Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Restaurant Week, Ho!

(That's the interjection, by the way, not the noun.)

Yes, it's that festively delusional time of year again, when Madison pretends to be San Diego, and diners can convince themselves that visiting five restaurants at $25 a pop is somehow more economical than spending $40 at one of them. And what's a bottle of wine on top of each visit?

This Sunday marks the beginning of Restaurant Week, and several of the city's best restaurants will be showcasing samples of their fare in 3-course menus for only $25 ("prix fixed [sic]," as Madison Magazine notes in what is no doubt a subtle postmodern wink at transatlantic gastro-linguistics).

This year's offerings look better than last, with less Nitty Gritty and more L'Etoile. And while L'Etoile's price fixe isn't the most exciting of the group, the appetizers look superb between bison involtini and incredible onion soup. Besides, their execution is consistently flawless, and when will your next chance be to eat at the best restaurant in Madison for less than the price of something at Red Lobster? (Hint: some time shortly after hell freezes over and I actually eat at Red Lobster.)

Speaking of seafood (after a fashion), Sushi Muramoto is the obvious favorite in the Totally Uncreative But Who Could Possibly Complain?tm category . All you can eat sushi. $25. Nobody cares that it's probably laden with mercury. Just bring on the otoro. There's also, like, ice cream and chowder, since I guess there are supposed to be three courses or something. Did I mention the all you can eat sushi?

Harvest, too, is keeping things simple and comforting, with fixed prix offerings of house-made tagliatelle, roasted chicken breast, and roasted beef short ribs. (Anything properly roasted is definitionally comforting, in much the same way that anything properly braised is definitionally fucking awesome.) This is, I think, a wise move, and a happy showcase for both seasonally appropriate cooking and Madison's characteristically unvarnished high-end dining sensibility.

In the other direction, Fresco seems determined to impress, with three selections available for each course, more balsamic vinegar than Lombardino's and Osteria Papavero combined, and aspirational entrées like "Organic Norwegian Salmon - King crab and tomato mashed potato, oven dried shrimp crust, crispy leeks, balsamic [see?] reduction." Will their Jean-Georgian ambitions dazzle, or will they be outshone by the more straightforward fare of Harvest, Muramoto, and L'Etoile? My Magic 8-Ball has a snappish prediction, but only time and $25 will tell.

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