Update: Morels is closing in February 2009.
In a word: Fancy yet schmancy.
JM ate the venison special with a dinner salad and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the trout with the Caesar wedge salad and a glass of wine.
The bill was $71, or $35.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Morels Restaurant an A; Nichole gave Morels Restaurant a B+ (see our grading rubric).
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Morels is at the intersection of classic supper club and the local food movement. Their frequently-changing menu touts game and seasonal produce. Morels also caters to the wedding market, and in fact, upon arriving we remembered that we'd attended a reception here, long before the A to Z adventure started. That we couldn't recall anything about the food is hopefully just testament to our changed priorities.
Inside, a hunting-lodge feel complete with dark wood paneling and taxidermy was cozy, but made photos hard to get. We were seated by a long window overlooking what might have been prairie or what might have been the Middleton Regional Airport, but it was too dark to tell. Our server seemed fairly new, and while earnest and warm, she did not have the polish that we'd expect from a place that tries for this quality. We felt that we may have been her first table ever.
Dinner started with warm, light rolls, followed quickly by salads. JM's dinner salad came on a cold plate, which made us wonder how long it had been in the cooler, but turned out just fine. Nichole's Caesar wedge, a hybrid of two supper club standbys, was pulled off pretty well: a heart of romaine was split lengthwise and some mild grated Parmesan was grilled to a cracker consistency onto the cut surface. A tangy, citrus-twinged dressing lay on the plate beneath. It went well with the glass of pinot grigio that Nichole chose from the non-intimidating wine-by-the-glass offerings.
Nichole's nut-crusted trout arrived very hot. Loaded with butter, the entree was decadent and yet not too heavy. The filet of fish lay atop a pile of bacon-dressed white beans, easily enough protein for two meals. JM's venison was everything you'd want in venison - very tender, dark yet not gamey. The sauce was also quite good. On the side, we each got a pile of julienned carrots and green beans dressed in more butter. Nichole found these too reminiscent of banquet food but JM liked them just fine.
Dessert offerings included homemade peppermint, cinnamon and vanilla ice creams, pumpkin flan, and cranberry cake. A diplomatic breakdown led to us skipping this course, but we appreciated the seasonality of the selections.
It feels like Morels is carving out a very specific niche in the local dining scene, and the elements of menu, wine list, service and decor don't always fit together for a harmonious whole. That said, it
's [oops - ed.] seems a good place to try for a special event with someone from the supper club crowd and then you can try something classy and local, too.