Wednesday, June 1

Grazing in Madison

I ventured to Madison, Wisconsin recently for a friend's wedding and I honestly had no idea what to expect on the food scene. I did know there was a James Beard Best Chef nominee this year, but other than that, clueless. I quickly learned that not only is Madison home to the country's largest producer-only farmer's market (who knew?!), there are two fantastic restaurants within one block of each other: Graze and Harvest.

Just across the street from the State Capitol building, Graze is the stylish and more casual gastro-pub cousin to the eponymous L'Etoile. Both establishments' kitchens are under the guidance of Tory Miller, the 2011 James Beard nominee I was referring to.

Graze is all about haute comfort food. And no visit to Madison, so I was told, would be complete without indulging in the local delicacy of fried cheese curds. Yes folks, fried cheese. With housemade ranch dressing for dipping. That's some serious decadence!

Wisconsinites are devoted to their cheeses and producers. At Graze, the daily local cheese offerings are announced on a large blackboard.

As are their 'Conservation Farmers of the Year' purveyors.

Not only is there American comfort food on the menu, but there are pan-Asian inspired offerings woven throughout, like the House pickle platter featuring escabeche, Persian cukes and beets...

... squash, kim chee and daikon.

The silky smooth asparagus and spring onion soup with tarragon, topped with lemon crème fraîche was essentially Spring farmer's market in a bowl.

And back to Vietnam with a hyper-fresh version of Bún with grilled halibut and shrimp, rice noodles, spring veggies, peanuts, chopped cilantro, mint and a chili-lime vinaigrette.

The grilled cheese special of the day featured beets, local feta and bacon on pumpernickel. The flavors were all so satisfying (and the food filling), that dessert was just not do-able. Maybe even a first for me!

Just one block down is Harvest and I'm sorry to say I don't have any photos of the food to share. I know, but it was the wedding rehearsal dinner I was off duty (a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere.) I do, however, have a very vivid memory of the wonderful meal, and can't gush enough about the grass-fed beef co-op grilled flat iron steak seasoned with harissa, topped with pickled red onions & mint and chickpea fries. Seriously, the steak was extraordinary. Don't just take my word for it, go enjoy it yourself!

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