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Madison, WI - Need help w/ choices ...


Once again, we're heading up to Clam Lake, WI for two weeks. But, this year, instead of flying into MSP from NYC, we're going to fly into Chicago and drive up. Our plan is to arrive in Chicago pretty early, then drive to Monroe and check out Roth Kase and other cheese makers in the area. I've found lots of great discussion about that on this board. We then plan to spend the night in Madison, do our grocery shopping for my ten days of cooking there in the morning, and then head up. There were also a lot of great suggestions on another thread about shopping, including the wonderful cheese store. I'm assuming I can find a Target/Walmart etc. to buy a cooler for the trip.

I did some searching last night about where to have dinner, and L'Ecole and Sardine stood out. However, I have an odd requirement, which is that, weather permitting, we be able to park the car very nearby with our dog in it (not in a parking garage etc.). Is that feasible? If not, what other chow recs might you have that would meet this requirement? Doesn't have to be fancy or anything - just great chow. If this turns out not to work well, we might try to do take out from somewhere, or just nibble on cheese and bread in the room. To that end - are there any particular wine stores that you might recommend? Does WF sell wine? We've already sent some cases of wine up to Clam Lake, so this would just be something for that evening.

Thanks so much - really looking forward to our visit.

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  1. Hi MMRuth

    I've been to Sardine - really like it - and the parking lot is right there in front. You could eat outside on the (small) deck and see both your car and part of one of the lakes. You could check and see if they would let you have your dog on the deck too - he's just a little thing - since you'd be outside. :-)

    Mr CF and I went to Riley's Wine & Spirits, 402 W Gorham (608) 257-0400, ‎and were pleased by their selection - though we live in IN and the selection here can be a bit depressing sometimes. Check upstairs for the really good stuff (they had Sea Smoke but would only let us have 1 bottle) and we found some marvelous white Italian wines. We also liked Steve's Wine Market, 3618 University Avenue (608) 233-6193‎, not quite as good a selection as Riley's but still worth poking around in and checking out.

    Have a good time!

    1. Were you referring to L'Etoile as your other choice? I assume you were. I would highly recommend it for dinner, and also Cafe Soleil if you're ever looking for a light breakfast.

      There is street parking all around the capitol square (across the street from the restaurant), but availability can be hit and miss around dinner time. If you can't find a spot there, I believe the nearest lot is about 1.5-2 blocks away.

      2 Replies
      1. re: BigE

        Yes - sorry, I was thinking about L'Etoile. Thank you! We'll be there on the 26th - wondering if I need to go ahead and make a reservation now at either place? I wasn't sure if the university would be starting orientation etc. such that parents might be in town .... It does sound though, because of the dog, that Sardine might be a safer choice. We're just a little paranoid about having him parked out of sight.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I'd go ahead and make reservations - but I like to be on the safe side personally.

      2. If you're going to be on the 'square' as in Capitol Square (L'Etoile and Harvest are on the square), directly across the square from them on the corner of Washington and Fairchild is a coffee shop that doubles as a wine store. The selections are decent and reasonably priced. Nothing high end, and it may not be what you're looking for (don't know what your price points are), but you can walk out with some very decent 7 and 8 dollar bottles as well as more expensive ones I can't remember the name of the place for the life of me,

        But if you google it and go to street view, you'll see it on the corner, with newspaper boxes in front and some tables as well.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mike_d

          The place is Barriques. I worked there my junior and senior years at Madison. It's a nice little coffee shop, with not half-bad food either, for a nice lunch on the square.

          1. re: salvage7

            Agreed. And nice for a glass of wine too. We've stopped a number of times for a before dinner drink

            1. re: salvage7

              Just a follow-up as I sit in Barriques, having just had breakfast. The breakfast sandwich was nice. Local ham, egg, Hook's cheddar. Not a huge portion, but perfect for a light breakfast. Really good coffee this morning as well. Oh, well, back to work.

          2. MMR,

            We like, very much, Lombardino's on "Old" University Avenue. My typing probably won't do them justice, but their website is nice: http://www.lombardinos.com/about.html

            What caught my eye is your note about your pup. We're often there, at 5:00 on a Friday, at the same time as another "regular" couple. Their two pups spend the time in their car. The parking that's available is shaded in the early evening and keeps the dogs cool.

            Down University Avenue, to the west, is Steve's Liquor. Very nice selection and I've never been able to quibble with their price-points. Can't say the same about the WF wine department. http://www.stevesliquorstores.com/

            Alternately, Lombardino's has a VERY nice Italian wine selection and will sell to you for carryout.

            Please enjoy Madison.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Monch

              Thanks for the recommendations - Lombardino's looks wonderful. I've made a reservation for Sardine already, but we may be going through Madison again on our way back, so I'll keep it in mind. We're looking forward to our visit, even though it's short!

            2. Sardine is my favorite place in Madison by a long shot(L 'Etoile has been overrated and very overpriced for years, imho) We've done the "watch the dog from the patio" thing ourselves at Sardine. As some other posts mentioned, Barriques has a great wine selection, ask about their "Wall of One Hundred". Great bargins, and always delicious. Have a great time in our wonderful city.

              1. Thanks to everyone for your advice. Unfortunately, we decided to drive the whole way from Chicago to Clam Lake that day, and only stopped in Madison to do a quick shopping at Whole Foods, so I didn't get to try Sardine or any of the other places. I can say that I like the Whole Foods in Madison much better than the one in St. Paul, where I've done this shopping in past years. It's a bit smaller, but the quality of the meat and fish seemed much better, and I was happy to be able to pick up a couple of Roth Kase cheeses that we enjoyed, particularly since we weren't able to stop there either. On the way back we spent the night in Wausau and I need to report on that.

                2 Replies
                1. re: MMRuth

                  Hi MMRuth! I'm sorry you didn't get to chow in Madison, but thanks for bring up this post. Could someone please clue me in about Sardine? I'll be in Madison this Christmas for the first time in a couple of years and I'm not familiar w/ Sardine. We went to L'Etoile the last couple of times. I think it's very good, but I don't dream about it ;-) I'd love to hear some other great options. Thanks

                  1. re: danna

                    Sardine is more of a casual French bistro, rather than upscale fine dining like L'Etoile. The casualness is felt from the wood floors and high ceilings (a "loft look") of the main dining room. As noted above, in nice weather they also serve on the small outdoor deck, which faces the lake just past the small parking lot, which made it the perfect recommendation for the OP and their dog. The food is very good, and they also do a nice brunch, as I found out recently. You can take a look at the menu on their website at www.sardinemadison.com It's part of a long, older, renovated building (Machinery Row) facing Lake Monona; your best bet when you get there is to drive into the driveway (on the right as you're facing the building) and then to the left around the back of the building to the farthest parking lot, which is right alongside the restaurant. This is nicely illustrated in the directions on their website.

                    If you're looking more for upscale fine dining (along the same lines as L'Etoile), I recommend Harvest (next door to L'Etoile - www.harvest-restaurant.com ) and Fresco (a couple blocks off the square on the rooftop of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art - www.frescomadison.com ). Both are excellent. If you go to Fresco, don't miss the buttermilk beignets!

                    I've posted detailed reports on my recent dinner at Fresco and brunch at Sardine in the discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/462929 You'll find additional recommendations in that topic too.