Sunday, April 18, 2010
Eating Our Way through the Wisconsin Film Festival, Day Four: Sardine
A pet belief of mine holds that a good restaurant and its kitchen needs to be located in an old building -- old enough so there might be attendant ghosts -- or at least plenty of memories. Sardine is located in part of Madison's old Fauerbach Brewery dating from the mid-nineteenth century. For all its beautifully updated interior -- white painted brick walls,high ceilings, elegant lighting, white tablecloths -- the room has a deep sense of history and brewery-worker stories untold. We had a table at the back next to the windows where (typical of Madison somehow) lovely Lake Monona gets no respect; you have a perfect view of it, but over the rows of car tops out in the parking lot. The lake was doing its night-time thing -- a modest bit of glimmering -- and the cheerful row of lights on the opposite shore twinkled far enough away to suggest there might be something other than big box stores and mini malls over there. A gorgeous moody set of old Blues music came on over the sound system -- it was after 8 P.M. and it was time to eat.
We each had a Negroni cocktail -- a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, citrus that combines 4 forms of alcohol (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier) -- and threw caution to the wind. P decided to have fried smelt as an appetizer. The smelt (enough of them to be a light entree) were nicely fried in a light oil, with a buttermilk dipping sauce and a small side of pickled cabbage. I chose the house salad -- one of my favorite salads in Madison -- a glistening heap of the freshest local lettuces, lightly dressed with tarragon vinaigrette, topped with roasted beets, crispy chickpeas and a bit of sieved egg.
For my entree, I chose the Skatewing with broccoli rabe and fingerling potatoes. I asked the server if I could switch out the broccoli for the sauteed spinach which was on the menu with other entrees -- "no problem" she replied, smiling. An ample portion of Skatewing arrived, deftly pan-seared in butter -- with a pepper, lemon caper sauce -- and the sautéed spinach with fingerling potatoes. Skatewing really does taste like scallops.
For his entree, P ordered the mussels and frites. The mussels were cooked perfectly in a broth of wine, a touch of Pernod, cream, onion and fresh thyme sprigs, And what a pile of succulent bi-valves it was -- enough for a Belgian Army! And enough frites to share with them, and house-made mayonnaise.
After this meal, we decided, it will be salads and soup throughout the summer (goodbye, potatoes; farewell, cocktails). But first, a dessert menu was offered and P could not resist the siren song of the flourless chocolate cake with a tiny scoop of fresh berry sorbet and a dab of cream adorned with an edible mint leaf.
When we finally left the table, we passed the seasonal bouquet that set the stage near the lake entrance of the restaurant -- on a dark wood rail a tall glass column vase filled with river stones and an explosion of yellow tulips. Spring at last! It was a perfect dinner.
Guest post by T, the Letter from Here resident food correspondent and amazing dinner companion. For the Wisconsin Film Festival movie that preceded this celebration, click here.