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Tempest Oyster Bar

Tempest happy hourIn a word: Heroes on a half shell.

The specs: #0766  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Wisconsin State Journal, Eat Drink Madison, Yelp, Yahoo!, A.V. Club, Best Bloody Mary; chatter at TDPF; official web site, Facebook, Tempest Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Latest Tempest Oyster Bar news and reviews

JM, Lindsay and Nichole ate some things from the Happy Hour menu: a smoke stack, a fish cake, a couple shrimp cocktails, and an oyster Rockefeller; plus the fish and chips entree with a lemonade, a Keelhaul, and a glass of white wine.
The bill was $46, or $15ish/person, plus tip (thanks, Lindsay! edit: see Lindsay's review 9/21/11)
Lindsay gave Tempest an A; JM and Nichole gave Tempest an A- (see our grading rubric).

The early reports of Tempest had us dreading a kitschy nautical-themed grotto. Based on accounts of a boat and a big clam shell replacing the bull sculpture and antler chandeliers of Restaurant Magnus (which were equally fantastic), we chose to hedge our bets and go for Happy Hour. Dinner entrees run in the $15 range, but nibbles are just 2 or 3 clams each. It turns out that if dinner is as well-executed as Happy Hour, Tempest is probably not a bad place to indulge a craving for bivalves. In Madison. For what that's worth. (This is not where the fish lives.)

At Happy Hour, specialty cocktails and select wines are available for $5. The Keelhaul, made with gin, Old Sugar's ouzo, muddled cucumber and lime was delicious and made it hard for Nichole to frown about anything later. The lemonade was fine if a little watery and once Lindsay was brought the wine she asked for, we were all happy.

At Happy Hour oysters in various preps are available for mere pennies. Here we have some of chef's choice, one with cocktail sauce and fresh horseradish, one with a soy/garlic jus.


Our server couldn't explain what a smoke stack was (this was the only eye in the storm of otherwise fine service - there was also some confusion about rose vs. white wine) but it was exquisite: a four-bite tower of scallop, smoked whitefish and salmon topped with caviar that was both complex in flavor and pretty in presentation.

Oyster RockefellerSmoke stackFish cake

The fish cake, flaked whitefish bound with crumbs and lipids and sealed with a delicious hot-grill sear, is also worth coming back for. The oysters Rockefeller were pretty heavy on what tasted like pork or bacon, not typical for the recipe (hazy memories thanks to the Keelhaul).

The fried fish entree came with buttery fresh peas - a breath of spring in a cold autumn - and frites over a sweet malt vinegar reduction. The fish itself (we're not sure what kind) was deliciously greasy and we just wanted for a little rye bread (but we credit MFF for raising our expectations in re. the need for bread with fish fry).

Fish and chips

Tempest doesn't fail when attempting the nearly impossible. For its Herculean effort, we recommend it as long as you can remember where you are. If you wanna put your mouth around a mollusk, here's the best, closest place to do it.


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If this place passes the A to Z test, I gotta try it.

We had the seafood tower. The lobster tasted soooo fishy. They took it off of our bill. The oysters were decent. Oh, the server also dumped our bottle of wine and a glass of water on our table. Not the most stellar experience.

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Listen to The Corner Table podcast "Remembering Restaurants," aired December 24, 2020, where Chris and Lindsay talk with us "about the menus and memories left behind when restaurants go away."

Madison Food coverInfo about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.



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