sandwich.
1843 Monroe St., Madison
A sensible addition to a neighborhood that continues to support a number of relatively new restaurants. PICKS: bangers and mash; Harp-battered onion rings; slow-cooked corned beef sandwich; chicken sandwich; fried chicken Benedict.
6712 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton
There's an impressive list of bottle and draft beer, and if you sit at the bar there are gregarious bartenders who are generous with samples. PICKS: the chicken and smoked cheddar salad with applewood smoked bacon; the blue cheese burger, which sports pickled red onions and a pretzel bun.
4124 Monona Dr., Madison
Crema has shed its upholstered coffee-lounge vibe, added more tables, expanded to include the neighboring storefront (formerly a Thai takeout spot), and now does a brisk weekend brunch business in addition to weekday breakfast and lunch. PICKS: the breakfast sandwich; the "Bluebird" chicken salad sandwich with blueberries; cherry pancakes.
5441 High Crossing Blvd., Madison
The old Dog Eat Dog mojo is still working inside Pooley's, the far-east-side sports bar. PICKS: Chicago dog; slaw cheese dog; celery-salted hot chips.
108 King St., Madison
The restaurant has recently inaugurated a pared-down, cheaper bill of fare, and it's a very good deal. PICKS: three-course tasting menu; hanger steak pastrami.
122 State St., Madison
There is something refreshingly soulful about the Fountain, with its vintage oak and mahogany bar parked on one side of the room, facing a big mirror framed by orange and yellow neon bands, like a jukebox. The authenticity, thankfully, infuses the menu as well. PICKS: Cheese curds; house spinach artichoke dip; BLT; red lager brat; Fountain burger.
121 E. Main St., Madison
A warm, bright space with brick walls, a convivial little bar and prime outdoor seating on East Main. PICKS: tacos; gorditas; anything with mole.
610 S. Park St., Madison
You'll find no crab rangoon here, no fortune cookies. Instead, a marker board greets you with a list of house specialties that includes frog legs and eel. This is not food-court Chinese - which is not to say that there aren't some familiar entry points. PICKS: twice-cooked pork; ox tongue and tripe in chili sauce; dandan noodles; hot pot.
515 Midvale Blvd., Madison
The menu is streamlined and designed to please. Four baked pasta entrees are joined by thin-crust pizzas and sandwiches, with a handful of salads and appetizers. PICKS: panini, especially the chicken muffaletta; the Bada Bing specialty pizza with bacon, fontina, mushrooms and caramelized onions.
912 E. Johnson St., Madison
Joe Cerniglia's Sicilian family recipes are the basis for the pizza, pasta, sandwiches and calzones at Madtown. The flavors conjure the modest grandeur of a well-cooked meal from mom, at affordable prices and in generous portions. PICKS: Wisconsin bacon burger pizza; Italian sausage in a mini-calzone; Italian beef sandwich.
1927 Winnebago St., Madison
In late summer Mermaid added dinner to its previously daytime-oriented kitchen. The menu is focused and small, which is smart for a place this cozy. There's always a cheese or meat board, a salad, a couple of entrees and a burger. The ingredients are high-end, with an emphasis on local purveyors. PICKS: Asian salad; West African peanut stew; burgers.
14 W. Mifflin St., Madison
An Indian and Nepali restaurant on the Square; lunch buffet. PICKS: mumari (fried mung bean patties); beef vindaloo; baingan bartha.
6119 Odana Rd., Madison
Former Lulu's chef Mohammad Hinnawi and some of his colleagues have opened the Nile in a strip mall on Odana Road. PICKS: falafel; Egyptian lentil soup; kibbee; chicken couscous.
506 State St., Madison
A sushi bar that can accommodate four close friends and a handful of small tables that can seat maybe 20, with simple settings of folded napkins and chopsticks on tables. PICKS: tempura combination; sashimi; Spicy Girl roll.
6719 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton
A sister restaurant to University Avenue's Shish Cafe, housed in the former Bean Sprouts location at Middleton Hills. PICKS: monkfish kebab; baklava.
106 King St., Madison
The intimate, dark dining room is so calm you can actually hold a conversation. The real attraction is the epic choice of rolls. Start with the white snow - a very busy roll packed with prawn, crab, fish eggs, green onions and spicy mayo, all topped with seared jumbo sea scallop. Also fine is the shogun, a shrimp tempura and crab roll crowned with ebi, so that the two shrimps offer a memorable duet.
503 W. Main St., Sun Prairie
The bread plate is a must. Lightly toasted sesame and Parmesan-crusted bread is accompanied by a dipping pool of rosemary-infused olive oil. The basic tomato pie is my pick of the menu. It's unfettered by excess toppings, and the purity of the ingredients shines. Made with care, it tastes as good as it looks: just whole-milk mozzarella, provolone, fresh basil and a spiral of sauce.
2701 Atwood Ave., Madison
The airy L-shaped dining room on Atwood is a beauty, punctuated by a long cherrywood counter, ceiling beams, big coolers filled with cream sodas, and pebbly mosaic floors. PICKS: potato pancakes; smoked salmon; roast beef and muenster sandwich.
330 N. Orchard St., Madison
The ambience is calm and cool, wood and concrete embellished with glass and stone, while the service is warm and extremely attentive. Chef Michael Pruett has a knack for intense, earthy flavors that reach right into the caveman part of your brain and make you gurgle with pleasure. PICKS: wild mushroom risotto; duck breast; pappardelle with short rib ragout.
120 E. Wilson St., Madison
The menu, focused mainly on seafood, doesn't hold back: There are lavish starters and opulent entrees. PICKS: fruits de mer appetizer; sturgeon; blue marlin.
102 King St., Madison
Wisconsin bar food done a notch higher with ingredients from high-quality local purveyors. Usinger's kielbasa is piled high with sauerkraut; Knoche's Market beef patties grace the burgers. Widmer's cheese, Nueske's bacon and Clasen's breads also figure prominently, as does Spotted Cow beer batter on fries, cheese curds and fish. PICKS: 1x1 cheeseburger; fries; portobello sandwich; Cobb salad.
923 Williamson St., Madison
A streamlined, Zen-like L-shaped dining room that's all textured white walls, dark wood banquettes and a long hipstery bar featuring 12 sakes. PICKS: pork buns; house tuna poke; apple walnut frisee; ramen.
806a South Division St., Waunakee
New York-style pizza, in addition to lunch combos and pastas. PICKS: hand-tossed Crazy Pepperoni; Florentine white pie thin crust.