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Nov 30, 2011 01:19 PM

Madison updates, please!

I'm looking for lunches and dinners in Madison from Thurs. night before xmas all the way through Christmas day. I know the actual holidays will be tough going, but for thurs and fri...please tell me what is new and exciting! It's been about 3 years since I visited.

I'm thinking I want to try the new (to me) Graze. Good? has Cafe Soleil closed? I also thought La Sardine might be a good choice to take my inlaws. I've only had brunch there. Good for dinner? New not-to-be-missed spots?

What about the Lao place? I can't spell it to save my life. Still good? still 2 locations?

What about great grocery store and take out delicacies? Whole Foods my best bet?

i'd really appreciate just some general ideas of what is delicious that I should give myself for Christmas. Thanks and Cheers!

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  1. Graze is good. I was amazed my first two times there. Food was awesome, but the last time I went was a little disappointing, so I might be hit or miss. Try the pork; the bone marrow is also good.

    Not to be missed spot, is one of my new favorites. Restaurant Muramoto on King St. Best sushi downtown. If you go, try to sit at the bar so you can watch all of the action and I suggest ordering the Maki Combo - best bang for your buck and you don't get to pick the rolls you get so it is a surprise, but if your whole group orders it you can all share as you will most likely all get a different combination.

    There is always whole foods, but you might also be interested in checking out the Fresh Madison Market in University Square or HyVee on the east side. I don't know where you will be staying. There is also a Trader Joe's in town now.

    Bradbury's on Hamilton is great for breakfast/brunch. They have the best coffee in town and delicious crepes. I suggest their pour over coffee.

    Then there are always the Classics. Lazy Jane's, Joey's Seafood on the West side is pretty good, as is the Dayton St. Grill for dinner or lunch. Maharaja is amazing if you like Indian food, I would suggest the Navarattan Korma or the Chicken Tikka Masala, but its all good.

    The Capital Taphouse is my go-to bar along with the Great Dane if you're looking for laid back drinking atmosphere, or you can always get a boot at the Essen Haus.

    I live downtown so that's kinda the area and food I'm familiar with. I hope you have a great Holiday and eat some great food. For more suggestions you can check out my blog.

    1. Eno Vino, on the west side, is terrific. They specialize in wines and small plates, and the food is outstanding. The prices are reasonable too. This is my top pick in Madison.

      Fresco, on the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art, is also thoroughly excellent, and the setting, with the view of the sculpture garden and the capitol, is unique.

      227 State Street, Madison, WI 53703

      Eno Vino Wine Bar & Bistro
      601 Junction Road, Madison, WI 53717

      1. New on/around the Square, I would also recommend Merchant for cocktails and fun groceries; Nostrano for beautiful Italian-esque farm to table, and 43 North for delicious and affordable prix fixe.

        2 Replies
        1. re: itsbubbles

          I ate at 43 North this past year. It wasn't awful, but nothing was particularly impressive either. I did not think the quality was up to the better places in Madison, like Eno Vino or Fresco. That's why I omitted it from my recommendations above.

          I posted detailed reports on my dinners at 43 North and Eno Vino at I also posted one on Fresco a couple of years ago, at

          1. re: itsbubbles

            We had a great dinner at Nostrano in late winter. We were especially excited about the value of the dinner in relation to the quality of the food.

            We were in town recently and I stopped in for an appetizer and drink. While it was excellent, I recall the entrees prices being in the upper teens before (I checked a review from shortly after their opening and I am not wrong about this) and now they are mostly $20-25. Which truly, might be more appropriate for the quality and I understand...but I figured I'd mention it nonetheless.

          2. Cafe Soleil closed when L'Etoile moved from North Pinckney to South; Graze is the new effort that (sort of) replaces it. Magic coffee still available, still delicious. Sardine (just Sardine, since Chowhound puts an additional S on it) is a great bet all around. The bar menu (Bistro hot dog--amazing) is a hidden gem if you're just doing drinks and bites. Lao Laan Xang is still good, though being given a good run by Ha Long Bay, in the space once occupied by Babs' French Quarter Kitchen on Williamson St.

            New places you should consider trying (in addition to some of the spots mentioned already):

            Umami - ramen house in a converted, well, house on Willy St. Try the pork buns (especially if you get them at Graze, too; I like one significantly more than the other).

            Bonfyre - hidden away in the big business development along the Beltline across from the Arboretum. Big menu, should please any possible combination of tastes.

            Ichiban - Sichuan joint on Park St. Hot, serious, good.

            Dumpling Haus - A spinoff of the now-closed Yen Ching, housed inside the Hilldale Shopping Center. Haus pork, haus bao zi, and more are very much worth facing the holiday shopping crowd to try.

            Older places you may have missed:

            Inka Heritage - Peruvian on Park; the restaurant that really started to turn the tide on that stretch of road. It's a veritable United Nations of good eats (Peruvian, Sichuan, Cantonese, Mexican, plus bagels, Barriques, and Carnival's--that last one's kind of a hoot, and worth checking out for funsies.)

            I prefer Maharani for Indian in Madison; the Maharajas kind of hog all the press. Get the beef mango, or the chicken shahi korma.

            Papa Bear's BBQ - Not the most sophisticated, rub-heavy smokehouse in town, but real nice, real thickly-sauced BBQ. Two sandwiches worth stopping for: the hot link, and the BBQ corned beef. Make sure to get a side order of biscuits--they're wonderful.

            L'Etoile Restaurant
            25 N Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703

            Lao Laan Xang Restaurant
            2098 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704

            Maharani Indian Restaurant
            380 W Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53703

            617 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

            Inka Heritage
            602 S Park St, Madison, WI 53715

            Papa Bears Bbq
            4527 Cottage Grove Rd, Madison, WI 53716

            Ha Long Bay
            1353 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

            Bonfyre American Grille
            2601 West Beltline Hwy, Madison, WI 53713

            1. I think Graze it great but you could also consider Cooper's Tavern or the Old Fashioned for food along similar lines. I know they aren't exactly in the same genre but they are all worth visiting.

              I don't think Sardine's dinner is worth your time. I like their brunch quite a bit but find their dinner menu underwhelming compared to other places around town.

              I'll echo nx's opinion on 43 North for dinner. It's interesting, good, but nothing special. For brunch I'd say avoid at all costs.

              Merchant's brunch is perhaps its best meal. Other meals offer inconsistency in food. Their drinks are always great, though, and that is the primary reason to visit the place.

              Nostrano has outstanding desserts and good-to-great entrees. They also do lunch with a similar menu to the dinner menu.

              One place not mentioned yet (though I am a bit spacey today so might have missed it) is Osteria Papavero, an increasingly-favorite pick lately for us.

              I agree that Muramoto is not to be missed, but I not for the sushi. Sure, it's great, but the dinner and lunch menu are outstanding. I also enjoy some of their desserts. At $9 for lunch, it's nearly impossible to beat.

              Great grocery/food stores? I'm partial to the Willy St. Coop (now with a second, larger location on the west side) for groceries, as well as the Jenifer St Market. I always advocate visiting Vom Fass which has oils, vinegars, and alcohol. Unique and fun place.

              When you are visiting dumpling haus, you should consider swinging by DB infusions for some exotic caramels. They are best purchased 500 at a time so that you never worry about running out -- though I should note I am not wealthy enough to test this recommendation of 500.

              I love Fromagination. Great cheese selection, and you can sample all of it. Just note that you can sometimes get the same cheeses for WAY cheaper elsewhere. They seem to price all cheeses similarly so some of the typically cheaper cheeses will be quite pricey there.

              nx and book both gave great recommendations for options.

              3 Replies
              1. re: TAsunder

                Wow, I expected good info from chowhound, but these responses have me even more excited than I expected.

                Can you elaborlate on Muramoto and what you mean by not for the sushi? I'm particularly interested because it is open on the 24th. there are two locations...need info on that as well, please. (at least according to )

                1. re: danna

                  You might look at my recent review of Muramoto on Tripadvisor.....

                  1. re: danna

                    Sushi muramoto is focused on sushi more than small and large plates. Restaurant Muramoto has great sushi but their small and big plates are outstanding. I prefer Restaurant Muramoto overall. Although the sushi at both places is probably the best in Madison, it's still not remarkably good or unique. The dinner menu at the downtown (Restaurant Muramoto) location has a lot of unique, flavorful stuff that put the restaurant among Madson's best. An ideal "Restaurant Muramoto" dinner for me would involve a few "bite-sized" items (1 bite each), several items off the small/large plate menu, and their delicious duck/mango roll. And some dessert!