The things I tasted and loved best this year in Madison all bore out the adage "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," as afterward I obsessed about how to make each dish at home. I actually laughed and cried while eating L'Etoile's plate of Honeycrisp apples with fried sheep's milk cheese gnocchi, sage brown butter, toasted hickory nuts, buttermilk blue cheese and apple cider reduction. Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery served up one of the best breakfast sandwiches I've ever had, with great textures and flavors: a fried egg, bacon, cream cheese and purple onion on grilled rosemary bread. Lastly, I'd like to give a shout-out to my favorite ingredient of 2009, Farmer John's fresh mozzarella. I got to feeling twisted as I planned my market runs around where Farmer John was selling.Fresh mozz on a toasted onion bagel with a fat, acidy slice of Black Prince tomato and a little salt - heaven.
- Erin Hanusa
The fact that most of my favorite bites of 2009 are holdovers from 2008 says something about the slumped economy and the lack of innovative new restaurants in Madison this year. But that doesn't mean there weren't a few new discoveries. Three new dishes I keep going back for are: 1) the lox, cream cheese and watercress on a sesame seed bagel at Gotham Bagels, an instant classic because that bagel is exquisitely crunchy, chewy and perfect; 2) Pizza Brutta's mozza panini, because the creamy house-made mozzarella and silky prosciutto almost melt into their pocket of wood-baked, olive-oil-infused ciabatta bread; and 3) any of the pasta dishes at Harvest (especially the house-made tagliatelle with pork sausage) that show off chef Derek Rowe's pedigree, most recently as sous chef at Babbo.
- Raphael Kadushin
Few food experiences will be able to top those that my wife and I shared on our July honeymoon in Montreal: smoked meat at Schwartz's, indecent amounts of foie gras at Martin Picard's Au Pied de Cochon. But closer to home, a happy accident by staff at Takumi led to my introduction to the wonderfully inauthentic candy roll, a carnival of crab, jalapeño, avocado and cream cheese, all deep-fried. And looking in my fridge, I'm thankful for the vanilla bean rice pudding recipe in March's Bon Appetit, which everyone should make at home at least once a year.
- Kyle Nabilcy
Specialty mushrooms are a nuanced taste experience, and edible fungus fans were well served by Madison restaurants this year. Lombardino's took advantage of its wood-burning grill to lightly toast shiitake, white button and oyster mushrooms. Tossed with black truffle vinaigrette, strewn over an earthy, dense cornmeal paste imported from Anson Mills (one of the oldest polenta makers in Italy) and finished in a porcini mushroom broth with braised kale, this entree was spectacular. Obtaining wild mushrooms (which cannot be cultivated and must be gathered) through the underground of wild-mushroom hunters requires extensive contacts and good timing. This summer, Harvest chef Derek Rowe scored wild morels and worked them into a butter-based compound for braised halibut. And the Blue Marlin set morels and Hen of the Woods into a bed of fettuccine with grilled asparagus, roasted tomatoes and tarragon cream sauce.
- Adam Powell
We popped into King's Fish Market in Naubinway, Mich., this past August and left with my favorite meal of the year, a whole whitefish - very lightly smoked, moist, meaty, almost melt-away. King's doesn't ship, so if you want to partake, it's a day's drive to the U.P., the Midwest's smoked-fish capital. In Madison, the fondue lunch at Fromagination stands out as a cheerful, sumptuous, intoxicating February picnic. And the food that made me happiest on a daily basis all summer long was anything from the Spice Yatra cart - from the rich chicken saag to a special like the black- and kidney-bean rajmah curry.
- Linda Falkenstein