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L'Etoile or Harvest?

Where are you eating and what do you think? What's opening, closing, succeeding, failing?

L'Etoile or Harvest?

Postby Monzie » Tue Aug 01, 2006 1:37 pm

My husband and I are major foodies, but we've somehow managed to live in Madison for 13 years without ever eating at either L'Etoile or Harvest. We've finally decided that a visit to both restaurants is in order.

However, since we can only afford a meal like that about once every quarter, I need some advice. So... Which one do we try first? And has anybody tried the special theme-dinners at Harvest? They've got an all-tomato dinner coming up that sounds pretty amazing.
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Postby Thusnelda » Tue Aug 01, 2006 2:37 pm

Take this with a grain of salt, as I've never been to either (I know, I know... I shouldn't even be posting), but you (and I) may have missed the boat. The big foodies in my family, who have eaten at both on multiple occasions, were sad to report that things are not the same under L'Etoile's new proprietorship as they were under Odessa Piper. They found the dishes a bit overwrought and the portions a little lacking; they will probably not go back.

For some reason, Harvest has never been on my must-eat list; I've heard some reports that they can be a little rough around the edges given what you're paying.

Still, the theme dinners sound wonderful. If you have a special occasion coming up, that might be just the ticket. I've also been very interested to hear about some collaborative theme dinners involving multiple local chefs.
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Postby small cheese » Tue Aug 01, 2006 2:49 pm

Both restaurants keep their menus updated online - check both out every week or so and go when either menu grabs your attention.

I don't know how L'Etoile is without Odessa Piper. It's been about a year since she left, I think - but I haven't been there since then.
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Postby curiouslystrong » Tue Aug 01, 2006 3:31 pm

I've never tried L'Etoile but I've had the pleasure to have several meals at Harvest. All of them have been fantastic. The special item menus, while interesting, may not be the way to go on the first trip.
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Postby Duncan Hines » Tue Aug 01, 2006 3:51 pm

I'm not sure if Odessa Piper's leaving was a good or bad thing. I think L'Etoile always got more attention (and Odessa) than it deserved: so much of the good things that happened there were the product of good chefs that came and went. The current chef Tory Miller is certainly capable but I think a lot of the "old" regulars don't like change. Tami Lax who owns Harvest was once Chef de Cuisine at L'Etoile ... she was was the one who got Odessa interested in local, home-grown food. I think Harvest suffered when her partner Harvest chef Jeff Orr moved on to CoCoLiQuot ... at the same time she was busy helping start up The Old Fashioned. But things seem to be back on track at Harvest with a new chef and Tami there full-time.
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Postby Monzie » Tue Aug 01, 2006 4:31 pm

small cheese wrote:Both restaurants keep their menus updated online - check both out every week or so and go when either menu grabs your attention.


Actually, I've ben keeping an eye on the Harvest online menu and I don't think it has changed in a while. The "Spring Vegetable Ragout" has definitely topped their entree list for over a month now.

I dunno. Maybe we should just skip both restaurants, save our money, and go to Charlie Trotter's instead! :D
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Postby Thusnelda » Tue Aug 01, 2006 4:48 pm

There are plenty of great restaurants, both here and elsewhere, that can give you a similar or better experience for the same money or less. I mean, sure, I'd love to go to Charlie Trotter's too, but think of the thousands of other restaurants with less waiting (and no big-name chef). For example, Rick Bayless has two very well-known Mexican restaurants in Chicago, which I believe are in the same building. Topolobampo gets loads of press, but Frontera (yes, of the mass-market salsa fame) is great as well.

Other restaurants in town where we've had wonderful higher-end meals would include Muramoto, Lombardinos, the Tornado Club, Peppino's and Nadia's, just to name a few. That's in order of relative fussiness (probably price as well...), but all of them had food and service that we talked about for a long time afterwards. Cocoliquot and Sardine are new but seem to have great potential.
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Postby Monzie » Tue Aug 01, 2006 5:18 pm

Thusnelda wrote:Other restaurants in town where we've had wonderful higher-end meals would include Muramoto, Lombardinos, the Tornado Club, Peppino's and Nadia's, just to name a few. That's in order of relative fussiness (probably price as well...), but all of them had food and service that we talked about for a long time afterwards. Cocoliquot and Sardine are new but seem to have great potential.


We used to eat at Nadia's fairly often but there was a change in kitchen staff a few years ago and the quality of food really took a dive. We tried to give the new chef some time to work out the kinks, but after a few lackluster but pricey dinners, we crossed Nadia's off our favorites list and haven't been back since.

As for Peppino's and Lombardino's...meh...I make pretty great Italian grub at home. I hate paying for pasta I could easily cook myself. We've been to the Tornado a few times, but I'm a "mostly vegetarian" and there's only so many french/blue cheese iceberg lettuce wedges I can stand. We've never been to Muramoto but it seems like more of a "scene" than a dining experience. Plus, it's sushi...which is kinda like Italian food, we eat a lot of it and doesn't seem terribly "special" to me.

I guess we're just bored with Madison restaurants lately. We seem to gravitate toward the same four of five places and that's about it. And our occasional forays into "new" restaurants have generally been pretty pathetic. ("Old Fashioned"...I'm looking at *you* here. Yuck!)
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Postby Ed Breakfast » Tue Aug 01, 2006 5:42 pm

We seem to gravitate toward the same four of five places and that's about it.


Just out of curiosity, what might those places be?
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Postby TAsunder » Tue Aug 01, 2006 5:48 pm

Well, I ate at harvest about 5 years ago and didn't like it. The same year, I ate at L'Etoile and loved it. But the next two times at L'Etoile I didn't enjoy it as much.

If it were me, I guess I'd begrudgingly go to Harvest, assuming that it has improved or I just had bad luck.

To be honest, though, I doubt either are worth the price these days.

I would be more inclined to try someplace new like Eno Vino. I have enjoyed my dining experiences at Cocoliquot although if it were the same price as L'Etoile, perhaps not.

If it had to be something in the near vicinity, I'd go for blue marlin even. Or chop house. Or I'd go to the coquette cafe in milwaukee and figure with the price differences, the gas to go there would be a wash.
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Postby Monzie » Tue Aug 01, 2006 7:56 pm

Ed Breakfast wrote:
We seem to gravitate toward the same four of five places and that's about it.


Just out of curiosity, what might those places be?


The old stand-bys are Maharaja, Bahn Thai, and Wasabi (hmmm, are you sensing a trend here?). When we have visitors from out of town, we take them to Ocean Grille (the only Food Fight property we patronize). We occasionally do Jolly Bob's (love the patio, hate the service). When the husband wants a burger and a beer, we hit the Weary Traveler. And when we're both feeling lazy and craving cheese, we call Glass Nickel.

But here's the thing, we don't live in the city. We're in an outlying town. And lately, with gas prices being what they are, we're much more likely to stay home and cook rather than making the 50 mile roundtrip into town for dinner. So, when we do work up the motivation to get dressed up and drive in, we want it to be worth the expense and the trouble.

Plus, we're really spoiled and a bit too picky. Last year, we made a pilgrimage to de Karmeliet, a Michelin 3-star in Brugge, Belgium. We had the chef's special eight-course tasting menu. It was a truly amazing meal that took almost 4 hours, was actually far more than eight courses ("dessert" came in three waves, cheese and fruit, then a beautiful multi-tiered tray of petit fours, followed by a plate with three small individual desserts), and left us feeling as though we might burst (both with food and with joy). After dinner, as we loosened our belts and strolled around the quiet medieval canals of Brugge, we realized that no meal would ever top that experience.

So, yeah, Harvest probably won't measure up. But there's got to be a halfway decent "fancy" restaurant in Madison, right? Okay. Maybe not.
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Postby white_rabbit » Tue Aug 01, 2006 8:27 pm

I've never eaten at L'Etoile, but have had dinner at Harvest. It was good, but you can find comparable cuisine and a warmer, more inviting atmosphere at Fyfe's for about a 1/3rd less the cost.
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Postby Thusnelda » Tue Aug 01, 2006 8:45 pm

I agree that a place like Peppino's is probably going to have to be spectacular to make traditional Italian food really rise above other stuff. It was a good overall experience, though.

Have you been to Firefly lately? We were let down in the beginning, but I hear their new chef has really revamped the menu and cleared away the chaff, so to speak, so it's probably worth another try.

I hear that Louisianne's and Vin Santo are both excellent... but then again, the latter is (you guessed it) Italian.

In all honesty, everything you're saying, down to the "mostly vegetarian" bit, makes me think you and I should really go out food-snobbing together :)
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Postby Paco » Tue Aug 01, 2006 9:04 pm

Do you really think a town the size of Madison is going to live up to your lofty standards??? Get real.
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Postby Monzie » Tue Aug 01, 2006 10:44 pm

Paco wrote:Do you really think a town the size of Madison is going to live up to your lofty standards??? Get real.


Thanks, Paco. Your snarky comment is a big help. I'll just give up trying to find a decent meal in this town because it's apparently too much to ask that a walleye sandwich not be bristling with bones and that a lemon drop martini actually contain some fresh lemon juice.

Sheesh.

Incidentally, Brugge has a population of 117,000 and a wealth of fabulous restaurants. The quality of a city's dining choices has less to do with it's size than with the expectations of it's inhabitants.

This is your cue to suggest that I move to Belgium. Believe me, I've thought about it....

Thusnelda wrote:Have you been to Firefly lately?


You know, we also had an awful experience the first (and last) time we ate there. And because it's another Food Fight establishment, we just wrote them off. I've been hearing good reviews recently, though. I guess I should give them a second chance. (I still won't eat at Monty's though....grrrrrr!)


Thusnelda wrote:I hear that Louisianne's and Vin Santo are both excellent... but then again, the latter is (you guessed it) Italian.


Yes! Vin Santo is really great. But I never think of eating there until it's too late to get a reservation. Must try harder to remember because they make Italian food worth paying for.


Thusnelda wrote:In all honesty, everything you're saying, down to the "mostly vegetarian" bit, makes me think you and I should really go out food-snobbing together :)


Sounds good to me. Let's not invite Paco, though. He's cranky.
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