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Mariner's Inn

Mariner's InnIn a word: Classic upscale seafood with a menu that's not too deep.

The specs: #0369
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; Madison Originals profile; reviews at Wisconsin Fish Fry Reviews, this is how i will get famous, Madison Fish Fry, Madison Beer Blog; official web site; Mariner's Inn on Urbanspoon

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JM ate the top sirloin steak with crab legs, clam chowder and a lemonade.
John ate the Canadian walleye with a dinner salad and a Capital Amber.
Nichole and Rose ate the Chef's 3-course dinner: Nichole had the sesame crusted ahi tuna and Jesse's Scallops with a Bloody Mary; Rose had the Tenderloin of Romance with the shrimp cocktail and a diet Coke.
We split a slice each of Betty's cheesecake with Door County cherries and chocolate decadence cake.
The bill was $91, or $22.75/person, plus tip minus $30 - thanks, WPR 2-4-1!
Rose and John gave Mariner's Inn an A; JM gave Mariner's Inn an A-; Nichole gave Mariner's Inn a B (see our grading rubric).

Cap AmberMariner's Inn is the flagship of the Von Rutenberg Ventures' local chain of seafood restaurants. On this sunny Sunday we had a quiet dinner in the bright dining room overlooking the lawn as it sloped into Lake Mendota. After we got a table, that is. Despite catering to the older (i.e. early dining) or at least better-heeled set, the staff at the host station seemed not quite ready to greet us when we arrived before 6. After that one hitch, though, the rest was smooth sailing.

Nichole's Bloody Mary was good and as spicy as she'd hoped it would be. The indulgent waitress even laughed at her observation that she was turning into her older relatives. John's cold Capital Amber in a tall, frosty glass hit the spot as well.

Bread basketAfter x-hundred xty-x restaurants, we've had surprisingly few old-school bread baskets. Maybe it's carb consciousness or costcutting or just a Madison mindset. But the occasional bread basket, especially one as genteel yet approachable as this one, is a welcome change. The white rolls were just OK. We nearly fought over the less numerous pumpernickel rolls, however. They were very dark, slightly sweet and studded with tiny bits of diced onion. The rolls were a good complement to our starters, which included a classic dinner salad of iceberg and romaine mix for John, and some house specialties for the rest of us.

Scallops"Jesse's Scallops" were broiled tender, topped with a dollop of spinach and Parmesan and doused in an embarrassment of rich cream sauce. Thank goodness there were only two of them.

Rose had the shrimp cocktail. Large, flavorful shrimp came served over the same Asian-style slaw as what bolstered up Nichole's tuna. The cocktail sauce was excellent and really bit back.

Clam chowderThe signature clam chowder was best iteration of all the Von Rutenberg ventures (to date), including the Betty Lou and Captain Bill's. The smoky, woody flavor really shone, with deep notes and a clean, springy finish without being too chewy.

Surf and Turf

JM's surf and turf dinner was his first foray into crab legs. While they could have been intimidating, the presentation (bisected for meat extraction) made them easy to eat. JM and drawn butter are like a Bounty Paper Towel and spills - he sops it right up. The steak was nicely marbled and well prepared but not a filet mignon, his fave. The mashed potatoes on the side were decent but not great, as were the shoestring onion rings, most of which were left on the table.

Sesame crusted tuna

Canadian walleyeThe sesame ahi tuna came in a generous portion, but was somewhat tough. An orange ginger sauce was liberally slopped under the bed of Asian slaw and a slightly thicker version came in a metal ramekin on the side. A little of the sauce went quite a long way. The Asian slaw included red and green cabbage, water chestnuts, and sweet red peppers in a tangy sauce, but somehow it lacked oomph. Maybe it was just not crunchy enough.

"Tenderloin of Romance"

John's walleye was just what he'd hoped for. Likewise, Rose loved her flamboyantly named "Tenderloin of Romance." It came topped with a rich mustard and crab sauce, asparagus spears bound with a strip of red pepper, and scallops on the side. Though Rose doesn't personally care for scallops, these were presented on a skewer of rosemary and were quite succulent.

CheesecakeChocolate mousse cake

Nichole and Rose each availed themselves of the chef's three-course dinner, which included dessert. We tried one of each offering. "Betty's Cheesecake" was the real deal, with fresh cherries over a rich classic  cheesecake. The "Chocolate Decadence" cake was  very dark, verging on bitter,  chocolate with brandy and cream sauce almost worth licking the plate for.

So. All in all we had a wonderful meal. The service was friendly (i.e. tolerant of our shenanigans and Nichole's incessant questioning), thoughtful, and efficient. The food was nice though any step outside the norm was a bit of a flop. Mariner's Inn may just represent a different time in Madison history, when going out for a nice meal meant eating something exotic - like shrimp.


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What is the WPR 2-4-1?

Wisconsin Public Radio has a "Member Benefits Card" that allows us to get two meals for the price of one at several Madison restaurants.

Wisconsin Public Radio membership benefit card. Mostly 2 for 1 meal offerings at restaurants around the state.

What's Wisconsin Public Radio?

What is Wisconsin Public Radio??
Basically it is a group of radio stations that rely more on donations form members, than from advertising.

About the membership card:

I went here after boating one Saturday afternoon and I was actually pretty disgusted by the ahi tuna appetizer -- instead of the tuna being ruby red it was a dark brown color that made me fear that I'd be suffering from food poisoning the rest of the evening. The asian slaw that accompanied it was good, the calamari was decent, but altogether I wasn't impressed. Thank god the Brandy Alexanders were delicious....

I just recently ate here. Overcooked shrimp and awful service. At these prices I expected so much more. Nobody in my group was impressed.

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