Las Islas del Mar

Lucky tableIn a word: Better living through pez.

The specs: #00940   
696 Monona Drive, 53716
Details at Yelp, Las Islas Del Mar on Urbanspoon
Facebook

Latest Las Islas del Mar news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the fish burrito with an orange Jarritos.
Nichole ate the grilled shrimp with a grapefruit Jarritos.
The bill was $27, or $13.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Las Islas del Mar an A-; Nichole gave Las Islas del Mar an A (see our grading rubric).

Mexican seafood has always been a rare catch in Madison and, other than the brief experiment of El Pescador, the town has had to mostly make do with fish tacos on a handful of menus. Monona's Las Islas del Mar is out to change all of that.

First came the complimentary chip basket, which overflowed with goodies. Sure there were crisp tortillas and a kicky green salsa, but also there was a small spicy crab salad and Saltines. A generous serving of lime was also provided. We were already hearing their siren song.

Chips and seafood dip

The server recommended the grilled shrimp for Nichole. This was an awesome thing: several big, well-seasoned, grilled shrimp came out and had excellent flavor.  Served with a scoop of rice with veggies, fries, and a small salad, the presentation paralleled the quality of the food itself.

Grilled shrimp

JM opted for the most staid choice, a fish burrito, which he described as a "Mexican fish fry" in a tortilla.  It came with the spiciest Thousand Island dressing he's ever had.  The burrito came packed with the unexpected, like tons of small red kidney beans and huge slices of avocado.  The fried cod, though, was pretty good, but the whole thing ended up a little dry without a lot of meat grease to cement it together.

Fish burrito

The service was fantastic and we were one of three tables there for dinner, so it could have gone either way (too attentive, too distracted).  They have some really cool outdoor seating that for an end-of-the year outing did not appeal, but as spring is coming and warm nights beckon, we can see taking another dip off the coast of Las Islas del Mar.

Ladonia Cafe

In a word: Another actual healthy cart lunch.

The specs: #00939   
Usually at Mifflin & Pinckney for weekday lunches
Details at Yelp
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Ladonia Cafe news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate his words.
Nichole ate the pot pie, soup, and a ginger limeade.
The bill was about $10.
JM gave Ladonia Cafe a B+; Nichole gave Ladonia Cafe an A- (see our grading rubric).

Ladonia lunch

December at a food cart is always a tough time, and we visited Ladonia on one of those bitterly cold days before Christmas. JM may not have brought the best attitude in checking out a vegan food cart and, when his preferred food wasn't available (chocolate chip waffles), he kind of panicked and pouted. So, let's just say that, upon reflection, he would like to have tried Ladonia under better circumstances. His beverage was quite tasty and his bites of Nichole's pot pie were good, so he imagines that this place meets its needs well, as multiple Best of Madison awards attest. His B+ reflects this critical distance.

Nichole, on the other hand, loved the meal. The pot pie was the epitome of comfort food - warm, with lots of herbal flavors and a rich creaminess. The soup got jostled so the pepitas on top sank, but its pumpkin-y goodness was still evident. A thick slice of sesame-topped bread, and Ladonia's delicious ginger limeade (best cold prevention formula), rounded out the meal.

On a previous preview, the tempeh bacon proved preternaturally tasty too: chewy, sweet-smoky-salty and thickly cut. Summer BLTs are in the cards.

Since the demise of Dandelion, a warm set of meals with vegan and veg options are most welcome. If that's what you are looking for, here's where you'll find it, and even non-vegans who give it a try will be pleased. 

La Taguara

La TaguaraIn a word: They've got the eye of the taguara.

The specs: #00938   
3502 E Washington Avenue, 53704
Details at Yelp, La Taguara on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook

Latest La Taguara news and reviews at del.icio.us

Darby ate the parrilla callejera and tostones with papelon con limon.
Dave ate the patacon pisao.
JM ate the hamburguesa de peril.
Joshua ate the arepas.
Nichole ate the perritos with a hot chocolate con queso blanco.
The bill was about $12/person, plus tip.
Darby and Dave gave La Taguara an A; JM and Joshua gave La Taguara an A-; Nichole gave La Taguara a B+ (see our grading rubric).

La Taguara's in the spot Dimitri's Gyros was, and the difference is night and day.  The space is still smallish, but the care taken by the place's new caretakers is evident in everything from the staff (who's prepared to recommend everything on the menu) to the vastly improved bathroom.

First and foremost, La Taguara is Venezuelan. We've heard folks describe Latin American cuisine "pretty much just meat," but LT goes the distance to make it a little more special.  For example, JM got a hamburger. You might think of a hamburger as a cheat (and in some ways it was, since by ordering it he was able to avoid that one ingredient on each of the other dishes that he didn't want to eat). But even on just a burger, La Taguara provided an interesting green guasacaca sauce and spices, which produced a pretty tasty sandwich.

Hamburguesa de pernil

Dave and Darby are regulars at La Taguara, and they opted for dishes that played to the strengths of the place.  Dave's patacon was a healthy-sized sandwich of fried plantain filled with meat and veggies, which all disappeared quickly.

Patacon pisao

Darby's tostones were "amazing" as they consisted of "crispy, salty deliciousness." The parrilla callejera was a grilled meat and veggie sampler plate of many wonders, too.

Parilla callejera

Joshua hewed closer to the familiar, but even then, the arepas filled with shredded beef are a go-to item here. He was not disappointed, though they did get "boring" after many bites.

Arepas

There are beverages to explore here, too. While the papelon con limon was just okay, per Joshua, Nichole found the hot chocolate con queso blanco really neat. It was like a cup of hot pudding (think Chocolaterian's Parisian hot chocolate) with squeaky white salty cheese curds on the bottom. As for food, the shoestring-potato-topped hot dog was interesting, but not very representative of the menu. She sadly never got the lentil soup she ordered, which sounded good for a cold night.

Hot chocolate con queso blanco

As Madison's dining scene incorporates more Latin American cuisine (is zombie Magnus the harbinger of more in a city that likes Inka Heritage and has a churrascaria, but didn't go much for El Corral, Pollo Inka or Fiesta 38?), it is nice to see that there is a high benchmark to compare against new places.

La Rosita Latina

In a word: No aberrations in these abarrotes.

The specs: #00937   
6005 Monona Drive, Monona 53716
Details at Yelp, La Rosita on Urbanspoon
Official web site

Latest La Rosita Latina news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the steak burrito with a Jarritos.
Nichole ate the tacos (lengua, al pastor, and beef).
The bill was about $16, or $8/person.
JM gave La Rosita Latina a B+; Nichole gave La Rosita Latina an A- (see our grading rubric).

La Rosita Latina is where Super Tienda Latina was on Monona Dr.  They serve hot food most of the time, in addition to offering a wide range of Mexican groceries. Such places often have some of the best food around, and La Rosita is head and shoulders above several others in the area.

Nichole's lengua taco, for example, was probably the best she's had in Madison - very soft, not too greasy, no membrane. It came with fresh and pliable tortillas and fresh garnishes. The other meats were also very tasty, though closer to the average. JM's steak burrito, too, was well-ensconced in its tortilla wrapper, with ample rice pulling in the steak juice and redistributing it across each bite. 

There were a variety of sauces on the tables - creamy orange, hot green, chunky red - also very fresh. We finished up with some grocery shopping and returned to our home sated.  Mexican grocery store tacos are a treat - and these were that.

Tacos and burrito

La Michoacana

La MichoacanaIn a word: Don't be a sucker; get one instead.

The specs: #00936   
6712 Odana Road, 53719
Details at Yelp, La Michoacana on Urbanspoon
Facebook

Latest La Michoacana news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate an Oreo paleta.
Nichole ate a mangonada.
The bill was about $7 plus tip.
JM gave La Michoacana an A- ; Nichole gave La Michoacana an A (see our grading rubric).

Thanks to a tip from friends, we've been fans of La Michoacana since it opened in the dead of winter (much like it is now, as we post this).  Last summer, it served as a great place to take people for a simple dessert after any west side meal, and now we hear they're working on opening a second location on East Wash, in the former Taqueria Sabor Queretano space. And more paleta palaces have popped up since. Great!

La MichoacanaThe idea is these very simple, very tasty popsicles that frequently have fresh fruit (or in the case of the one JM chose) huge chunks of cookie.  We have probably, over the course of their one year in business, tried twenty of their flavors. While every one doesn't necessarily demand a retrial, there has never been one that we haven't finished. (Well, the texture of frozen cucumber was the only one that could be called an acquired taste.) Seriously, someone could eat every one of these in rainbow order and blog about it.

La Michoacana

For this "official" visit, Nichole settled on the mangonada with, and we're probably describing this wrong, chamoy fruit leather around the straw. The sticky mixture of pickled fruit paste, citrus, and chili is spicy, salty, sweet and sour deliciousness. They also make a paleta version of mango with chili, which she finds unmatched. The English fluency of the staff can vary greatly, but everyone will let you point and sample, and the menu on the wall provides some translations if you don't know your fresa from your queso (and yes, there is a queso paleta.) La Michoacana also has hot cocoa, aguas frescas and savory snacks like elote and tostilocos, but we haven't tried those yet.

We recommend going back again and again. 

La Michoacana

La Coppa Gelato

In a word: Gelato, but in the mall.

The specs: #00935   
138 W Towne Mall, 53719
Details at Yelp, La Coppa Gelato on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest La Coppa Gelato news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM tried the caramel apple & turtle cheesecake.
Marissa tried the blood orange, dark chocolate, mint Oreo and candy cane.
Nichole tried the vanilla bean, cinnamon and dark chocolate.
The bill was about $5/person, plus tip.
JM gave La Coppa Gelato a B-; Marissa and Nichole gave La Coppa Gelato a B+; Chris recused himself due to lack of interest in gelato (see our grading rubric).

A post-work pre-dinner dessert gathering at the mall. Chris, who had later plans, wandered off for something more substantial, while the other three got our gelati.

Marissa, a gelato fan, got the blood orange and dark chocolate, which was better than her mint Oreo and candy cane which was kind of fluffy with an overly sweet finish. She says: "I mean, I LOVE gelato, but I NEVER go to the mall and I can’t really see going there just for that. If I was there though, I would choose it over my other dessert options. Especially the Blood Orange Sorbet and Dark Chocolate Sorbet combo. That was delicious."

La Coppa Gelato

Nichole got the three-scoop blend of vanilla bean, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. While she agreed with Marissa that the dark chocolate was pretty kick-butt, thick and very rich in cocoa, she honestly sees herself choosing Chocolate Shoppe more often than La Coppa at the mall, which is already an arbitrary limitation. On the other hand, La Coppa offered some fancier flavors CS would not be likely to do - lemon basil, for instance, which tasted like the smell of a mown lawn (if that lawn is overrun with lemon balm and a hint of creeping charlie. This might sound awful in our words but it has its charm, and if they made a cucumber-mint gelato, Nichole would go back to try that combo).

La Coppa Gelato

JM got the caramel apple and turtle cheesecake, which did not blend as well as two caramel-based flavors should.  Both were fine, but didn't really wow. Generous and patient with samples, the server had a bit of a gamer personality which clicked with us. We were half expecting to have to roll a d20 for flavor choices.  He recommended a fruit smoothie with intense citrus flavors, which we didn't get this time but might go back for. 

Food court

La Coppa's State St. branch is closed for the winter, but even so, Madison does not want for desserts, which puts this place at a small disadvantage.

Kurt's Never Inn

Kurt's Never InnIn a word: Pithy.

The specs: #00934   
26 S Main Street, Deerfield 53531
Details at Yelp, Kurt's Never Inn on Urbanspoon
Latest Kurt's Never Inn news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the chicken sandwich with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the cheeseburger.
The bill was $16, or $8/person, plus tip.
JM gave Kurt's Never Inn a C+; Nichole gave Kurt's Never Inn a C (see our grading rubric).

CurdsOn the Saturday following Thanksgiving, in a small town's most happening bar, you'll be lucky to find a seat.  All of the college kids (and 20somethings) home for the long weekend are stuck in town until Sunday and cannot stand being home another minute.  In Deerfield, this seems to involve going to a tiny Main Street bar, talking loudly over loud country and hip hop.  This is not Kurt's fault, as he's never in.

Kurt's was actually as much up to the task as we could have hoped.  The server was a no-nonsense 20something herself, who while also fending off a couple of "hey we should get together"s also managed to be personable and forgiving with our questions about the menu, even as the jukebox exhorted the comforts of small town living.

As for the food, the cheese curds were served cornmeal style, which was a nice change of pace.  Gritty and hot, they were gone quickly.  JM's fried chicken sandwich patty was balanced nicely betwixt dry and greasy, with a high-quality tomato.  Although the untoasted bun made the whole thing a little bready. 

Chicken sandwichCheeseburger

The flavor of the cheeseburger was good when it could be discerned. The patty could've used some seasoning, even just salt.  The cheese was plain Jane American and the pickles standard. 

Kurt's has fish fry on Fridays and Coke on the gun with Pepsi in cans.  They certainly seemed to have sold themselves to the college remnant of Deerfield, as well, though that's probably intermittent.  We're not driving to Deerfield to eat here again, but Kurt's could certainly enter a Deerfield rotation if one were required.

Koffee Kup

Koffee KupIn a word: Raise a glass without feeling mugged.

The specs: #00933   
355 East Main Street, Stoughton 53589
Details at Yelp, Koffee Kup on Urbanspoon

Latest Koffee Kup news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the prime rib dinner.
Nichole ate the soup and sandwich combo with coffee and a piece of pie.
The bill was $27, or $13.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Koffee Kup a B+; Nichole gave Koffee Kup an A- (see our grading rubric).

Koffee Kup is a kute spot on Stoughton's Main Street. We went for dinner in November on a night the Opera House next door was having a show, and barely missed the rush; eating unfashionably early paid off again. It seemed like there were lots of regular customers there, and the service was friendly to everybody. A whole pot of coffee at the table was a buck. A buck! That's a good value. Plus they've recently made the commendable move of switching from an inferior brand of soft drink to Coke.

As for the menu, Koffee Kup is a full service small town diner that serves breakfast all day. Daily specials  of hot sandwiches round out the menu. Nichole's soup was chicken noodle and also hearty and rich. It featured thick noodles, carrots, celery, and a bit of onion. The only drawback was that there was not quite as much chicken as you'd hope.  As for the bacon and cheese sandwich, the homemade bread was delicious and the bacon was nicely smoked.

Chicken soupGrilled cheese and bacon

JM's prime rib was served, as he said, "au Kegonsa." This is to say that it came in a lake of its own juice.  It was certainly as tender as good prime rib, and he did have to eat it quickly lest it cool, since anything beyond medium rare is simply murdering a prime rib. Served with mushrooms, it was some of the best he's had outside of a meat-specific venue, up there with Old Feed Mill's.  The cole slaw was nothing spectacular, but the side of spuds was nice.

Prime rib, coleslaw, potatoes

Koffee Kup serves up pie and other baked goods as well.  Our meal was a good value, too, since half the total $27 was the prime rib. All in all, Stoughton kontributes another nice place to eat.

Pumpkin pie

Knuckle Down Saloon

In a word: Maybe put it on your to do list.

The specs: #00932   
2513 Seiferth Rd., 53716
Details at Yelp, Knuckle Down Saloon on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Knuckle Down Saloon news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the BBQ burger with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the CBR with a diet Pepsi.
The bill was $17, or $8.50/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave the Knuckle Down a B (see our grading rubric).

We would never have gone to the Knuckle Down without this project.  It is completely invisible: south of the Wendy's at Pflaum and Stoughton Rd., right next to nothing and local to no one.  Other than lots of live music, it doesn't seem to have anything going for it on paper.

This led to a lot of nice surprises for us.

First and foremost, it is a friendly and oddly inviting space. Sure, the TV was blaring a reality TV show about repo men and women, while the pinball machine looks like it gets not enough use. The bartender was nice.

The food was also pretty good.  Nichole's CBR had good chicken and bacon that added flavor without a lot of greasy excess sandwich weight. The amount of ranch was  in balance with the chicken and the roll was nicely toasted.

CBR

JM's burger came out a perfect medium rare, another nice touch. His bun, too, was toasted and stuck to the meat like glue once sandwich fusion had been achieved, though it never disintegrated.  The BBQ sauce was decent and the bacon, again, OK.

BBQ burger

The sides, though, really shone.  The fries are almost worth a trip back for.  Perfectly done with a crisp outside and yummy potato flavor.  Further, a good and hearty pickle accompanied both sandwiches.  Of course, you will also find the prices here above those of your standard bar food, which in some way speaks to its above standard quality.

If you are near, or can find the Knuckle Down, it may be worth your time, especially if Antlers is really busy for some reason.

Klassik Tavern

Klassik TavernIn a word: Didn't thrill us like Michael.

The specs: #00931   
410 W. Verona Ave., Verona 53593
Details at Yelp, Klassik Tavern on Urbanspoon

Latest Klassik Tavern news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the steak and eggs with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the quiche.
The bill was $23, or $11.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Klassik Tavern a B-; Nichole gave Klassik Tavern a C+ (see our grading rubric).

This was our second visit to the pillared structure on Verona Road. What was once the Cozee Inn is now Klassik, and in a lot of ways it's gotten nicer - this time we were seated on the ground floor, near a window, but even the cellar seating is more inviting - the basement, before:

Dining room at Cozee Inn

After - brighter, sportier and the retro chairs are still there:

Klassik basement

Breakfast was decent. Of the steak & eggs: the sirloin was acceptable and of good proportion, the scrambled eggs were gently done and were creamy. The unbuttered, burnt-on-bottom English muffin was less than good. Sort of a southern-Algerian muffin in terms of excessive dryness and heat.

Steak and eggs

Hearty whole wheat (ostensibly) buttered toast went well with the somewhat heavy, "crust less quiche" with egg, chorizo, and cheese and a bit of green onion. It was more like an egg bake, in a way that pleasantly suggested church basement brunch. Cheesy 'tatoes did, too.

Crustless taco quiche

It would be hard to argue that Klassik Tavern is a must hit for anyone.  Even in Verona, there are better places for most of its fare.  Still, with a coupon...


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