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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  Fair
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Amid 2011's openings and closings, Madison restaurants delivered some pretty impressive food
Hello, goodbye
Steenbock's on Orchard
Steenbock's on Orchard

No surprise: Seasonal, local and sustainable were linchpins of Madison's 2011 dining scene. The mantra extended from a new fine dining spot on campus, Steenbock's on Orchard, to mobile food vendors like Melanie Nelson of the Good Food cart.

At Steenbock's, chef Michael Pruett ventures beyond local sourcing; there's also been sous-vide and deconstructed desserts and a series of historical theme dinners - like the one that re-created the meal "served in the first-class dining salon of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 1912." This comprised 11 courses, including oysters, pate de foie gras, lamb squab, filet mignon, salmon and something called cream barley. This is all above and beyond what Madison has seen before.

Another big statement came with the opening of Tempest Oyster Bar, Henry Doane's venture in the former Restaurant Magnus. Seafood, long an awkward fit in Madison considering our distance from a coast, is the splashy, confident star here.

The Slow Pig heritage pork tasting event at the Madison Club in October was more evidence that the city is ready to embrace chef-driven creativity with quality ingredients.

We hardly knew ye

The highest-profile restaurant closing of the year came on June 30 as the Underground Kitchen and the Capitol Hill apartments above it were destroyed by fire. The Mercury Cafe and Lounge also closed due to water and smoke damage.

The artlessly hip Kitchen had generated critical raves and street cred in the eight months it had been open. Since the fire, UK has hosted pop-ups and continued its catering and meat operations.

Other restaurants opened and closed in short order for less visibly catastrophic reasons. South American street-food venture Fiesta 38 closed; Sabor Amar opened in its place, then closed less than two months later. At Greenway Station, Wild Bull opened and closed; in Sun Prairie, Baba's Supper Club did the same. Last year's King & Mane became this year's Tipsy Cow. Las Cazuelas closed in the seemingly cursed 15 N. Butler space. And Jimmy's American Tavern opened in the old Kickshaw space. And closed.

New in town

Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar opened in a newly restored house on Willy Street. El Rincon Tico, a second Latin-inflected restaurant from "Mango Man" Thony Clarke, opened in another newly revamped house on Williamson.

Wingstop, a national chicken wing chain, opened on Regent Street, and the Madison area finally got its own Krispy Kreme in Middleton. AJ Bombers, a Milwaukee hamburger hangout, opened its first branch just off State Street.

Salvatore's, a pizzeria specializing in Trenton, N.J.-style pies, opened in Sun Prairie. Tanner's and Bison Jack's opened in Middleton.

More openings: Dumpling Haus at Hilldale; Surge Delivery Cafe on Atwood; Ichiban on South Park St.; Limon on Bassett; Noodle Express on East Wash; the Fountain and Redamte Coffee House on State Street.


State Street's Sushi Hut is now Osaka, also serving sushi. Zander's became Moe's Tavern and Grill. Babe's-East closed; My Buddies opened. The Washington Hotel Coffee Room became Lakeside Coffee House (a change in name only). Cactus Ranch, which had undergone a series of name changes from Tex Tubb's-West and then Cadillac Ranch, closed altogether. Pollo Inka closed; Calasan Indonesian opened. Stalzy's Deli opened in the old Africana space. Monk's, a Wisconsin Dells favorite, took over a closed Applebee's in Middleton. The Baldwin Street Grille opened in the former J.T.'s Friendly Tavern.

In the Company of Thieves became Johnson Public House, while next door, Supreme Pizza was replaced by Mad Town Pizza. On East Main Street, La Mestiza-downtown closed; Francisco's Cantina opened. Next door, the Casbah closed; the Rigby opened. The Haze closed and Red Sushi opened. Flavor of India became Mirch Masala.

Oysy Seafood Buffet closed and the building was torn down; new developments in the spot include a Starbucks, a Taco Bell and a Toppers Pizza. Lulu's, one of Madison's first Middle Eastern restaurants, closed as its block of Old University was redeveloped, and the former chef-owner opened a new restaurant, the Nile, on Odana Road in the space that had been Turmeric (just the latest in a series of Indian eateries at that address). Tutto Pasta Cucina on King Street closed and was replaced by the Kitchen Gallery, a specialty cooking goods store.

LaRocca's, formerly on Willy Street, is moving to a new spot in Oregon, Wis. Bub's Burger Joint closed, and Happy Grill, a taqueria, opened.

Mermaid Cafe started serving dinner, and so, on a limited basis, did Sophia's. The Orpheum Lobby Restaurant closed, at least for the winter, but is slated to reopen in spring with a new concept and a new menu.

Back to life

Dog Eat Dog, the downtown hot dog eatery from the early 2000s, came back on the far east side inside Pooley's. Luigi's, the fun downtown Italian diner also from the early 2000s, came back as a pizzeria at Sequoya Commons. Namio's, a famous name in Madison supper club history, came back (in a sense) when a relative of the original restaurateurs opened a sports pub in Fitchburg.

The Coffee Gallerie, a coffeehouse that had been closed for several years, reopened in the same spot in the Northside Town Center, bringing the number of new restaurants on the north side in 2011 to one, or, perhaps .75, as it is neither precisely a restaurant nor exactly new.

However, Ale Asylum broke ground for a new 46,000-square-foot brewery on the north side at International Lane and Packers Avenue; the brewery will have a tap room and some light dining.

The more the merrier

Barriques opened a new outlet, its sixth, on South Park Street. Shish Cafe opened a sister restaurant called Palmyra in Middleton Hills. Downtown's Brocach opened a second location on Monroe Street, and Monroe Street's Bluephies opened a deli branch downtown.

Last call

Yen Ching, Tagura Asian Grill, Rossario's, the Dry Bean, Vientiane on Sherman Avenue, the University Square Food Court, Byrd's Middleton and Byrd's Fitchburg, Opa Lounge, Bee's Bonnet, Faouzi's, Taqueria Marimar and Nadia's all closed.

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