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Madison Originals Offer Love at First Bite

May 1, 2012

Some days one doesn’t have to travel far to know when he’s found his or her favorite. That was the case with Flavors of Madison, sponsored by the Madison Originals restaurant group at the Edgewater Hotel’s Admiralty Room Sunday.

Some 21 member restaurants put out what they may have assumed was their finest showing to give discerning diners a taste of what the city’s independently owned restaurants have to offer. Several hundred people sought the advantage and, amid the chaos of tasting tables, cash bars and music, some of us rekindled old relationships, while others uncovered new restaurants to enjoy.

But sometimes the tried and true remain true for a reason, and while we found much to explore, we found only a little bit to love, and those tended to come from familiar sources.

We started our two-hour graze at Lombardino’s with two types of salad. The spring green salad was long on pea vine, something we don’t often see, topped with sliced almonds, feta cheese and assorted other accents that produced fresh, vivid flavors. The accompanying Asparagus Milanese—three fresh stems grilled al dente and topped with a fried quail’s egg—proved even more engaging.

From there it was on to Captain Bill’s and some of the best clam chowder we’ve ever tasted. The thin yet viscous broth was chockfull of clams, potatoes and other surprises. From there we began to ramp up our intake.

The pulled pork sliders from Hawk’s Bar & Grill were a hit, the meat tender and sauce rich. We also tried dueling mussels, finding them done Cajun style at Liliana’s and in the more traditional garlic-and-butter broth fashion at Brasserie V. The Monroe Street Belgian-style restaurant also offered rich and delectable braised duck leg in a cherry port wine sauce. This entire course proved to be one of the evening’s highlights.

We were starting to slow down, but still found room for the grilled chicken potstickers, cold sesame noodles and garlic green beans from Imperial Garden West. One of the cornerstones of fine dining is offering foods that blend a variety of tastes, textures and colors, and the three components to our mini-Chinese meal did the job very well. We topped it off with a Porta Bella Porta Salad, for good measure and for nostalgia’s sake.

Well, that was about all we could manage, except for mini cupcakes from Daisy Café and Cupcakery. (You never want to pass up one of those tasty treats.) And then it was time to vote.

We had each received a wooden disk upon entry and were asked to slip it into the box of our favorite, most flavorful selection. One of us chose to drop it into Roman Candle’s, more in homage to the Pestoral, our favorite pizza of which we have consumed far too much in out life time. (We had a slice of that, too.)

The other chose to honor Lombardino’s for its fabulous and inventive salads. While the event was long on very good/owner Patrick O’Halloran may have been one of the few exceptions.

If we had had a third coin, it would have gone to Captain Bill’s clam chowder. Instead we made a mental note to seek it out in the future, adding it to our “must haves” list.

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