It has been a year since the news came that Jongyean Lee, proprietor of Riley's Wines of the World and other downtown liquor stores, would open a Brazilian-style steak house at 240 W. Gilman St. That is the campus area's storied Woman's Building, the 1907 landmark that was previously the home of Avol's Bookstore.
Twelve months have passed and still no Brazilian steak, but never fear. The first of the building's kitchens, the casual downstairs Cabana Room, will likely open in the first half of October, and the plush Samba Brazilian Steak House, upstairs, should open by the end of the month, in time for homecoming weekend, says restaurant manager Joseph Tachovsky.
Tachovsky may be familiar to Madisonians of a certain age from the long-shuttered King Street restaurant Porto Bananas. He and his team faced a snafu they didn't fully anticipate: the complexity of renovating a 100-year-old building.
"It didn't seem as though they had building code back in the 1900s," he jokes. "It was a kind of Pandora's box."
Tachovsky likens the Cabana Room to a "Latin Old-Fashioned" - the Old-Fashioned being that popular Wisconsin-themed restaurant on the Capitol Square. Inexpensive soups, salads and sandwiches will be the watchword.
As for Samba, Tachovsky says it will be opulent, with an extensive wine list and an elaborate salad bar. Also upstairs will be a rodizio, a Brazilian rotisserie grill integral to a serving ritual that sees waitstaffers carving hunks of meat tableside. Upstairs from Samba, another floor will host private parties.
Why open restaurants in the old place? "Mrs. Lee fell in love with the Woman's Building, being a woman business owner," says Tachovksy. "Then the discussion was, what was going to be viable?"
The wait is nearly over, too, for fans of the Casbah, 119 E. Main St., the downtown Mediterranean restaurant that closed in June. If all goes as planned it will reopen next Wednesday, Sept. 26, under new ownership: the husband-and-wife team of Mourad Rguig and RaeLynn Mattie-Rguig.
The couple will keep the place more or less as it was, including the menu. "We remodeled a bit, and painted," says Mattie-Rguig. "My husband's Moroccan, so we added a few Moroccan dishes."
The redevelopment continues at Hilldale Mall, which is becoming something of a culinary hub, thanks to a selection of restaurants far different from the usual mall offerings. By late October, the mix should include WineStyles, 554 N. Midvale Blvd., an outlet of a fast-growing, Florida-based chain of stores that purports to simplify wine shopping.
At WineStyles outlets, wines are grouped not by region or grape, notes local owner Val Hartjes, but by one-word styles like crisp, fruity and bold. "It's about taking fear or uncertainty out of the experience," she says.
Wine retail is a new career direction for Hartjes, who labored for 25 years in the Madison corporate world of CUNA, Famous Footwear and American Girl.
The north-side eatery American Table Family Restaurant has a new name: Northside Family Restaurant, 1201 N. Sherman Ave. It has a new owner, too: Gus Selemi, a native of Kichevo, Macedonia. He also owns the west side's Parkway Family Restaurant, 221 Ann St.
What's on the Northside menu? "Home cooking," he says. "Chicken, fish, pasta." There also are treats from Selemi's homeland, like Hungarian goulash and stuffed cabbage rolls.
Have things settled down in the Balkans? "It's much better than when Slobodon Milosevic was alive," he says. "You can go home and come back. You don't have much problems. I go every year or two. I miss my land."
Coming to 206 State St., perhaps by the end of October: The Icon, a Spanish restaurant that is the brainchild of Mohamed Barketallah, owner of Frida Mexican Grill across the street.
The main fare will be tapas, the popular small-plate fare. "That's where people go to drink in a bar, and they get appetizers," he says. "You're talking about, from lamb to cheese to a lot of seafood."
Barketallah, who originally is from Tunisia, hopes to lure Overture Center patrons with his tapas. "Before the show, after the show, anything like that," he says.
The Fitchburg dining scene will expand around Nov. 1 with the opening of the New Orleans-style Liliana's Restaurant, 2951 Triverton Pike. "We'll have everything from crab tortelone to corn maque choux," says owner and chef David Heide. A Fitchburg native, Heide worked at San Diego's El Bizcocho and more recently at Madison's Cocoliquot.
"New Orleans is about music and culture and celebrating life," says Heide, who named the restaurant for his daughter, 10-month-old Liliana.
He plans to feature Madison-area jazz musicians at his new restaurant, including high school jazz bands. "I can't tell you how good these high school jazz bands are," he says. "So on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night, we'll give them the opportunity to come in."