Showing posts from July, 2011

Dayton Street Grille Salad Bar

I'd like to round out my Restaurant Week posts by devoting today's review to the other class of food I love deeply, in addition to all the Asian food that's been on here this week. And that would be salad. Fresh, green, crisp, glorious salad.

I've said before that I could eat nothing but salad every day for a year. And I don't think that's too much of a stretch.

Of course, my kind of a salad goes way beyond just lettuce to include things like curry tofu salads and chickpea salads and bread salads (panzanella) and grain salads, and everything in between. So maybe that's cheating?

So, when my salad cravings get the best of me (and there's no Sweet Tomatoes in sight), I head to my favorite local salad bar (besides the one at the Willy St. Co-op, which doesn't totally count because you pay by the weight): The Dayton Street Grille (formerly known as the Dayton Street Cafe).

The Dayton Street Grille is inconspicuously located in the lobby of the Madison …

Lao Laan Xang

So, as I selected my five favorite places to write about this week, it became pretty clear that one continent dominates all others. Asian cuisine is my star.  We've got our Lao/Thai, our Indian, our Chinese, and now back around to Lao, with the much-loved Lao Laan Xang.

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This Madison classic has two east-side locations, one on Willy St. (1146 Williamson St.) and in in the Atwood neighborhood (2098 Atwood Avenue). Although I've heard that the original Willy St. location is superior, we have for some reason only ever gone to the Atwood Lao Laan Xang (perhaps because it's right across the street from our favorite walnut burger at Monty's Blue Plate).

Besides, the Atwood location has beautiful art, among them my favorite colorful top-of-conical-hat painting. Anyone want to find/make a reproduction for me to hang in my living room? Pretty please?

Lao Laan Xang offers all of the cool and delicate flavors that I first missed so much when eati…

Fugu Asian

I've written about Fugu on D&O before, giving a taste for its unusual Sichuan style cuisine through its signature hot pot. But because that wasn't the usual sort of food we have when visiting Fugu, this favorite Chinese restaurant of ours is definitely worth another post.

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Fugu entered the Madison dining scene last year, filling a serious void in high-quality Chinese fare. And although my guess is that my vegetarian diet has significantly limited my exposure to the most authentic dishes on the Fugu menu (the ones that aren't even translated into English, and that involve things like organ meats and frog parts), it's still been a culinary revelation, introducing me to flavors and spices (like the Sichuan peppercorn!) that I'd never known before (read this really interesting article about the peppercorn and its ecological role).

Although I don't currently have great photos of my favorite Fugu dishes, here are the ones that have bee…

Maharani Indian Restaurant

Indian buffets and I are like this:

In other words: I love Indian buffets.

And so when Maharani opened on West Washington, just two blocks from where we lived our first year in Madison, it instantly became a treat that we savored whenever we could (though we quickly realized that eating a big Indian lunch almost always equaled the need for an afternoon nap--so it's not the best promoter of afternoon work productivity!)

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Although the dinners we've had there have also been impressive, Maharani is remarkable for its consistently delicious lunch buffet. It features a whole bank of salads and chutneys and sauces--you've got the tamarind and the mint and the tomato and the onion, and so much more! (even though Justin thinks the salad just takes up important real estate on the buffet plate, I contend that the raw vegetables serve as excellent cool and crunchy counterpoints to the warm and saucy entrees). Then there are the appetizers, featuring th…

Vientiane Palace

As I wrote last Friday, this week is Restaurant Week here in Madison, and so I'm going to use this as an opportunity to write some reviews of my favorite restaurants, even though few of these are actually participating in the official Restaurant Week deal.

The place I must begin when discussing Madison restaurants is the one, the only: Vientiane Palace Restaurant.

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Vientiane is among my favorite places in town, and is hands-down Justin's favorite. I have to say though, this is a divisive restaurant--with fierce devotees and equally fierce bashers. It's not for the faint of stomach, nor for those who hold up ambiance or conventional attentive service as all-important.

Why go eat there, then, you may ask? Well, let me begin with the food. When I first ate at Vientiane back in 2006, I was hungry for the light, coconut-milky curries of the Thai food I knew and loved back in St. Louis, and so I found the offerings to be too heavy, too greasy, a…

Madison Restaurant Week

Although I didn't do a particularly good job of responding to Mike's comment on my Cooking at Home post from a couple of weeks ago (as in, I didn't respond in written form at all), I have been thinking a lot about restaurants recently, as we've been eating out a lot with visiting friends. (And, it turns out, one of my favorite bloggers and Harvard Magazine have also been thinking about the topic).

Just in time to prompt more thinking on the subject, next week is Restaurant Week here in Madison, in which tons of high-quality restaurants offer set three-course menus for $25, in order to let people sample places and tastes they might not have had before.

In some ways, this also marks the half-birthday of this little blog, as my second post ever was a Restaurant Week review from Winter 2011, the first of the year's semi-annual event!

So, in honor of Restaurant Week and this little milestone, I'm going to offer some reviews of a few local Madison eateries next week…

Mulberry Yogurt Loaf

Though the breakfast-lovers may damn me for it, I'm just not much of a breakfast person. Don't get me wrong, I love fruit and baked goods and fresh salads. I'm just not so into eggs or greasy pancakes or the various cuts of pig that greet so many Americans each morning.

But when I was invited to a birthday brunch last weekend, I knew that the culinary masterminds who were hosting and who would be present would make me eat more than my fair share of breakfast foods, simply because of their prowess and creativity in the kitchen.

My own contribution to this brunch potluck was inspired by the container of yogurt in the fridge left over from some recently-departed houseguests, and the mulberry tree still heavy with fruit near my home. Mulberry Yogurt Bread-y Cake was born!

But because it was a sweltering day when this Mulberry inspiration struck, I didn't really want to turn on our big oven and heat up our whole house with it. So, I decided to try my hand at the toaster ove…

The Story of Mama's Cheese

Growing up, there was always a dish (a rectangular, yellow metal dish to be precise) of freshly-made cheese in the fridge that my mom had whipped up in recent days. Though I often saw her pour the milk into the big pot, set the pot into the warm oven or on top of the water heater, and drain the thickened milk through a cheese cloth, I never really knew what she was doing. 

So, when, after she read my post about my own experience with cheese-making, my Mama offered to write a guest post about her cheese, I jumped at the chance to have her share this story with you all. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed hearing it!

I grew up in the Ukraine. When I was little, though I lived on the outskirts of a big city, there was a market every weekend. Peasants would come from all around and would bring their fares to the market. A lot of them brought cheese, and every woman or man--though it was usually women who tended the stands--would stand in the same row, and let you try li…

Artichokes: Worth the Effort?

For all the vegetables I've discovered and learned to cook with since moving to Madison, the artichoke is not one of them.

Perhaps this is because most of the world's artichokes are grown abroad (Italy, Spain, and France), or, if grown in the United States, they are decidedly not local to Wisconsin (nearly 100%  of all U.S. artichokes are grown in California, ~80% in Monterey County). So, they haven't made it into our CSA box or any other venue that would encourage me to try them.

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But then, our good friend Kroy (also known as Mike in Daegu), came to visit, and was curious to try this beautiful, but mysterious vegetable (or is it a fruit?)

We'd both heard that artichokes were really difficult to prep, but that they were so delicious that they were worth the effort.

But let me tell you, based on our experience at least: so not worth it.

Anyone care to disagree with me?

We tried to follow some basic directions we found online, in conjunction …

Fennel Orange Salad

Before I moved to Madison, I'd never heard of fennel. But then, the feathery green stems started sprouting up all around me: at the Troy Kids' Garden, at the Capitol Vegetable Garden, and in our CSA farmshare box.

Fennel is a vegetable with a white bulb as its base, and green stalks and fronds atop. Both parts--the white and the green--can be eaten, though the bulb is typically used as a vegetable, while the fronds are used as an herb.
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Although I've now prepared fennel in many different ways--roasting it with other root vegetables, sauteing it in a stir fry, slicing it up raw for a green salad--by far my favorite way to eat fennel is raw with oranges and a light vinaigrette for a refreshing fennel-orange salad. Something about the way that the licorice-y flavor of the fennel mixes with the sweet acidity of the orange really does it for me.

This salad could be made in a variety of ways, with various additions and dressings, but the recipe belo…

Poetry: Canned Food Drive

Another foray into sharing poetry today.  This one is only marginally about food, but encouraged me to pause in the middle of my warm, leisurely summer day to think about my own "lucky world" and the way that canned food is not only a topic of this dissertation I'm struggling through, but also this token of charity, this undesired thing passed from the fortunate to the less-fortunate. Beets, peas, mushrooms...

Canned Food Drive By Kathleen Lynch
We lived in the lucky world— not the far place where flies
sipped at eye corners of children too weak to cry.
A camera showed that world to us on posters. But we were children.
We wanted most to not be those others, with their terrible bones.
We spoke of them wide-eyed, with what we thought was tenderness.
But our words came in a different register, as if to speak of such betrayal
by the grown world could bring a harm of great immensity
upon us too. We got to choose from the cupboard. We gave
what we hated—beets, peas, mushrooms. Our dreams

Curry Tofu Salad

If you looked closely in the photos from yesterday's Concerts on the Square post, you'd spot a curry tofu salad among the other picnic-y goodies.

This is a salad that our co-op has in their deli section, and it is amazingly delicious. But it's also $9/lb. So, although we love to support the Willy Street Co-op whenever and however we can (our trip there with my Mom last week is a story for another post), we figured it would be a good idea to try to recreate this salad at home, so that we could enjoy a version of it on the cheap.

Justin took up this challenge, and produced a pretty fantastic version:

He began with the ingredients list from the co-op salad:

"Tofu, fresh parsley, Vegannaise, celery, red onions, tamari soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, carrots, curry powder, paprika, chili powder, sea salt, cayenne pepper, ground fennel seed, black pepper."

The most important step was toasting the tofu so that it developed a chewy exterior, and then mixing the spices a…

Concerts on the Square

In addition to mulberries and all that other good stuff, one of the staples of a Madison summer is the Concerts on the Square series that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra puts on each year.

It's a particular Madison scene, in which everyone--the families and college kids and elderly folks and babies and "colorful people" (as my Mom called them) alike--brings their picnic blankets and wine and food to the Capitol Square and spreads out on every inch of grass, enjoying the music a little, but the weather and atmosphere a whole lot.

We added our own picnic blanket to the mix:

We had a spread of fresh baked whole wheat yogurt bread, a curry tofu salad, watermelon, trail mix, plantain chips, sweet peas and cucumbers, and hummus:

We drank it all down with some white wine from J&R's wedding, which served as the perfect potent potable with which to toast our good fortune and happiness. To getting to live in Madison! To enjoying a picnic with our friends and family! To hav…


In Madison, one of the things that spells summer most centrally (in addition to the lakes and bikes and farmers' markets and frisbee) is the mulberries! (you can't spell "mulberries" without s-u-m-e-r).

I first discovered these sweet finger-staining berries just outside our own home, growing on a couple of trees within a hundred feet of our place, and immediately called my dad to ask if they were edible. I described the trees they grew on and the way they detached with the soft green stems still intact, and he said these were indeed the edible mulberries (or shelkovitsa in Russian). So, I filled my mouth with them, and took some home to make a mulberry crisp out of.

Over the next couple of summers, Justin and I stopped by these trees every time we biked home, always staining our fingers purple in the process.

But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so our beloved mulberry trees were chopped down last summer. We speculated that the city had ordered their re…

Package-free grocery store!

Sometimes I run across things that I file away for inspiration, that I think someday I could help create myself, or I could at least seek out similar incarnations of those inspiring things.

This new zero-package grocery store in Austin, Texas, In.gredients, is definitely one such thing:

Instead of just having some stuff in bulk, like lots of co-ops and natural foods stores, this place has everything in bulk, so that you bring all your own packages for everything, and your only buy as much as you want.  A great idea, eh?

I especially like that they intend to use the space "as a community center with cooking classes, gardening workshops, and art shows on the side."  Yes!  Yes to multi-function spaces that invite people in and create community!

Food Memoirs

The following essay won the "Best Culinary Essay" Award from Saveur.

The essay, "Serious Food: In the Kitchen with Grandma," details the very emotional and nostalgic elements of cooking, while highlighting generational differences in really funny ways.

You'll have to go to actual blog post to read it, as the embedded photos are golden, but I'll give you a sneak peak:

When Mom and I arrive at Grandma’s the following afternoon, we find her in full lady-locks swing. We’ve brought her a couple of leftover slices of pizza from lunch, but she’s so busy that she takes a slice and just keeps going. (The detail that she places the box with the remaining slice atop the oversized pot of boiled cauliflower, which I now feel well acquainted with—after all, it’s right next to my friends, the plastic-wrapped black bananas—is not lost on me.) She takes a bite, scoots past the kitchen island, pulls open the refrigerator door with the non-pizza hand and announces that she has…

On Cleansing

There's been a lot of talk lately (among my circle of friends anyway) about food cleanses.  If you're not familiar with them, the most extreme version is the Master Cleanse, which involves drinking only a mixture of water, lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for something like 10-14 days (and no food!). Another version, less extreme, that some of our friends have done is just to eat only brown rice and plain vegetables and fruits for about a week.  And plenty of others abound: the raw food cleanse, the food lover's cleanse, Michelle Obama's cleanse.

The basic idea of all of these is to give your body a little time to recover from the heavy foods many of us eat during our regular lives. To intentionally take a break from the things we love but that leave us feeling too full or too heavy or uncomfortable.  I've heard that these cleanses will often change your palate--making you realize how salty or sugary many of the foods we eat actually are. 

But because one wou…

Barriers to Eating Sustainably

My favorite blogger who writes about agricultural issues, hands-down, is Sharon Astyk. She writes beautifully, has a very sharp wit, and lives the kind of life I often dream of (has a farm in upstate New York, grows most of her own food with her husband and four children, uses only 10% of the energy of the average American family, writes for a living).

Though I'm still eager to read her books (Depletion and Abundance, A Nation of Farmers, Independence Days), I follow her blog very closely and try to read most everything she has to say.

This post, from the archives, is one that I think of often, and wanted to share it here, for all of you. It considers how sustainable eating and poverty go together, how good food doesn't have to be an elite privilege. Enjoy, and let me know what you think:

Barriers to Eating Sustainably, Real and Imagined
Posted on: April 5, 2010 2:16 PM, by Sharon Astyk
During the period of my life when I was a professional smart-ass (ie, my adolescence), I use…

The Farm Bill

Last week, Civil Eats posted an article about the Top 10 Things You Should Know About the Farm Bill. It's worth a read.

I didn't really know anything at all about the Farm Bill until I read The Omnivore's Dilemma in 2006 and began to understand Michael Pollan's linkage of the cheapness of processed foods with the incredible corn subsidies that are paid for by the Farm Bill. Now, it seems more and more like many of America's dietary problems stem from problematic government incentives for certain kinds of production. This Bill is a big deal, but most people don't pay any attention to it because federal agriculture policy doesn't seem all that exciting.

The Farm Bill gets revised and re-issued every five years or so, and the 2012 version is currently being drafted.

So, definitely go read the whole article, but here, in brief, are the Top 10:

74% of all subsidy payments go to just 10% of farms for the largest five commodity crops (corn, cotton, rice, wh…

Cooking at Home

To help fulfill my goal from last week of reading more food blogs (and my ongoing goal of prioritizing family--my Mama is coming to town today for the week!), I figured I'd spend the week re-posting great posts/articles from other blogs or news sources from around the web. 

And since I started this blog, way back when, with a reference to Mark Bittman, I feel a duty to pass on good things he has to say, even though many of you probably see his articles in the NYT even without my mediation.

This week he wrote a quick article, "Make Food Choices Simple: Cook," about how much easier it is to eat in healthy, ethical, inexpensive ways when cooking at home rather than eating out.  An excerpt:

"When I cook, though, everything seems to go right. I shop an average of every two weeks in a supermarket, and make a couple of trips a week to smaller stores. I’m aware that my choices are mostly imperfect, but I rarely conclude that I should make a burger and fries for dinner o…

Reading Food

I've recently been thinking about how I'd like to read more food writing, both of the blog and book variety--not just about food politics or about recipes, but about the sensual, visceral, personal stories people have with food. To that end, I'd taken on a summer project of exploring popular food blogs and books, starting with this list from Saveur: The 2011 SAVEUR Best Food Blog Awards: The Winner.

I also just read through Saveur's A Brief History of Food Blogs, to get a sense of where Dining and Opining fits into all of this.

Some books I'd like to read include:
Anything by M. F. K. Fisher, but especially The Art of Eating (and also her biography, An Extravagant Hunger)Anything by Ruth Reichl: Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and SapphiresThe Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey SteingartenAnd maybe an anthology like this one: Best Food Writing 2010ooh, and this one! Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and DrinkWhat reading recommendat…