The specs: #0632
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Madison Fish Fry 10/15/10 & 12/10/10, Best Bloody Mary, Evening Chef, Yelp, My Year of Food, 77 Square, Pop Will Eat Me, Eat Drink Madison, at first taste, Isthmus 7/23/10, 7/25/10, 9/23/10 & TDPF, Laine's Local, Madison Magazine, Simple, Good and Tasty, The Heavy Table, The Accidental Foodist, Ruppert Food Blog, Queer Supper Club, Wisconsin Cheese Talk, The Mad Samplers; mentions at Serious Eats, Greg Tracy; Tory Miller recipes at Food & Wine, discussed at Each Little World, and reverse-engineered at Forkful of News; official web site,
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JM, John, Nichole and Rose ate the popcorn, cheese board, chicken and waffles, Graze burger, milk and cookies, cranberry honey pie a la mode, and a hot fudge sundae.
JM drank a lemonade.
John drank a Tyranea Rocky's Revenge brown ale on tap.
Nichole drank a Model Behavior and a Really Magic Coffee.
Rose drank a Cafe a l'Orange.
The bill was $108, or $27/person, plus tip.
JM, John, Nichole and Rose gave Graze an A (see our grading rubric).
We're udderly presumptuous to guess that's what L'Etoile's little sister, Graze, is about, but we think it partly is. L'Etoile's hallmark has always been local, sustainable food, even after those labels became ubiquitous (and in many cases meaningless). The staff, most notably Chef Tory Miller, have contributed their time and talents to local projects such as the Dane County Farmers' Market winter breakfasts, Wisconsin cheese advocacy, and many other good works. Now they've paired the locavore ethos with the gastropub concept at Graze.
And yet, Graze sits in a glass house and has a name that implies something a little sassy about its patrons. There's an exorbitantly priced burger on the menu and bar prices just might be marked up because people will pay extra to be seen eating behind those big windows - but also because some rock stars need models. Meanwhile, Chef Miller has allegedly been seen in the gastropub drinking a mass-produced beer, and told a room full of foodies that a grilled American cheese sandwich is a personal favorite (right up there with the bombshell "Monroe" with Limburger, an announcement that caused a stampede to the sample table).
So what? It's fabulous, sweetie.
Nichole started dinner by pulling the wool over her own eyes with a Model Behavior (vodka, soda water, pink Emergen-C). It was flawless and disgusting. JM's lemonade was freely refilled throughout the meal - that plus the slightly off-a-gun taste indicated it, too, was far from the locavore aesthetic. John got a pleasing Tyranea Rocky's Revenge brown ale from what we consider a modest beer list for a Wisconsin gastropub, but we'll leave that discussion for others. We all liked the bottle of bottomless, free filtered water.
Warm, tender baby rice popcorn tossed with shredded, hard SarVecchio and a generous amount of truffle oil was incredible and just got better the closer we got to the bottom of the basket.
The cheese board was great. The offerings were helpfully arranged on the menu in order of mildness. Even the second-boldest, the Roelli Dunbarton Blue, was not overpowering, but perhaps we didn't hit a vein. The Hook's 15-year Cheddar incurred an upcharge, but our first-ever taste was so good it literally made JM bang his head against the wall. (There was also some rolling of eyes.) The Bleu Mont bandaged cheddar was Nichole's favorite. It was firm and dry but tasted moist, sending a draft of musty air to spelunk the sinuses. And Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, well, it's perfect. Accompaniments were afterthoughts: lightly toasted walnut date bread (more like a raised loaf than quickbread) and a cranberry preserve (more like spicy fruit butter than jam).
So the big question about that $19 Graze burger is "is it worth it?" If all you're looking for is a great hamburger sandwich and some french fried potatoes, then no, of course not.
If, however, you reframe the burger as a steak smothered in caramelized onions that just happens to be between two toasted halves of an airy, buttered roll; if you're mindful, as you savor each bite, of the resources that went into bringing that burger to your face and all the costs associated with your food choices; or if you're sincerely into conspicuous consumption, or just need a cheap way to impress a Patsy, then, maybe.
It is unreservedly worth it if you share, especially if you're celebrating. Rose and John's halved burger arrived on two plates, each with a generous side of fries and a dish of aioli with the consistency of sour cream.
The chicken and waffles were fun. The waffle was thinner and lighter than a Belgian-style batterbomb. An oval pat of flavored butter used the kind of fresh, fine cinnamon as warming as pepper, and the syrup was real maple. The leg and wing of chicken were dark and fatty with a flavor like five spice powder. We noted the non-greasiness of the breading and the moistness of the flesh and wondered if the chicken had been, fittingly, Broasted® Beloit-style, but we didn't ask.
No one was too full for dessert. A slice of cranberry honey pie a la mode was pucker-inducing. The filling had just enough honey to tame but not break the cranberries, framed by a cookielike crust and brown sugar streusel. The hot fudge sundae was made with perfectly firm and smooth vanilla ice cream. The whipped cream was rich and the hickory nuts tender, with a wild flavor that tickled the back of the throat.
Finally, the baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies with sea salt were worth the wait. The three big treats were served with a cafeteria-style glass of Sassy Cow whole milk.
Half of us went for after-dinner drinks. The Really Magic Coffee was a slick alter ego to the sweet, iced daytime pick-me-up. It teetered in a tall glass, blinged out with coffee beans and a splash of whiskey [edit: rhum & another liqueur we don't recall]. The hot Cafe a l'Orange was a good marriage of smooth orange flavor with strong dark coffee.
Speaking of which, Rose and John have been there for us through some of our bleakest and least glamorous meals. We were so glad of this chance to share some really good food with them to celebrate their 40+nth wedding anniversary. Now that's both fabulous and for real.