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Been to L'Etoile, Madison, WI lately?

Been to L'Etoile, Madison, WI lately?
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  • Been to L'Etoile, Madison, WI lately?

    Post #1 - July 7th, 2005, 9:04 pm
    Post #1 - July 7th, 2005, 9:04 pm Post #1 - July 7th, 2005, 9:04 pm
    My husband and I lived in Madison, WI for two years in the early 90's. We were fresh out of college in Ohio and Madison was a land of culinary "firsts" for us. Our first exposure to Thai food (Bahn Thai,) first taste of middle eastern cuisne (Kabul on State St.,) my first job in the restaurant industry (making "Brittany buns" and other pastries at the now defunct (?)Ovens of Brittany....) We talked about going to L' Etoile a few times but it remained outside of our fresh-out-college dining budget.
    Next week is our 10th wedding anniversary and we are travelling back to Madison to celebrate with a Sat. night reso at L' Etoile. I found some posts from last year but was wondering if anyone could share a more recent experience? Cheese course vs. dessert, or both? Recommendations from their wine list? I would also appreciate any thoughts on Sunday brunch. We will be staying at the Concourse and would like to be able to walk somewhere.
    Thanks in advance and I will report back on L'Etoile.
  • Post #2 - July 12th, 2005, 1:13 pm
    Post #2 - July 12th, 2005, 1:13 pm Post #2 - July 12th, 2005, 1:13 pm
    My wife and I also lived in Madison during our poorer days in the 90's. We went to L'Etiole 3 weeks ago for the second time (last one 8 years ago) and absolutely loved it. The cheese plate is great, I'm sure, but the chocolate soufflee cake w/ warm center really shouldn't be missed. We ordered a delicious and reasonable Chenin Blanc for 46 dollars, based on the manager's recommendation. Service was wonderful.
  • Post #3 - July 15th, 2005, 9:23 pm
    Post #3 - July 15th, 2005, 9:23 pm Post #3 - July 15th, 2005, 9:23 pm

    FYI, Edward Behr, in The Art of Eating, reports "Chef Odessa Piper has sold her restaurant L'Etoile to the restaurants chef de cuisine, Tory Miller, and his sister, Traci Miller."

    While I received this issue (# 69) of The Art of Eating today, it's a quarterly publication and the information may be old hat to some.

    There's a couple of interesting articles about Montreal as well.

    Hold my beer . . .

    Low & Slow
  • Post #4 - July 17th, 2005, 12:53 pm
    Post #4 - July 17th, 2005, 12:53 pm Post #4 - July 17th, 2005, 12:53 pm
    I go to school in Madison, but on a college student's budget, L'Etoile is a little out of my reach. I might be able to afford a croissant from the downstairs cafe, but there's always a line out the door. Anyway, I know Tory Miller has worked for Odessa for awhile before he and his sister bought the restaurant and I'm sure he's carrying on her traditions. Whenever I go home for the weekends, I always see Tory at the farmer's market across the street (at 7 a.m. or earlier), so I know he's also very committed to using fresh local produce like Odessa. Hope you have a good experience there!

    P.S. If you are going to be in Madison in the morning, I would recommend going to the farmer's market to sample cheeses there (most of the cheeses they serve for dessert come from dairies that sell at the market). Then, you can decide whether you want the cheese or the sweets. :D
  • Post #5 - July 17th, 2005, 6:59 pm
    Post #5 - July 17th, 2005, 6:59 pm Post #5 - July 17th, 2005, 6:59 pm
    Thanks to all for your input! I am happy to report that the husband and I had a nearly flawless dining experience at L'Etoile last night. We were sat at a table in front of the second story window overlooking the state capital building and square - lovely. Our server immediately brought out 2 amuses of house-made crackers topped with herb butter and toasted hickery nuts. As we were celebrating, we decided some bubbly was in order and went with glasses of the Spanish Cava. Husband ordered the Frisee salad w/ poached egg and lardons to start and I chose the Summer Squash "Ravioli" w/ cheese-stuffed squash blossom. We had spent the morning wandering around the Madison farmers market and saw tons of fresh zucchini, yellow squash, and a few squash blossoms, so chances are, we had walked right past Chef Miller at some point. While we waited for our first course to arrive, a second amuse came out - a skewar of thinly sliced, rare beef tenderloin w/ chimichurri and micro-greens. The beef melted on the tongue like butter.
    The "ravioli" were hand formed and more like thin, crispy, wonton turnovers than traditional pasta ravioli. Very good.
    For our entrees, husband chose the Sirloin which was 7oz. and served with the tiniest roasted baby red-skinned potatoes, haricot vert and a pinot noir sauce. I had the Brioche-crusted Sea Scallops w/garlic kale, fresh linguine and a lemon beurre blanc. The three huge scallops were wonderful but I really could have been happy with a big plate of the garlic kale with the lemon butter sauce - the kale was that good. We chose a half-bottle of California Pinot Noir for our entrees that was big enough to hold up to the steak, but didn't overwhelm my scallops.
    This brings us to the cheese.....when in Wisconsin.. :lol: We chose three cheeses to share - a three-year aged goat, a sheep bleu, and a 14-year aged Cheddar. All good, but the Cheddar was amazing - creamy and rich - I can taste it again just thinking about it! Cheese was served with some toasted raisin walnut bread and another crusty white bread. My only, and very minor complaint, was that there was no fruit, fresh and/or dried, served with the cheese. We had glasses of Quinta de Crasto late-bottled vintage port with the cheese.
    At this point, you might think that we would just have some coffee and be on our way....but no. We summoned up enough strength to share a dessert. As much as I wanted to heed the chocolate advice, the best we could manage was the wonderfully refreshing combo of mango sherbert and rosemary sorbet topped with a dollop of toasted meringue. Perhaps if we had been able to stop ourselves from consuming shared appetizers of goat cheese and black olive bruschetta and fried calamari at Cafe Continental that afternoon we would have had room for the cake! :oops:
    Service was both friendly and professional. Sorry this got so long! Lynn
  • Post #6 - May 2nd, 2006, 11:37 am
    Post #6 - May 2nd, 2006, 11:37 am Post #6 - May 2nd, 2006, 11:37 am
    My husband and I have a vacation home about an hour from Madison and I have been wanting to try L'Etoile but held off after Odessa sold the restaurant. After reading a glowing review in the Milwaukee Journal we decided to try it last Saturday night. Our meal was absolutely amazing! I wish they would open a restaurant in the Chicago area.

    Our great waiter started us with an amuse of home-made walnut cracker topped with goat cheese and a couple of toasted walnuts. We could have eaten tons of those crackers.

    I had a glass of a Reisling that the waiter recomended. I wish I could remember the name as it was very good. My husband had a glass of Pinot Noir which he also enjoyed. This is the only restaurant that we have every been to that brought the bottle and poured a tasting for our approval when only ordering a glass. Very nice touch.

    Our second amuse sounded weird but in fact was very good. Cottage cheese mixed with buttermilk with some silvered asparagas and toasted sesame seeds on top and drizzled with sesame oil.

    My husband had the tuna tartar special appetizer. It was one of the best that he has ever eaten. The tuna was chunky and it was topped with an Asian slaw. I couldn't decide between a couple of the salads or the shiitake mushroom soup with Pleasant Ridge Reserve Gnocchi, sherry-mushroom broth & black truffle oil. Our waiter highly recommended the soup which he described as a broth but not waterly with an intense flavor. Was he right! The soup was rich with a hearty aroma of the mushrooms and the gnocchi just added to the ejoyment.

    I was going to order the local trout special but they were already out of it. Now we had a 6:15 dinner reservation so I could't understand how they could be out of that already. So I ordered the lemon-herb roasted Alaskan halibut with mashed potatoes with Snug Haven spinach. Chef Miller sure knows how to cook fish. It was done perfectly. Probably one of the best pieces of halibut I have ever eaten. My husband ordered the sirloin cut of the local grass-fed Scottish Highland Beef from Fountain Prairie Farm without the Tarragon and Bone Marrow Compound Butter. It also came with mashed potatoes, Snug Haven Spinach, and Red Wine Demi-Glace. The meat was sliced thinly like a flank steak. He said it was delicious and extremely tender although he couldn't see any difference in flavor from the grass-fed meat.

    We shared the mango sorbet which had graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of the glass and was topped with Bruléed Italian Meringue and a tiny home-made graham cracker. Our waiter told us that Chef Miller was really excited to see mangos at the market that morning which is why the sorbet was mango instead of the usual lemon meyer. It was extremely creamy with an intense mango flavor and the meringue and graham cracker crumbs were delicious with it.

    My only complaint is that a mother, father, their newborn baby and a couple that might have been the grandparents came in to the restaurant who probably didn't have a reservation as they were seated at the bar counter for dinner. The baby cried throughout the entire evening and the father would only take it to the area near the hostess station to try to quiet it thus bringing the crying infant even closer to the dining room area where we were seated. The restaurant is very small so we could hear the baby even when it was at the bar. If he had taken the baby downstairs it wouldn't have been so bad but this group was inconsiderate. When you are having dinner in a fine dining establishment and paying a lot of money for your meal, I don't think you should be subjected to crying infants. The parents were wrong in going to L'Etoile with their infant and I think the restaurant should have denied them seating in fairness to the rest of their customers.

    Other than that, the food was very enjoyable and we made another reservation for dinner in June.
  • Post #7 - June 18th, 2007, 10:09 am
    Post #7 - June 18th, 2007, 10:09 am Post #7 - June 18th, 2007, 10:09 am
    My boyfriend and I celebrated our anniversary and my birthday in Madison this past weekend. I really like Madison.


    We had dinner at L'Etoile, which I guess was Madison's answer to Chez Panisse and Alice Waters.


    This was my first visit to L'Etoile, so I can't say how it's changed since the Millers took over, but we were very pleased with our dinner. We had a 5:00 reservation. As the first seating, we were given probably the best table in the house, at the windows, overlooking the capitol grounds.


    We were first served a canape of a house-made cracker topped with an herbed fromage blanc and hickory nut. The cracker was very buttery and fell apart almost too easily, but like Bigmamma and her husband (noted earlier in this thread), my boyfriend and I could have joyfully eaten a few dozen more of these things.


    Next, we were served an amuse of macerated strawberries from that morning's farmers' market, tarragon, creme fraiche and greens. The amuse was pleasant enough, probably the most uninteresting part of the meal. I love tarragon, but I had trouble detecting it in this instance. In general, I'm not a big fan of macerated berries.


    For an appetizer, my boyfriend ordered the carpaccio of tenderloin with shaved baby fennel, French breakfast radish, sugar snap peas, shaved Stravecchio cheese, red wine vinaigrette and micro sorrel. It was delightful.


    For entrees, I had the wild Alaskan sockeye salmon with white asparagus and chevre gnocchi, morel mushrooms, baby leeks, baby carrots, baby turnips and black truffle butter. This dish was satisfying all-around. My favorite part was the leeks. For no good reason, I rarely eat leeks, but in this dish, they were the perfect compliment to the fish in taste and texture.


    My boyfriend ordered the red snapper with garlic scapes, green and yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, baby fennel, capers, lemon and grape must. He was also very satisfied with his entree. He said the tomatoes were superb. He regretted not finding the capers in his first bites of the dish, but this was hardly a complaint.


    We ended our meal with a selection of three cheeses: a 24-month-aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheddar from Uplands, a cocoa cardona from Carr Valley and a fleurie noir from Fantome Farm. I love cheese, and I'm ashamed to say that I've really not made an effort to explore artisanal cheeses. This is going to change because of my visit to L'Etoile. The Pleasant Ridge Reserve was the best-tasting, most velvety cheddar I've ever had. The cocoa cardona was very smooth in a different way, and possessed a flavor entirely new to me (a good thing). I thought the fleurie noir was going to be softer than it was, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I am determined to return to L'Etoile to do the complete cheese tasting of 19 cheeses with the late harvest wine flight.


    With our cheese course, my boyfriend ordered the 1994 Niepoort Colheita. I'm not a big drinker and not very knowledgeable, but I loved this port! It was very prune-y.


    Overall, we had a very good experience at L’Etoile. I’d gladly return for another dinner but will definitely go back for the cheese and perhaps dessert. It turned out to be very fortuitous that we passed on dessert because after dinner we had tickets to Much Ado About Nothing at Spring Green. With very circuitous Mapquest directions, we arrived just minutes before the play began and had to run up the hill to the theater. If I had eaten dessert or even just had more of my boyfriend’s port, I definitely would not have made it!
  • Post #8 - June 18th, 2007, 12:00 pm
    Post #8 - June 18th, 2007, 12:00 pm Post #8 - June 18th, 2007, 12:00 pm
    I met Chef Miller @ the Willow Creek Farms stand at the market. I was asking the WC guys about their pork, and what was their best cut, because I work at my family's restaurant nearby in Rockford and was looking for some heritage pork products. He suggested the L'Etoile cut - a 1.5 inch bone-in chop.

    When I asked how he suggested I cook it, he simply directed me to the man standing next to me, the head chef of L'Etoile.
    Tory was very nice and graciously told me the L'etoile method: brine for 2 days, pan sear or grill hard on both sides, then stand the chop up on the bone in the oven to finish cooking. They came out great.

    He was a super nice guy, even at 7am, & I would love to check out L'Etoile in the future.
  • Post #9 - June 18th, 2007, 12:35 pm
    Post #9 - June 18th, 2007, 12:35 pm Post #9 - June 18th, 2007, 12:35 pm
    I would really like to know the name of your family's restaurant in Rockford that's serving heritage pork.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #10 - June 18th, 2007, 12:38 pm
    Post #10 - June 18th, 2007, 12:38 pm Post #10 - June 18th, 2007, 12:38 pm
    Great, great post!

    When we were in Madison about a month or so ago, we seriously considered L'Etoile, but decided to go the other way, the casual, Old Fashion next door. I liked our meal at OF a lot, but your post/pics make me rue our decision!

    I've never had anything from Uplands besides the Pleasant Ridge; I'm anxious to try. The fresh goat cheese at Fantome, at least what's sold at the market, is by far, the best goat cheese I've ever had.

    A lot of places talk the local talk, but L'Etoile really delivers.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #11 - June 23rd, 2008, 7:42 am
    Post #11 - June 23rd, 2008, 7:42 am Post #11 - June 23rd, 2008, 7:42 am
    We were back at L'Etoile on Saturday, and while our meal was good overall, we were less impressed on all counts on this visit. Everything seemed a little sloppy. The wait staff started out very attentive to the fact that we needed to be done with our meal a little after six in order to get to Spring Green on time for an 8pm performance. Multiple staff asked us about our theater plans, what time we needed to leave... Everything moved along fine until our cheese course, which seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to order and then receive. The kitchen apparently forgot one of our cheeses, and then our waitress disappeared. We had to get up and find her so that we could pay the bill.

    They were still setting up the dining room when we arrived for our 5pm reservation, so we started with drinks at the bar. My boyfriend ordered a Patent Pending, which was beer (I don't remember which one) poured into a mojito. This was about as enjoyable as a Budweiser Chelada, which I had the misfortune of also trying this past weekend. The Patent Pending tasted of very watered down orange. It was not pleasant at all. Fortunately, the drink I ordered, a Dillinger's Dilemma--lavender and ginger in a lime fizz--was excellent. The flavors were well-balanced, and it was extremely refreshing.

    The amuse bouche of the evening was roasted baby beets, tossed in a fig balsamic vinaigrette and topped with chèvre, toasted almonds and micro basil.


    I think this was my favorite course of the evening. The beets were cooked perfectly, the vinaigrette not overly sweet, and the basil packed a punch. The preparation was simple and the flavors clean and distinct.

    My boyfriend started with the Hidden Springs sheep's milk gnocchi with braised Willow Creek Farm pork shoulder ragout, Heck's sweet peas and Sung Haven tomato sauce, topped with Fantôme Farm 3 year-aged Boulot and Garden To Be Micro Basil.


    I didn't try this dish, but my boyfriend said it was outstanding, that he would have enjoyed his experience at L'Etoile more if he had ordered the gnocchi with pork as an entree.

    I had the Wild Copper River Sockeye salmon roasted on a spiced cedar plank, served with Black Earth Valley sugar snap peas, truffled sunchoke puree, pearl onions & Willow Creek Farm Bacon Lardons, topped with Pinot Noir compound butter.


    My boyfriend said that he thought that our food on Saturday, with the exception maybe of the beets, got lost in the garnish. This assessment definitely applied to the salmon. All of the ingredients seemed really fresh, but the flavors of the dish were muted and murky...overall unremarkable. The pearl onions were amazing though--unfortunately, not enough to carry the entree.

    The other entree we ordered was the lamb two ways--Grass is Greener Farm panko-crusted braised shoulder with olive oil, poached fennel and Niçoise olives & Sylvan Meadows curry-roasted chop with Moroccan-style couscous and spring vegetables.


    Again, this dish was OK, but I think it's problematic that we agreed that the coucous was the best part. We had a particularly hard time discerning the panko crust, which was mushy, and neither of us could taste any curry.

    We ended our meal with four cheeses: Capri St. Felix, Saxon Saxony, Bleu Mont Earth Schmier and Hooks' 15-year cheddar.


    The first two were not memorable, but I was very impressed with the Earth Schmier, though it was less pungent than our waitress led me to believe. The 15-year cheddar was also very pleasant for its velvety texture.

    I hope that our experience on Saturday was just an off night for the restaurant and not a signal of its decline. I think we'll likely take a break from L'Etoile next year, but I think it's still a worthwhile stop for a special occasion dinner in greater Madison.
  • Post #12 - March 4th, 2013, 1:58 pm
    Post #12 - March 4th, 2013, 1:58 pm Post #12 - March 4th, 2013, 1:58 pm
    Any recent reports on L'Etoile?
  • Post #13 - March 5th, 2013, 5:10 pm
    Post #13 - March 5th, 2013, 5:10 pm Post #13 - March 5th, 2013, 5:10 pm
    My husband and I had dinner there in the fall. We have a vacation home an hour drive from Madison and we try to get to L'Etoile at least once a year. Sorry but I can't remember what we ate but everything was delicious. I love their current space with the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Capitol. Much nicer than their original 2nd floor restaurant.
  • Post #14 - August 16th, 2015, 7:27 pm
    Post #14 - August 16th, 2015, 7:27 pm Post #14 - August 16th, 2015, 7:27 pm
    Based on our dinner this past Friday, L'Etoile is humming along and doing very well. The seven course tasting menu has no molecular gastronomy (not that there is anything wrong with that) and no unusual ingredients or taste combinations. No one is trying to innovate here. They simply find excellent, mostly local, ingredients, and prepare perfectly executed, highly tasty, food.