While there's a strong Scandinavian component to the ethnic makeup of Wisconsin, the cuisines of that region have never taken off here - outside of Lutheran church basements, anyway. That's about to change. Restaurant Magnus is saying ha det to its current South American-influenced menu and turning "New Scandinavian," in part thanks to its new head chef (and former sous-chef) Nick Johnson. Some of the new menu items have been appearing as specials at Magnus for some time.
"Every restaurant has to reinvent itself at one time or another," says Magnus co-owner Prentice Berge. "We're all Norwegian, so we thought it was time to emphasize that part of our culinary heritage." The four Berge brothers are from Norwegian stronghold Mount Horeb, in western Dane County; they grew up eating the Wisconsin version of Norwegian food. But, Berge says, "The food we grew up with is nothing like what we'll be serving." Characteristic flavors include elderflower, cardamom, horseradish and white pepper. The new menu will draw on fish of the north Atlantic and salt cod; game items will remain on the menu. And locally sourced food will be a priority across the board. "Nick is passionate about his sourcing," Berge notes, "and the food will become more and more seasonal."
The list of Magnus' recent specials, any of which may show up on the permanent menu, is a long way from kippers and lutefisk. Take, for instance, a truffle salt-roasted monkfish with duck confit, black tiger shrimp, braised red cabbage, oyster mushrooms, arugula and a red wine reduction. "That was killer," says Berge. "That one may well end up on the final menu."
The bar menu will not be forgotten, either, with small plates under $10. Some of the menu contenders: elderflower-honey-lacquered smoked salmon with organic pea-vine salad, cucumber, sea salt and a mustard Key lime vinaigrette; sautéed bay scallops in dill elderflower cream; and smoked rainbow trout with elderflower liquor. "The more an item strikes you as Scandinavian, the more likely that it'll be on the menu," says Berge. The full menu change is slated for June 1.