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Nostrano

In a word: Something for yours, mine and ours.

The specs: #0636  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews and info at The Mad Samplers, Simple Good and Tasty, 77 Square, A.V. Club, Gaper's Block, Supper Seed, Steve Dolinsky, Sky Full of Bacon, Mad City Girl, Janie in Madison, Yelp, Open Table, Madison Dining Online, EatDrinkMadison, Isthmus; interviews at The Madisonial, The Badger Herald and Isthmus; official web site, Facebook, TwitterNostrano on Urbanspoon

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Chris ate the crispy chicken thighs and boudin blanc with a Manhattan and a Sazerac.
JM ate the seafood brodetto with a lemonade.
Marissa ate the whole wheat pappardelle.
Nichole ate the rabbit confit with a Variable High Cloudiness and Gusty Winds.
We split starters (scallop, risotto) and desserts (torta, crema).
The bill was $160, or $40/person, plus tip.
Chris and Marissa gave Nostrano an A; JM and Nichole gave Nostrano an A- (see our grading rubric).

ManhattanNostrano is hot stuff downtown. OpenTable makes it easy to get reservations (especially for us, the phoneless and introverted) so there's no reason not to get them early. We waited until two days before, which we learned might not be enough to get the time you want. Also, we'd suggest asking to split your check up front or risk the service getting a little shirty.

That said, it was a good time. The decor is intimate and DIY with window frames tastefully bolted to the walls just like at Bub's.

Bring a functional nose, because everything here is worth smelling. The fresh ingredients in the food and cocktails are very fragrant. JM wanted to call it "Nosestrano" but we wouldn't let him.

The drinks-and-dessert option is viable. JM's fresh squeezed lemonade was tart/sour. The barrel-aged Manhattan was huffworthy. The lyrical, Tom-Waits-inspired dark & stormy was delicious, with a citrus punch up front, tingling ginger in the middle and a rich, sweet molasses and rum aftertaste.

The sazerac, with no garnish, had an amazing, cutting orange flavor that had absolutely nothing in common with Goo Gone. Drinks run $8 or $9. Alternately, a diner can consider the "premium swill" (that's what it said on the menu) for $2 and/or a sixer for the kitchen.

To stay for dinner, read on. To those who need to hurry along in order to follow the old prospector into pirate's cave, skip to desserts.

Pear RisottoSea Scallop

We split two starters. Our server said the pear in the pear risotto was "understated," an understatement. There was more pheasant than pear. Most bites flushed a hunk of the succulent white meat out of the brush of warm rice, sticky Parmesan and celery leaf.

The second starter was a scallop with oxtail. To be fair, Chris cut the scallop and Nichole chose; the little mollusk was seared and crunchy on the edges - not with sea grit, but a salty facsimile of it. We didn't have to squabble over the two twee bites of beef stew in the scallop's wake. Fatty oxtail was cradled in upended domes of smoked onion (aka "zwie-bowls," but we wouldn't let JM say that either). A celeriac puree and more celery leaves added a high, clear note.

Whole Wheat PappardelleSeafood Brodetto

Marissa's whole wheat pappardelle were the best whole grain noodles we'd ever had. The lamb was extraordinarily tender and paired well with preserved lemon and fresh mint. The harissa added a pleasant spiciness, and Marissa was excited to finally taste it since everyone uses it on Top Chef.

JM got the seafood brodetto, a tomato-based stew. The filet of fish was loup de mer again, and it lay over a pile of mussels and more. This too was fragrant, with basil and licorice overtones. Two grill-toasted and buttered slices of bread were a little scanty for sopping up the broth. For the first time, he could understand the appeal of Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Rabbit ConfitCrispy Chicken Thighs and Boudin Blanc

The rabbit confit was surprisingly light meat, not very fatty but moist. It was shredded and packed into a thick patty and coated in a crumb breading that was just a little bit like Shake n Bake. The rye tagliolini were, like the pappardelle, relatively light, but stiff. Salty-sweet hen of the woods mushrooms in a wine and butter sauce filled out the meal, and "scarlet" carrots with the scarlet peeled off were more garnish than gusto.

Is that weisswurst next to the crispy chicken thigh? Sort of; the boudin blanc had been split and grilled, ingeniously, on the skin side to keep the flavor from dribbling away on the grill. The chicken was wonderful, and the arugula salad was tossed with a bacon-heavy dressing. Fennel puree and pickled honeycrisp apples lightened things up.

CremaTorta

We split two desserts. Both were presented artfully on huge plates with a tablespoon or so of fast-melting gelato (also available on its own) and caramel that was exceedingly vinegary. (Is that a thing?)

The "torta" was a thinly layered, faintly coffee-flavored dark chocolate sponge cake. Candied, cracked hazelnuts and a fine coffee mousse were the best parts.

The "crema" was a sublime, mousselike milk chocolate cream. The gingerbread was a cube of cake toasted on one side that showed what we should have known all along: the witch's house in Hansel & Gretel was insulated by an untoasted inner layer of soft gingerbread, while the toasted stud frame wall acted as the support. It was good enough to make anyone suspend their better judgement. The candied kumquats were sour-sweet and chewy, and took some getting used to, especially in the vinegary caramel.

Nostrano seems to have lots of good ideas, though the pickier eater might not like everything that's on offer. We will say without hesitation that it's somewhere nice to splurge with friends who appreciate good food and craft cocktails.

Comments

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Loved it. The food here is complex, nuanced, and well-prepared. The prices are also fair and indeed more affordable than other special-occasion places like Sardine. We tried many of the dishes you guys list above----our favorites were the risotto with pheasant and the brodetto. Dessert was solid, and again complex and nuanced instead of simply sweet. This is affordable fine-dining, and easily already one of the three or four best restaurants in Madison. Great space too, intimate area with exposed wood and bricks.

Very much off topic. Long time reader, first time commenter - love the site, you do us a great service. I've heard rumors that there is a new soul food restaurant (perhaps on the west side) that's suppose to be the real deal. Have you heard anything about this potential development?

Lucas, do you have any more details? Where are you hearing these rumors? Why comment on the Nostrano post?

Those questions aside, Harold's Chicken Shack opened recently on the west side. Is that what you're thinking of?

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