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Anne, Caroline, Darby, Dave, Evy, Isaac, JM, John, Joshua, Miles, Nicholas, Nichole, Paul, and Simon ate the deep-fried dough sticks (x3), water spinach with garlic, and dim sum: Nani's shrimp dumpling, pork & shrimp dumpling (x2), shrimp dumpling with green chive, beef ball, short rib with pepper sauce, short rib with honey sauce (x2), beef brisket & rice noodle roll in pot, pan-fried water chestnut cake, deep-fried pork dumpling, pan-fried vegetable & pork bun (x2), pan-fried pot sticker (x2), deep-fried crab meat & seaweed roll, deep-fried sesame ball, pan-fried corn & pork cake, pan-fried green chive cake, beef crepe, BBQ pork crepe, BBQ pork bun (x3), mango pudding (x4), red bean pudding, and tea.
The bill was $215, or $15/person, including 18% large-party gratuity.
Darby, JM, and Nichole gave Nani an A-; Dave gave Nani a B+/A-; John gave Nani a B+ (see our grading rubric).
It's a dim sum place, so we took a big crowd. 14 people, including several smaller folks, to be exact. And here's the thing: almost everything we got was gone by meal's end. Only a lonely beef ball remained. That says something about the quality of the eats right there. Without providing a lot of overwhelming narrative, let's just say "highly recommended" and run down our notes on what we got.
- The service is great, and it needs to be. Lots of food items will hit the table over and over, and the servers did a great job keeping the food hot and the crowd happy.
- The picture menu is essential and thoroughly useful, though the instructions weren't the best, as we were unsure if we should use hash marks or regular numbers (Phoenician numerals, says JM). Wanting 2 of something is way different than wanting 11.
- As a group we had two favorites: beef brisket & rice noodle roll in pot.
- The thick rice noodles were amazing, and are required for any visitor to Nani.
- The water spinach with garlic was a great choice as a lighter counterpoint to what was mostly a heavy, oily (but delicious) meal.
- If you didn't mind greasy fingers, the short ribs were quite tasty.
- The pan-fried water chestnut cake was a revelation: hot sweet jello with water chestnuts gave the whole item a fun texture that surprisingly good.
- Familiar fan favorites (pork buns & pot stickers) were - familiar. Also, tasty, as usual.
- The pork buns, in particular, were light and cloudy and a tiny bit sweet. Mmmm.
- The pan-fried cakes were like fritters. That's a very good thing.
- The crepes were also hearty: they were slippery and rolled around delicious diced fillings.
- The desserts here are just OK for what we tried.
- The mango pudding was large and jello-y with diced mango and fancy whipped cream.
- The red bean pudding was coconut b/w red beans.
There was talk at the table of whether Nani was better than Estrellon, which is as close to heresy in the Madison food scene gets. In terms of little dishes, passed around for enjoyment, there's likely no way to get out of Estrellon for $15/person (but we haven't been, so we can't say). The hit-to-miss ratio was really good here too, and a picture menu helped that. Odana has always been Madison's home for culinary diversity (we believe it's true that Bahn Thai*, Sa-Bai Thong, Maharaja, Los Gemelos, Saigon-Noodles, VIPs, La Michoacana, and Ginza have all had homes there over the years). Nani is the best place that's been in this location in over 20 years; we hope to enjoy them again and again.
*Bahn Thai had a location on University Ave., not Odana. Thanks for the heads up, NS!