Despite the colder temperatures and ucky roads, Justin and I really enjoyed our time in Madison. We walked a lot, ate a lot, and saw a lot. Here is what we did and where we went, and what we would highly recommend for other downtown Madison visitors.
We stayed at the Downtown Madison Hyatt Place, which Justin found highly reviewed online. The location could not be beat for what we wanted to do and where we wanted to spend our time – right downtown. The hotel was only 3 blocks from the capitol building, a block and a half from the Overture Center for the Arts, and 3 blocks from State Street. Even with the cold weather and rain and snow, it was easy enough to walk around. Super convenient. The hotel was recently remodeled and really has a nice sheen about it. The staff were incredibly helpful and knowledgable, both about the hotel services and the downtown area. The hotel included a lot of things in the room rate that higher end hotels typically charge even more for, like wi-fi, a continental breakfast, newspapers, etc. The one extra charge was for covered parking, though as parking is at a premium in downtown ANYWHERE, this didn’t put us out. There was also a very nice indoor pool and a fitness center with some nice machines and free weights. The guest rooms were exceptionally comfortable and well laid out. The room is somewhat split into a seating/desk/mini-fridge area and the bedroom/bathroom/closet area. There was a room divider/half wall in between the areas, which almost made the room feel more like a suite than a typical hotel room. The VERY LARGE flat screen tv was against the wall and could be rotated to be viewed easily from the (large, comfortable, convertible) couch or the bed. We would definitely recommend this hotel to others, and would plan to stay here again when in town visiting.
Our first evening in Madison we made reservations at Nostrano. I had very recently read that the chef, Tim Dahl, had been nominated to Food & Wine Magazine’s list of Peoples Best New Chef of 2011. We showed up a bit earlier than our reservation time, and they happily seated us. Granted, it was a Monday night and early, but this still made us happy. We ordered two appetizers to start, the Charcuterie Plate and the Sea Scallops. Both were excellent, though the turkey rillettes and pate campagnola were definitely our favorites (or as we laughingly described as the turkey spread and cold meatloaf with nuts). For our entrees I ordered the Cauliflower Chitarra, which was a freshly made pasta with roasted cauliflower, a poached egg, sweet garlic, and pecorino cheese, and Justin ordered the Braised Short Ribs, served with gnocchi and swiss chard. Both were delicious, though the short ribs won out when compared. The entrees and appetizers are very reasonably sized, and I think this is done to encourage the ordering of dessert. I had also read the chef had been trained as a pastry chef, and that skipping dessert would mean missing out on some great things. And since we can never agree on dessert, we each ordered one. And holy smokes, it would have been a shame not to have experienced what we had! Justin ordered Copetta, which was comprised of buttermilk gelato served over toffee pudding, bananas, and pistachios. And it was incredibly delicious. And I ordered the Affogato, which was Caramel Gelato, sprinkled with sea salt and a shot of espresso poured over the top, and served alongside cornmeal bomboli (aka awesome donuts). And mine won. Hands down. The sea salt with the caramel gelato was like a shot on my tongue, and as it melted into the espresso, became a jolt to my usually caffeine-deprived brain. The mini donuts, when dipped into the caramel-y, salty, melty espresso was divine. We were both glad we didn’t hold back.
On Tuesday evening we walked over to The Old Fashioned with Justin’s parents and his brother Luke and Luke’s fiance Cheyanne. It definitely had the Pub feel down pat, with dark wood trim, tables, and bar, and a laid back atmosphere. The menu is pretty substantial, though rather than naming their items, everything is simply numbered in order of appearance on the menu. Makes ordering, and I’m sure order taking, a breeze. We started with some deep fried cheese curds, which were fantastic and not overly breaded or heavy. We all ordered something different, from Justin’s mac and cheese to my pulled pork with melted muenster cheese sandwich. Everyone’s plates were as closed to clean as you can get. And the pickles served on the side were excellent – I polished mine off, and then proceed to munch on Justin’s, John’s, and Sarah’s. The sandwiches were very affordable, especially for their size and the fact that they included sides (fries, a lettuce salad, or potato salad).
After dinner and a quick walk through the Capitol to see the activity, the six of us headed over to the Overture Center for the Arts to see Young Frankenstein, which was really the main reason we had come down to Madison in the first place. The show was running a bit late, so we sat in the lobby, talked about the protesting, posed for Sarah’s camera, and simply visited and laughed together. Once we were allowed in, we were struck by just how big the auditorium is. Our tickets were for the front row in the balcony. So we were HIGH up, but had a great view of the stage, as well as the auditorium in general. The show was fantastic, and the actors and musicians did an exceptional job. Mel Brooks certainly has a remarkable sense of humor and the actors and actresses pulled it off flawlessly. Though Brooks also is not at all subtle in the innuendo department as there would certainly be a lot of explaining to do for children, or hoping that they wouldn’t repeat anything they heard but may not have understood! Could make some parent-teacher conferences a bit awkward. It really was a lot of fun, and we would definitely like to see some future productions at the Overture.
In all, we had all hits and no misses on this month’s mini-getaway. It was great to be out of town for a couple of days, though we are already knee deep in the normal life happenings, after meetings this afternoon and evening with the accountant and other business owners regarding the upcoming Square Reconstruction. Back into the thick of it!