My visit to the Cloud 9 Grille was my first exposure to Grandview Commons, the sparkling new Veridian Homes subdivision on Madison's far east side. What a revelation! Tidy homes with real front porches. Garages intelligently placed behind the houses, fronting alleys. European-style townhouses, affordable starter homes, a verdant village green, pocket parks, lots of trees. At last, retro done right in Madison. May it win many awards.
But we're here to talk about Cloud 9, the new restaurant that serves Grandview Commons and the larger area. It's perched on a high point of land, affording sweeping views westward, clear to the State Capitol and beyond. As the only restaurant in the commons to date, Cloud 9 seems to have something for everyone, from burgers and Miller Lite downstairs in the sports bar, to filet mignon and Dom Perignon upstairs in the formal Sunset Room. Some of it's good, some other things need a little attention. It's open seven days a week and even has a Sunday brunch.
If you like giant, flat-screen televisions, you'll love the informal downstairs, which has, at my count, nine of them. (You can even watch the Brewers while you wash your hands in the men's room.) The downstairs space is expansive, with high ceilings, lots of dark wood, large windows, and comfortable seating. Decorative accoutrements include Badger sports photos and a mural salute to Las Vegas. This is guy territory,
Upstairs it's quite a different story. In addition to the usual comfortable tables, the east wall is lined with elevated half-circle booths, affording all patrons unobstructed views through the floor-to-ceiling west windows to the sweeping vistas beyond. The sunsets can be glorious. (Don't worry - the windows are fitted with motorized sunscreens.)
There is only one menu, for downstairs and up, for lunch and dinner, for every day of the week. It includes a wide array of appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, pizza, and platters - steaks, barbecued ribs, seafood, pork chops and roast chicken.
A companion and I dropped in for downstairs lunch one Monday, and came away happy. The clam chowder was creamy, moderately spiced, and spiked with enough clam bits to earn its name. The quiche of the day, salmon, was excellent, well stocked with smoked salmon and fluffy eggs. My companion's tempura-fried shrimp po' boy was a definite hit, served on a toasted sourdough roll with spicy slaw, onion marmalade and gazpacho mayo, all complimenting a generous serving of tender shrimp.
On the other hand, a fruit salad seemed tired, and the homemade potato chips appeared to have spent the weekend at an undisclosed location.
Another visit, for dinner upstairs, again yielded mixed results. (Incidentally, if you want a table or booth upstairs, be sure to call to reserve ahead. You might not get seating as a walk-in.)
We started with an order of calamari, which were deep-fat fried and served with a bland remoulade sauce. The cephalopodian o-rings lacked the spunk I usually expect in this dish, but we rescued them by ordering a serving of cocktail sauce.
My companion's barbecued baby back ribs were acceptable, but I have learned not to order barbecued ribs anywhere in Madison but Fat Jack's and Smoky Jon's, which are the only two places that prepare genuine barbecued ribs, cooked for many hours over a slow wood fire. All the rest involve various shortcuts, then are finished off on the grill and slathered with sauce. These ribs were greasier than the genuine article, and seemed to be oversalted. They were served with a sweet potato hash, which should be special but was not.
My shrimp scampi, a signature dish of the restaurant, was fine, the pink crustaceans bathed in a white wine, lemon, and butter sauce and served with rice pilaf and asparagus. But for $16, this was a very small serving - only five medium shrimp, three spears of asparagus, and a dollop of rice sans any discernable pilaf seasoning. I rarely eat everything on my plate, but that night I cleaned it, and afterward headed straight for Michael's Frozen Custard.
Cloud 9 has been open for about 10 months now, and should long have left its shake-down period behind. The service was efficient and cheerful on our visits - certainly more cheerful than I would be, if I had to lug dinners up 33 steps from the kitchen level to the Sunset Room. But the kitchen certainly needs a stronger hand, if Cloud 9 is going to attract more than the sports bar crowd and residents from the immediate commons area.
Cloud 9 Grille
876 Juniper Dr., 441-3250.
10 am-10 pm Sun., 11 am-10 pm Mon.-Thur., 11 am-midnight Fri.-Sat. Parking. Wheelchair accessible. Platters $12-$26, sandwiches (with fries or fruit) $8-$10. Daily specials. Major credit cards.