Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

This post isn’t as much of a restaurant review as it is a chance to show off Miss S partaking in the childhood wonders of a Madison landmark. (and being all matchy-matchy that I am, I figured this was the closest topic to a rollercoaster that I could find. Why a rollercoaster, you ask? Well, because that’s what my life is like at the moment. Just praying for the ride to end. Very soon. Thank you.) This trip to Ella’s Deli was a first for the whole family. It was a neat experience to say the least. Upon entering, you are bombarded with thousands of carnival inspired characters suspended from the ceiling and scattered around the restaurant. Not only is there a flurry of color with these characters, they also move and dance and sing. It is quite the sight!

S was a tad overwhelmed at first and did the death grip on daddy’s shoulder. The tables are unique as well at Ella’s. Ours was a pinball inspired table and what seemed to be a picnic scene under glass, complete with ants and other insects enjoying their feast. Hoping to enjoy OUR feast, I perused the menu. It’s HUGE! Sandwiches, deli fare and a whole separate menu just for ice cream. I opted for a basic burger since I wasn’t feeling in the mood for a deli sandwich. I also got an order of onion rings which were served with ranch dressing instead of your basic ketchup. It was nice for a change of pace. J got a malt…he’s big on malts. I, on the other hand, would choose my calories to go towards something else. It was fun to watch S take in everything…

Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.

Mommy and S checking out the sights.

We were pretty stuffed from our meals, and being naive first-timers, we didn’t leave room for ice cream. Make sure you do this if you go! I think the next time we go, it will be just for an ice cream treat. The food was good, but I’m guessing the ice cream is much better! And of course, our next trip wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the restored carousel. S was proud to show Daddy how carousels work since she was all big-girl and stuff and rode on one at the zoo a few weeks ago.

Guess who konked out on the way home in the car from all the excitement??

Although this isn’t so much a typical restaurant review, I would be remiss if I didn’t give it a rating…so in true carnival style, I rate Ella’s 4 out of 5 flags…more flags, more fun, right?

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While we were up north J and I got a few hours to ourselves (thanks  Grandma & Grandpa…and Uncle Matt, too!). Since J is a big German fan, we headed to Otto’s to partake in all things beer and brats. And mustard. And German Nachos. Yes, they really do exist. I was a skeptic at first. I mean, ham, cheese sauce, and sauerkraut on nachos? Really?

These were actually really good! And yes, my beer is almost gone. Not to worry, I ordered another one.

Nothing like a Hacker-Pschoorr Weisse out in the beer garden!

Check out that cool mural on the wall!

Tasty FLAT brat! And the German potato salad was awesome.

Happy people.

Otto’s also has live music (starts at 9:00 p.m.) on Saturday nights.  The live music was part of our original plan, but we are not party animals anymore, so after a few brewskis and some hearty German food, J and I were wiped out. It’s probably a good thing we left when we did because S was still up entertaining Grandma and Grandpa when we got back. Did I mention that she was not a good sleeper up north? She was not having any of her pack ‘n play. 😦 Mommy is making arrangements to fix that problem for future trips, because we’re not doing that again!

It’s always nice to enjoy some time with the hubby and eat some tasty food. Otto’s has a fun, outdoor atmosphere and great beer and food. I would recommend it if you are looking for a place to eat in the Northwoods. 4 out of 5 beer steins!

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Ever since I visited Paris with my family and J a few years back, I’ve been a sucker for anything Parisian. The city itself is so captivating and I try to bring back the memories of that experience whenever I can. Heck, I even decorated our half bath in pink on pink striped walls with Eiffel Tower accents! Now, I have no idea how to “Parlez-vous français”, but I do recognize a bon bistro when I see one. And Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee, WI, is by far one of my all-time favorite restaurants. The restaurant is housed in an old park pavilion and overlooks Lake Michigan. It’s a place full of charm, the service is always impeccable and the food is out of this world.

Luckily for me, my family also loves this place and we have ended up here for several special occasion meals. This past Mother’s Day was one of those meals and it met every expectation. It was so much fun to see S partake in her first LPB experience.

I’d say she enjoyed herself very much…

le croissant

mère et l’enfant

le kiss kiss

bisque de fruits de mer et champagne

beignets de crabe et bloody mary

 les dames

 la famille

un baiser pour grand-papa

et un chiot noir!

 What a great Mother’s Day! It was so nice to spend it with my family and my own mother, while watching S enjoy herself, too!

Thank you ‘google translator’ for your help with this post. I think I just learned more French writing this post than I did while visiting Paris!

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J and I got some time by ourselves last Saturday evening and went out to dinner at Muramoto in Madison. I was impressed from the moment we walked in the door at how packed this place was. It was hoppin’! Housed in the former Cocoliquot restaurant on King Street, Muramoto didn’t need to change much to fit right in with the minimalist decor.

Our meals started with cocktails (as any self-respecting meal should, right?). I had a yummy Japanese version of one of my favorite drinks (cosmo), a  “Shochu Pom” (Shochu, pomegranate, fresh lime) and J tried some saki. (am I the only one who feels the need to say “saki-it to me babe” in an Austin Powers accent every time they hear the word “saki”?)

We decided on two rolls. The Duck (duck, mango, avocado, duck soy redux) and the Deadly Catch (tempura king crab, red tobikko, wasabi mayo).  They sounded good to us and as our waitress said, “how can you go wrong with king crab?” These two actually complimented each other nicely. The duck was sweeter with the mango and the deadly catch was a little more “fishy”, but oh-so-good.

Honestly, these two rolls filled us up and we didn’t feel the need to order anything else. (plus we had plans to get free dessert at Culver’s with the hockey tickets that J got from going to the game last weekend). I was already on my second Sochu Pom and J had ordered another drink as well, so we just decided to sip on those and call it a night. We’re not sure if this fact deflated our perky, outgoing waitress or if she just got really busy with tables, but she barely said boo when she passed us our check. So much for perfect service…

This is a truly great sushi restaurant, as evidenced by the crowded tables and bustling atmosphere. Our rolls were wonderful, full of flavor. I’m sure other items on the menu are just as delicious.  If you just want to pop in for a lunch-time bite, there are seats along the sushi bar, too. I would highly recommend checking out Muramoto if you are a sushi fan, just be sure to make reservations. 

I would give Muramoto 4 out of 5 wine bottles (or should I say saki bottles??)

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but didn’t work for us. Baby items, that is.  (Please see my February Product Rave post for the first half of this topic) From the moment one finds out they are pregnant, one starts imagining all the STUFF that comes along with baby. And once they hand you that price scanning gun at Babyland, you are off, scanning and beeping and hemming and hawing and trying to absorb all of this baby stuff and wonder where it will all possibly fit within the confines of your home.  Of course, there are the items that everyone touts as a NECESSITY for baby. For us, some of those legendary products weren’t worth their weight in salt…or is it gold?.  For example…

The Boppy. I was SURE this would be a great product for me and baby. I even brought this with me to the hospital (along with a ton of other items that I probably could have left at home. I think bellhops are in order in hospitals, don’t you think? Poor J had to lug all that stuff around.)  I found the Boppy to be too cumbersome when trying to nurse S. She sat too high up when she was lying on the Boppy. I found much better elevation from a standard bed pillow. I will admit, however, that the Boppy did get some use from S during lounging time. It was nice to prop her up on something once and awhile.

And then there was this…

The Miracle Blanket. I was so sure this was going to be the answer to our prayers.  I mean, it is, after all, called the MIRACLE blanket. So sure was I that I bought TWO of these blankets.  Boy was I wrong. Since her time in utero, our little lady has always had her hands up by her face and as a baby, she wouldn’t stand for having it any other way. No way was she going to be bound up in some baby straightjacket.

And how could I possibly make it without a BABY SLING, right?

Blue Moon Baby Sling

Wrong. I think I used this a total of two times with S. I just found her swaying around untethered on the bottom a little too wobbly for my tastes, especially when I was trying to make dinner wearing her (as you should be able to do with a sling, right?). I think for future children a Bjorn will be in order (yeah, yeah, another product to buy…). At least baby is strapped to parent a little more in the Bjorn.

I guess the motto of new parents is “You Live and You Learn”. There are so many products out there on the market. And babies are so particular and unique in their needs. What works for one baby might not work with the next. So, needless to say, we are hanging on to these “useless” items for when the time comes for #2. Who knows, maybe we’ll become Miracle Blanket fans with the next one.

Have baby products of your own that you would like to review? Become a member of vocalpoint, write 10 reviews (of qualifying products…baby items are one of them!), and you will get a free $10 Target gift card! click HERE for more info (click on the blue “join now” box if you are not already a member). Reviews must be written between 3/16 and 3/28.  This offer is good until the first 10,000 reviews have been submitted (or until 3/28). 

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We didn’t do much the last day of our stay in Door County…my body is still programmed to wake up by 7:00 a.m. at the latest (because usually there is a little toddler up by then!), so I didn’t really sleep in, but enjoyed taking a leisurely shower and watching some TV in the morning. We checked out of the hotel and made our way back to Fish Creek to partake in the glorious breakfast at The White Gull Inn. They are famous for their coffee cake and the flavor of the day was BLUEBERRY, so we ordered a slice while we looked over the menu and enjoyed our coffee.


You can also find the recipe HERE.

As if our caloric count wasn’t high enough, we both ordered the DOOR COUNTY CHERRY STUFFED FRENCH TOAST (Two golden brown slices of egg bread, with pockets of Wisconsin cream cheese and Door County cherries). I’m not a huge cherry fan, but hey, we were in DC, so I decided to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed, it was fantastic!

I recommend getting here before 9:30 if you don’t want to wait for a table. We were seated right away (arrived around 9), but when we left there was a huge line out the door of people waiting for breakfast.

Our bellies stuffed just like the french toast, we drove back to grandma and grandpa’s house to meet our little lady. I thoroughly enjoyed my time off of mommy duty, but I was so eager to hug and kiss my little lady! She was all smiles when we arrived and seemed to enjoy her time with gamma and gampa.  I think they both wore each other out because S slept the whole way home and my parents told me they took a nap on Sunday afternoon!

Well, that about sums up our mini get-away to Door County. J and I had a great time and are very thankful that my parents could watch little miss S and C-dog for the night!

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We first went to T Ashwell’s a few years ago to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Our meal was fantastic that evening, one of those that stays in your memory for a long, long time. J and I always longed to go back and enjoy a fabulous meal and we got our chance over Valentine’s Day weekend.

The restaurant is located in Ellison Bay (almost at the tip of Door County). When we arrived for our 7:30 reservation, we were greeted by the old farmhouse decked out in white Christmas lights. It looked so pretty. And from the parking lot, you could hear the sounds of the piano playing jazzy tunes.

It was nice and cozy inside the restaurant and we were seated at a tiny table for two near the fireplace. The bartender/maitre d makes a mean cosmopolitan, so we each ordered one.

We ordered the French Pate Tasting (Slices of classic country style pork pate & duck, prune & cognac pate served with cornichons, Dijon mustard, crostini & beet sorbet) for an appetizer. The pate was very good, and the beet sorbet was very interesting. Nice way to clean the palate in between bites.

As happy as we were to be dining at T Ashwells, we commented that we actually enjoyed the pate plate at Sardine in Madison much better.

After our salads, the entrees arrived. I ordered the halibut and J ordered the rack of lamb. He’s been wanting to try lamb for some time and was glad to have the chance at T Ashwell’s.

My entree was good, it had a crab/panko mixture on the top which was very tasty. I wasn’t sure about all the little “extras” on my plate. There was a sweet pea puree, and something with roasted garlic on top. They didn’t really seem to go with the rest of the meal. While there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with my entree, I didn’t feel like it was as spectacular as I was hoping for.

Unfortunately, J was not impressed with his rack of lamb. He ordered it medium, but he felt it was more like medium rare. He also didn’t care for the sauce it came with. Bummer!

While we weren’t totally happy with our meal, we did enjoy the wine and conversation and being able to slow down and enjoy our meal instead of scarfing it down while S was demanding our attention.  We ordered a bottle of an Australian Shiraz “Strong Arms”. 

We opted to not order dessert and enjoy some chocolate covered strawberries back at the hotel…it was a tough choice between the creme brulee or strawberries, but considering they don’t serve espresso at T Ashwell’s we decided to just head back to the hotel. What is creme brulee without espresso??

Unfortunately, T Ashwell’s did not meet our expectations this time…nor did it even come close to the memories we had from a few years ago. I really want to give them a higher rating, but I can only offer 4 out of 5 wine bottles for this one. We didn’t leave completely disappointed though because we were able to enjoy a meal together and that really meant a lot to us. Plus, I’m always willing to give T Ashwell’s another shot. It will just have to be after May because they are closing after this weekend for a few months (non-busy season in DC).

Stay tuned for the final day of our weekend, which includes breakfast at The White Gull Inn.

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Don’t let the strip mall location deter you from visiting this fabulous restaurant. An authentic Spanish restaurant is hard to come by, and I’m afraid that this gem won’t be around for long if people aren’t visiting it. I wish J and I could have date nights more often so we could go here all the time!  If you haven’t been to Tapas Rias yet, put on your flamenco outfit and get thee to this restaurant! You won’t be disappointed.

J and I enjoyed a “date-night re-do” last night while Grandma and Grandpa watched S. (last time we were supposed to have a date night, I got sick 😦 ).  I couldn’t wait to try this restaurant, as I had heard a lot of positive things about it. Now that I’m on the lookout for good deals, I ordered a coupon from MadisonDiscounts.com ($20 off of $40 coupon). It was the first time I had used this site and I was very pleased with how fast my certificate arrived and the ease of use at the restaurant!

As I mentioned before, the restaurant is located in a strip mall, but if you can get past that, you will be rewarded with a great wine selection, extremely attentive wait staff and (the best part), tons of tasty Spanish food. We were planning on ordering a bottle of Spanish wine (who wouldn’t want Spanish wine to go with their Spanish food, right?), but were advised from the bartender who came to our table that the Chilean Carmenere “Casillero del Diablo” was a much better choice. They offered us a taste of both the Spanish Tempranillo and the Carmenere so we could decide. Turns out, the bartender was right, so we ordered a bottle of the Chilean wine.

Our waiter was very helpful in suggesting good tapas to try. This was our first time at a Spanish restaurant, so we weren’t too sure about what to order.  

Our meal included the following plates:

Vieiras a la Plancha (grilled sea scallops w/ saffron)

Garbanzos con Chorizo (spicy garbanzo beans with chorizo sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and cilantro) This was the bartender’s suggestion. He said it would go perfectly with the wine, and he was right again.  I like that bartender!

Albondigas Catalanas (Spanish style meatballs, four meats mixed with pine nuts and WINE. Yum)

Patatas A La Riojana (Spanish style potatoes w/ Spanish sausage)

And for dessert, we ordered the assortment of Spanish cheeses. It was a great way to end the meal and enjoy with the last of the wine in our bottle.

Throughout the meal, our server, along with the bartender and other staff, were very attentive. At one point, J and I were looking around the restaurant, taking in the decor and commenting about certain things and right away, someone was at our table, asking if everything was ok. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal here.  Another plus was that they played the Gypsy Kings CD the entire meal. This happens to be the only Spanish CD that I own (bought it in college), so it was kind of cool to know the music that was playing throughout our meal. Nevermind that when I asked our server if he got tired of listening to the Gypsy Kings all the time, that he said they were OLD.  (ok, so maybe I’m not as cool…or as young…as I thought).

When I asked our server how business had been, he said sometimes people are lined up waiting, and other times hardly anyone is there. I really hope that this place stays in business. It would be such a shame for Madison to lose such a unique restaurant.

As far as rating this restaurant, I rate it 5 out of 5 wine bottles.  Yup, that’s right. This place gets my first ever 5 bottle rating, that’s how good it is!

*I forgot our camera, so the photos you see in this post were found on google images and are not from the restaurant.

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Happy Birthday to Me!

Last Two Wednesday’s ago, I celebrated my 32nd birthday.  I am still getting over the shock of being in my 30’s (that SOUNDS old, but I definitely do not FEEL old!)…(and yes, I considered reversing the “3” and the “2” candles on my birthday cake).  I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful husband, an adorable little daughter, a great family, good friends, and a pretty darn good life! 



 took me out to dinner at Eno Vino, one of my favorite Madison restaurants.  We had a great dinner. 

One of my favorite things about Eno Vino is its basic concept…tiny plates of delectable bites.  The idea is to order a few plates and get a sampling of different flavors (kind of like eating tapas).  Here’s what we ate:

To start, I had a salad: (MIXED GREENS with kalamata olives, red onions, feta and aged balsamic vinaigrette).  It was just what I was looking for, nice Greek-style salad with a tart vinaigrette.










J had soup (CHARRED HOT HOUSE TOMATO: local cheddar, truffled greens and pine nuts), which looked great and he enjoyed very much.










We chose 3 plates to share:


CRAB SPRING ROLLS: with sweet chile sauce and soy lime sauce









TEMPURA SHRIMP: with avocado and tomato puree, arugula and garlic lime soy sauce










BEEF TENDERLOIN CARPACCIO: lemon-shallot vinaigrette, baby arugula, endive, crostini, capers and reggiano









My favorite was the beef carpaccio, then the crab spring rolls (very crabby!), and last would be the shrimp.  I didn’t really care for that one.

For dessert, we shared a creme brulee and each had an espresso.









Happy, Happy Birthday to me!












Something I learned: the little slips of cardboard placed on your table when the drinks arrived ARE NOT advertisements for Vodka.  They are your coat-check slips.  DUH! 


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J and I had a date night last Saturday and tried a new-to-us restaurant on Lake Monona, Sardine.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect about this place since I never hear people talk about it as one of the Madison “hot spots” for restaurants, but the menu sure looked enticing. (Although you’d think it would be on everyone’s list considering how packed it was…I’m glad we made a reservation!)  The restaurant has an open, bistro-style atmosphere with a bar as you enter and tables in the back.  There are a few small tables along the waterfront, but the main dining area is in the back, away from the water. We got to the restaurant a half hour before our reservation, so we sat at the bar and had a drink. (and lucky for you, we brought our camera along this time!)

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We each had one of these. They were yummy.

Once seated at our table we ordered an hors d’oeuvre ( Charcuterie plate soprasetta, prosciutto, saucisson, duck liver mousse, crostini and cornichons) and a bottle of the house red.  The charcuterie plate was fabulous (although they were very skimpy with the crostini…only 4 arrived on our plate with an abundance of meats and spreads) and I was surprised that I liked the duck liver mousse so much.

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Our salads were scrumptious.  It wasn’t a regular salad on the menu, it was one of the specials our waitress mentioned.  It had roasted beets of various colors and a crostini with goat cheese. 

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Next up…our entrees.  I had the sole (Pan-seared sole, sauté of new potatoes, summer squash, bacon lardons and wilted spinach) and J had the salmon (Grilled salmon over French lentils with sautéed spinach, portobello mushroom, tomato and beurre blanc).  Both were very good, although I felt like they weren’t spectacular.  After a great lead-up with the hours d’oeuvre and salad, we were slightly disappointed with the entrees. 

Any blah-ness we felt about our entrees quickly vanished when we looked at the dessert menu. We each ordered an espresso, I got the creme brulee and J got a chocolate ganache cake. 

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We were surprised when our espressos arrived without our desserts, and wanting to savor the two together, we waited a bit before downing the hot cup of deliciousness before us.  After about 5 minutes and still no sign of dessert, we decided to go ahead and drink the espresso before it got too cold.  Once our desserts arrived (finally!) we each ordered another espresso, you know, to go with our desserts.  Kind of irritating, but we didn’t put up a fuss.  My creme brulee was fantastic, rich and creamy…yummy!  I didn’t taste J’s chocolate wedge, but it looked devine. 

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Well, there you have it folks, another restaurant down in our quest to eat our way through Madison.  I give Sardine 4 out of 5 wine bottles.

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