A box of Gail Ambrosius chocolates
Madeleine's Patisserie is temporarily closed for parking lot resurfacing. Call before you go. Tony Frank's Tavern is still closed for remodeling, but Jim Frank says the bar is going in this week and he hopes to re-open sometime during the week of June 11-15. Call before you go! The Argus on Main Street is still closed and undergoing a major re-do.
Tired of indifferent baked goods at coffee shops? Order the key lime crumb cake at Electric Earth Cafe. I am without speech. It's good, very rich, very dense. It's more like cheesecake than crumb cake, and if you're looking for a breakfast item, it's too heavy. But as a dessert item, say with coffee for an afternoon break? Sublime.
The pizza at Cafe La Bellitalia on North Sherman Avenue is great... my new favorite in Madison proper and a close second to my favorite at Maria's Pizza in Oregon. A real handmade feel to the crust. We ordered the traditional sauce, but others (alfredo, aglio olio, paperoncino and matarocco) are available. An extra-large with half Italian sausage and mushroom and half ground beef and artichoke hearts set us back less than a double sawbuck (that's $20, in case you're just not folksy enough to know that) and disappeared in a shockingly brief period.
Last week Nichole Fromm and JonMichael Rasmus from Eating in Madison A to Z invited me to participate in a Madison Interactive panel on online food writing. Let the record show that I said "yes" to this despite my public speaking phobia even before it turned out that Nichole was giving boxes of Gail Ambrosius chocolates as "thank-you"s to the participants. (I chose the tea assortment, which are quite subtle.) I've really scored this week -- a box of gourmet truffles and a Prince Fielder bobblehead doll. Life is good.
The panel was a big time deal, with lights, a stage, microphones and actual audience members, at the High Noon Saloon on Thursday, May 31. My co-panelists (Adam Powell from Christopher Robin's Fresh Foods, Jonathan Hunter of Underground Food Collective, Irene Cash of Cuisine Capers and Monnie Halberg of Nutrilicious) were obviously all passionate about food and all drinking water except for Irene, who seemed to have a martini of some sort.
Instead of rehashing what was actually said at the panel (which wisdom is available via the A to Z crew or through online video), I will share with you my pre-imagined answers to the questions that JM and Nichole suggested might be mentioned, but never got around to asking, or what I considered saying to the questions that were asked, but ended up veering off into some other response.
How do you choose what to write about?
I really hate waiting in line to get a table at a restaurant, so it's seldom I'm going to be writing about any restaurant popular enough to generate a line.
If the Madison food experience were distilled down into one meal, what would that meal be like? (the bonus question)
It's a potluck cookout. There's Spotted Cow.... Somebody's grilling brats, and there are veggie burgers, maybe tofu kebabs, somebody's brought that Indonesian Rice Salad that was in the first Moosewood cookbook -- for years you could not go to a potluck or a picnic in Madison without someone, sometimes multiple people, bringing this cold brown rice salad -- and some brownies for dessert that look really good but turn out to be made with whole wheat flour and carob.
What is the most unusual, unique or exotic thing you've ever eaten?
Pig ears. In a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown in Boston back in the '80s. I went with this fellow named Henry who was from Taiwan and he ordered in Chinese. They taste like barbecued rubber bands.
Back in 1991, wild hare at a restaurant called Les Filles du Roy in Montreal, that features traditional French-Canadian food. I think we also had caribou tarts as an appetizer. I would not eat wild hare or rabbit of any kind ever again. In fact I did not eat more than few bites. Aside from it being very gamey, the little tiny bones freaked me out. Caribou, on the other hand, tastes pretty much like hamburger.
A good friend of mine was macrobiotic for a couple of years and when I would go over to her house for dinner there was a lot of stuff that was strange but tasted like, basically, nothing. Or somewhere on the spectrum between "nothing" and "dirt." I remember in particular a lasagna in which the tomato sauce was made from beets and the cheese was made from tofu and the whole thing redefined "bland." Memorable, but not in a good way.
These are all negative experiences. I'm searching for a positive here.... Burmese food is very good. There used to be a great Burmese restaurant in Boston called Mandalay, but I think it's gone now. I'm not sure that Burmese food is any more exotic than the Indonesian food served here at Bandung, but it is a little different from the other south-Asian cuisines. And terrific.
Another positive -- a dim sum item known as 100-year-old egg, in Chinatown in Chicago. I believe they're actually fresh eggs cooked in tea.
I did mention Burmese food when an audience member at the panel asked what we thought Madison needed foodwise. For that matter, Madison could certainly use more dim sum.