Every day is a good day for foodies in the city of Madison. Wisconsin’s capital is home to about 310?non-franchise restaurants — that’s more original eateries per capita than any other city in the Midwest.
But the dish on Madison Restaurant Week, running from July 26 to July 31, is different. Those six days mean Madisonians with even the most basic level of gourmandise can step out and enjoy the culinary fare for a reasonable price.
Madison Restaurant Week first left?its mark on Madison in January?2007 after it was introduced by?Madison Magazine. The event is modeled after the simple concept laid out by San Diego’s?Restaurant Week: Give people the opportunity to enjoy the food they’ve been dying to try at relatively bare bones prices.
In Madison, diners pay just $25 for dinner?or $15 for lunch?and receive?a three-course meal at Madison’s — and perhaps the Midwest’s — premiere dining establishments.
?And while $25 may seem steep for the average college student’s budge, comparatively, San Diego’s Restaurant Week prices can?run around $40?and a two-course meal at participating restaurant Harvest (21 N Pickney St.) can cost twice as much. Still, Madison Magazine’s Marketing Director Tiffany Thom assured quality is of the utmost importance when selecting the participating eateries.
“[Madison Magazine picks] the top 30 in the market,” Thom said. “When we talk about top, it’s really the people who put out the best menu.”
About six months of work and nearly 200 hours go into?the planning stages for?Madison Restaurant Week, sponsored by Sysco Foods and partnered with local restaurant coalition Madison Originals, a considerable amount of thought goes into creating the event.
“We want variety, we want people to get out there and try different things,” Thom said. “What we’re trying to do is give people an opportunity for people to go out and try different things.”
This year, Madison Restaurant Week showcases the cuisine of 30 different restaurants, from the quirky, contemporary cuisine at Bluephies Restaurant and Vodkatorium (2701 Monroe St.) to Liliana’s Restaurant (2951 Triverton Pike, Fitchburg), which features three separate menus with Bayou, Cajun or French Quarter themes.
However, one of Madison’s most celebrated restaurants and Sante Magazine’s “Culinary Hospitality of the Year” award-winner, L’Etoile (25 N. Pinckney St.), is notably absent from Madison Restaurant Week’s line-up this time around. L’Etoile opted out of the summer event because the restaurant manages to pull in a considerable number of patrons in the summer months due to its location on Capitol Square.
“They’ll be back again for winter,” Thom guaranteed.
?But new players have stepped up to the (dinner) plate to take its place. Recently opened Zander’s Capitol Grill (118 State St.) offers a diverse menu including a cheese curd appetizer, a Kobe beef entr?e and a cinnamon apple empanada for dessert. Blue Spoon Caf? (2831 Parmenter St., Middleton), owned by Culver’s Frozen Custard Restaurant co–founders Craig and Lea Culver, also makes its Restaurant Week debut featuring a rustic, Italian-themed menu.
In the end, Thom said?Madison Restaurant Week is a winning situation for all involved, treating the diners to some high-quality fare and also helping out restaurant staff during the times of the year when “business really sucked.”
?”Restaurant week is a great success for everyone,” she said. “There are restaurants who have business finally. We actually find that the servers, the wait ?staff, also like the event. … I hope that this is an opportunity to showcase their restaurants and increase their business throughout the rest of the year.”
?And the twice-a-year event helps, according to Monty Schiro, president of Food Fight Inc., which manages five of the 30 participating Restaurant Week establishments including fresco (227 State St. on top of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) and Ocean Grill (117 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.).
“It’s great exposure. Certainly, you’re busy,” Schiro said.
Despite the event’s overwhelming popularity — some restaurants book up weeks in advance for high-traffic weekend evenings — Schiro said he is not optimistic Madison Restaurant Week itself is enough to keep struggling businesses afloat given the economy’s current downturn.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to make their payroll on two weeks of the year,” Schiro said. “I think people like doing it because it’s fun for the chef –?they get to play with three little courses.”
The chefs may be having fun, but so are the patrons. Whether it’s “serious” food or seriously fun fare that will be?showcased from July 26 to July 31, Madison Restaurant Week attendees are sure to eat it up with a spoon.
For more information about Madison Restaurant Week and to view the menus of participating restaurants, visit www.madisonmagazine.com/summerrestaurantweek. To read about Sarah’s “best bets” for the week, visit www.badgerherald.com/thebeatgoeson.