Effortlessly melding French class with a healthy dose of rustic charm, Sardine, located at 617 Williamson St., is a trendy French-American bistro, and it manages to delight the palates and unfailing expectations of culinary enthusiasts plate by plate. Whether in search of decadent brunch offerings or more savory dinner entrees, Sardine is sure to impress any quality food-seeking individual with its menu of locally-sourced and Parisian-influenced dishes. Inconspicuously situated along Madison’s Lake Monona in the city’s Machinery Row district, Sardine undoubtedly raises the bar to earn its place among the best in Madison’s food scene.
The inner portion of the restaurant is inherently unassuming in character and for the most part relies on natural wood elements, while of course taking advantage of the views offered by Sardine’s lakeside locale. A defining feature of the restaurant’s ambiance is the large wooden beams that traverse the length of the ceiling and bind assorted half-walls and brick facades that serve to apportion the dining area into various subdivisions. The amalgam of earthiness and a refined touch of class invariably deems the interior space a rustic warehouse of sorts, making Sardine the perfect backdrop for an innately distinct dining experience.
A sheer glance at the ingenious menu will enthuse the senses and riddle the mind to such an extent that skimming each listed entree will most likely result in an unprecedented level of indecision and self-doubt. To illustrate, a main source of Sardine’s rising popularity lies with the glorious execution of its weekend brunch. Now, the institution of “brunch” in itself presents quite the conundrum in that it forces diners to face the weighty decision of sweet or savory and, more explicitly, breakfast or lunch. Then add to this the fact that Sardine’s brunch menu consists of nothing but exceptionally delicious offerings and the former indecision subsequently escalates. And yet, this initial “struggle” is singular in nature, for straight after the first bite of whatever dish you have chosen, the earlier hesitation and reservations in settling on a meal are conclusively unfounded and without warrant. Each selection is sure to defy preconceived notions regarding the flavors of the various meals due to the level of mastery with which each item is prepared.
Omelettes are artfully crafted with flavor variations ranging from the simplistic to the increasingly indulgent. Fine herbs, Gruyere cheese, spinach, roasted cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, bacon, arugula, brie cheese, crimini mushrooms and scallions—all of these effectively define decadence. Sardine’s brunch menu also flaunts such dishes as a warm duck confit salad, as well as steamed mussels, Norwegian salmon and the ever-popular croque monsieur sandwich with Bayonne ham and Gruyere cheese. These savory selections are brilliantly supplemented with a few sugary concoctions that manage to find their way onto the same menu in a welcome fashion. One such dish is the buckwheat Belgian waffle that is served with a whipped cinnamon orange butter, sliced banana and pure maple syrup—absolutely shining as a collective with its refreshing citrus notes and satisfying sweetness.
As a whole, Sardine succeeds on all levels. Enticing its patrons with a delicious array of French-inspired classics that satisfy both palate-wise and visually, Sardine will leave anyone feeling graced with the pleasure of having dined at one of Madison’s top bistros.