L’Etoile Restaurant, a Star indeed!

I became familiar with E’toile Restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, many years ago.  At that time, chef/owner Odessa Piper taught cooking classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill.  Her passion for seeking out local ingredients was unbridled.  As the cooking school coordinator at the time, she’d have me foraging all over town (virtually, mind you until I found it) for a particular ingredient.  I came to appreciate her passion for seeking out what was local, sustainable, and when possible organic.

When a recent trip to Madison was confirmed, my first call was to E’toile for reservations.  This was based on the reputation of Chef Piper, though I knew she had retired several years ago.  Her chef de cuisine, Tory Miller, has now taken over the helm as both chef and co-owner of the restaurant.

We arrived on a crisp Friday evening, by walking a block from our hotel.  Having never been to the original E’toile, I have nothing to compare the new location to the former, but I must say that the current setting is lovely with its modern, yet comfortable setting.  Regardless of where you might sit, a view of the Wisconsin capitol, it’s beautiful architecture, and the square on which it sits is set before you.  For some reason I was intrigued by the gorgeous gray carpeting, embossed with what I imagined to be tree trunks and branches.  The tables, covered in white linen, were set comfortably close.  And, the balcony in the back allowed a view through the floor to ceiling windows at the front.

While we pursued the menu, I enjoyed an E’toile Kir made with their very own house-made currant syrup.  Jon savored “The Mitchell Report”, an aperitif of Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, house-made pear reduction and muddled sage.  Throwing caution to the wind, I decided on the five-course tasting menu with wine pairings, while Jon decided on three-courses from the menu.

On this particular night, the Amuse Bouche was a West Star Farm Salsify chowder, shiitake mushroom duxelle, with an Old Bay-seasoned oyster cracker. It was paired with a Marc Hebrart, Mareuil-sur-Ay Champagne.  My only complaint was that I could not have two servings.  Jon wouldn’t share!

I make a lot of crazy things at home, but it is very unlikely that I would ever make pork head cheese.  Since it was an option, I went for it and enjoyed immensely the Mangalitsa pork head cheese, with a sauce gribiche, mâche salad, and gaufrettes while sipping a 2009  Sinnean Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand.  My fork did wander over to Jon’s plate and his Shooting Star Farm French breakfast and beauty heart radish salad, with parsley leaves, and red onion, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette and served with a Capri Farm Five-Points Reserve Cheese.

Mid-course was upon us and to the delight of my my senses, I relished the Cocco bucatini all’Amatriciana, Maine lobster, house-cured pancetta, herb salad, with a sweet onion-tomato sauce.  This time the perfect pairing was a Jean Marc Boillot, Chataliene Vineyard, Rully, Burgundy France, 2008.  I offered to trade a morsel of what I was enjoying for a taste of Jon’s Blue Ribbon sunny-side-up duck egg, celery root-potato hash, smoked shallot puree, confit of chicken gizzards, with a spicy hollandaise.  Okay, so maybe it was two bites, just to get all the flavor components in my memory.   I’ve since  recreated this breakfast staple turned gourmet dinner delight at home.

Farm-raised daurade, scallion-potato cakes, Shooting Star bok choy, pea vine salad, summer truffle vinaigrette, with a sauce Choron was my “plat”.    Accompanying this deliciousness on a plate was a Bernabeleva “Navaherreros” (Grenache), Madrid Spain 2008.  Jon enjoyed his Fountain Prairie Fram dry-aged ribeye, “loaded” mashed potatoes, mushroom-broccoli ragout, horseradish-garlic compound butter, with a cabernet jus.  As good as his was, I think top scores went to my third course.

We shared a cheese course which included a Fantôme Farm “Moreso”, a Blue Mont Dairy “Earth Schmier” and a Hooks 15 Yr. Cheddar.  Somebody please tell me why we here in Minnesota cannot purchase these wonderful delights?  We are not that far from the border.

Last but not least, I enjoyed a Cordillera chocolate pâte, caramelized fennel, honey-citrus ice cream, cocoa biscotti with a “New York Malmsey” from The Rare Wine Company Historic Madeira Series.  Jon decided on the Door County Barnard cherry cake with maple creme anglaise, cherry-vanilla coulis, maple-cayenne tuile.

Everything about the evening was perfect from the moment we walked in the door.  The waitstaff was top-notch and the meal impeccable.  I could go on rhapsodically about the food, but the menu changes very often.  What we enjoyed would most likely not be available again, as the local availability of produce and other ingredients is always changing.   True to his reputation of  local sourcing, there was a Tory spotting the next morning during our wandering around the farmer’s market.  It was likely that he was picking out what was the freshest for the menu that evening.

To my pleasant surprise a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine featured E’toile, along with some of Chef Miller’s recipes and he philosophy of cooking.  If you are ever in Madison, WI, E’toile is a must stop. In the meantime check out the article.

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