Round-the-Clock Date

Last Saturday, the Mister and I returned to Madison for an epic day-through-evening date. We had a few gift certificates from our wedding to redeem (thanks to Mark, Petra, and Mary!), so we made a list of some of our favorite haunts and made a day (and night) of it.

We started the morning at Marigold Kitchen, our all-time favorite breakfast spot (not just in Madison - quite possibly the world). When we lived in Madison and wanted a special breakfast, special box of baked goods, special brunch, or special lunch, we'd head to Marigold.

The place is always packed, and yesterday was no different. With the Farmer's Market in full swing around the Capitol Square and the weather a rare September 80 degrees, the line at Marigold's went out the door. No matter; we added a few bakery items to our order so that we wouldn't expire from weakness while waiting for our food to be cooked. We started our meal with one of Marigold Kitchen's famous chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons (actually famous: their recipe was featured in Bon Appétit magazine in 2002), a blueberry muffin, and a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. We are not usually such gluttons (at least not for breakfast) but hot *damn* these are excellent baked goods! We couldn't waste the opportunity - after all, we'd driven so far.

As for our main meal, it had been so long since we'd been there that I forgot to order my favorite menu item, the Breakfast Sandwich - d'oh! - but instead I ordered the perfectly delicious omelet with roasted red peppers, zucchini, and goat cheese. It was served with toasted rosemary bread and a field greens salad tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. It also comes with a side of potatoes, but if I may blaspheme for a moment against the otherwise sterling reputation of the culinary prowess of Marigold Kitchen, I am not a fan of those potatoes. They're both too spicy and greasy for my taste. There, I've said it! Rant over.

Ryan chose the French Toast with fresh berries - always a hit. You needn't even ask if it was served with real maple syrup. Everything on the menu is all-natural, and much of it is organic, and as much of it as possible is sourced locally. So very tasty!

Toward the end of our breakfast, a swarm of what we could only assume to be sorority chicks (or scholars of Greek) amassed inside the restaurant, hovering around the two empty tables flanking our table, paralyzed by the logistical complexity of how to distribute their 12 bodies among an equal number of chairs arrayed around two non-contiguous dining surfaces. One of them finally said, "We're not all going to be able to sit together" in a way that seemed promisingly declarative yet suggested an unseen question mark hanging over the proceedings. And there they stood, unmoving. Minutes later, another one of them said, "So, some of us should sit over ... here?" -- at which point they all shuffled toward a single table in their very tall wedge sandals. You'd think this would make for some brilliant physical comedy, but instead it seemed like a very sad object lesson in the inability of basic math concepts to penetrate the herd mentality. I pray for our public universities.

After breakfast, we hopped back in the car and headed down Park Street to Atomic Interiors, a mid-century modern home furnishings store whose collection of vintage furniture makes us drool. We are in the market for a small ottoman (a footstool, really) for our living room. Most contemporary furniture is of such a gigantic scale that it is difficult to find an ottoman that is not as large or larger than the chair itself. But you can count on the designers of the atomic age to know better. The proportions were smaller, the designs sleeker. (After all, you've got to be able to fit that chair and ottoman into the fallout shelter.) We were delighted to see an ottoman on display, all by its lonesome, that fit the bill quite nicely -- slim rosewood base, elegant black leather cushion. Unfortunately, as the owner informed us, it was part of a set (the chair was in back being repaired) that would be priced around $3,000. He complimented us on our excellent taste and sent us on our way.

We get that a lot from mid-century modern furniture dealers. Not so much the sending us on our way, but the complimenting us on our taste bit. The dearly departed Scandinavian Living (formerly known as Danish Teak Classics) in Middleton was another one of our favorite sources for furniture. The owner, John Tiermann, would travel to Denmark a few times a year and return with a shipping container full of gorgeous teak and rosewood furniture made in the 40s through 60s. He would meticulously restore any pieces that weren't already in excellent condition, and sell them off at (as we are discovering) insanely low prices. Over the years we picked up a tiger-striped teak dining room table, a teak corner cabinet, a rosewood and copper side table, and some dishes and knick-knacks from John. We'd visit several times a year and eye up his latest discoveries. Out of an entire showroom of furniture, I always managed to make a beeline for the most rare piece in his collection. John would compliment me on my taste, inform me that only 2 or 3 others like it (whatever it happened to be) are known to exist on earth, and offer to sell it to me at an honorary Dane discount. Earlier this year we heard that his shop had gone out of business, which is a sad loss for us personally and for the entire vintage Scandinavian furniture-loving community in Wiconsin.

Thankfully, there are still options for those in the Madison area craving teak with a side of good design. Our next stop was Century House, which should probably be renamed Century Houses, as it occupies three buildings on University Avenue. There are the two older houses sitting side by side on the south side of University Ave., one of them known as the Furniture Annex and the other known as the Gift Shop; the latest expansion is across the street on the north side of University - Century House Home and Office. We hit the first two, checking out the cool sofas, lamps, housewares, Hans Wegner chairs, and Hästens mattresses. We browsed and dreamed of a world in which we could afford new Scandinavian furniture. And once again we were reminded of how much we miss the late, great Scandinavian Living / Danish Teak Classics.

To cheer ourselves up, we visited one of our all-time favorite Madison-area institutions: Octopus Car Wash. You may wonder how sad our Madison existence was that the car wash was one of our favorite spots, but anyone who has moved away from Madison probably understands what a gem Octopus is as soon as they discover that their new community does not feature a full-service touchless car wash involving a team of dudes jumping into your car, vacuuming, spraying, wiping it down, towel-drying the exterior, and handing it back to you 10 minutes later all spotless and gleaming for a mere $9.00.

The first time I tried to get a car wash in Milwaukee, I was mortified to discover that using the DIY sprayer thing would cost me $15.00, and no team of guys would be jumping in and vacuuming unless I wanted to leave my car there for 6 hours and fork over another $55.00. At those prices, I would expect them to organize the papers in my glove compartment and alphabetize my CD collection, too, but, sadly, that wasn't on the list of services. This being the car wash landscape in our new hometown, we started (*gasp*) washing our own cars. OK, we did that once. We've taken the Shop Vac to our cars a few more times, but basically, I'd just neglected the interior of my car for a year until I had a good excuse to return to Madison to get a proper car wash. Oh, this was a special day indeed!

After the car wash, we returned to State Street, where we window shopped our way up the street until reaching Pop Deluxe, a totally cute gift shop with household decor, cool mod totes, books, jewelry, paper products, art, and other fabulous things. We ended up getting a few things for us, a few things for our families for Christmas, and a few things for our friends who are expecting a baby later this year. It never hurts to stock the gift closet early and often!

We had a few hours until dinner, and all that shopping was making me woozy, so we stopped at our favorite Nepali restaurant on State Street, Chautara. I can't just refer to it as "this great Nepali restaurant on State Street" because there are actually two Nepali restaurants on State Street. But Chautara has always been our favorite. We ordered a couple of light appetizers (the fabulous samosas and momochas) and people-watched from our window seat. Afterwards, we did some more window shopping on State Street, including a nostalgia trip into Urban Outfitters to be reminded that no matter how cool we like to think we are, the inescapable fact is that we are really, really, really old.

Finally, dinner at Harvest, a fabulously fancy restaurant on the Capitol Square. Its menu focuses on locally grown, organic ingredients, with the menu changing based on what's in season and what looks especially good at the Farmer's Market and from their suppliers. We had dined at Harvest only once before, several years ago, but our friends Petra and Mark gave us a gift certificate for our wedding, so that gave us the perfect excuse to return!

Listening to our waiter explain the night's specials, we were horrified to learn that one of the evening's entrees was apparently "marinated in salmonella." Halfway through that last word, our waiter realized he was going down the wrong path, but it was too late to reel it back in. The word hung there like...like a Gram-negative enterobacteria-laden wet blanket, the worst kind of service industry faux pas. Had we heard? Would we stay? Would we go? Would we cry, "Salmonella?! Well, I never!" and freak out the other patrons? Instead, Ryan asked if it came with a side of E. coli, which broke the tension quite nicely.

Talk of foodborne illness behind us, we started with some appetizers. I ordered the heirloom tomato salad featuring tomatoes in four beautiful colors - red, orange, yellow, and green - drizzled with olive oil and fresh herbs and tossed with some kind of creamy Spanish cheese I didn't catch the name of. Ryan ordered the scallops. I don't remember much about the preparation other than the abundant yumminess. Dinner was excellent. Ryan ordered the braised short rib served with polenta. I ordered the bison ribeye prepared with a porcini mushroom / salt rub, served with roasted fingerling potatoes and swiss chard. Yuuuum! We needed to save room for the cheese plate and dessert, so I boxed up half of my entree. (I'm happy to report it was still delicious the next day!) The cheese plate featured three artisinal Wisconsin cheeses, olive bread, some quince paste, and some candied walnuts. The bread was too strong-flavored, in my opinion; a different cheese-delivery vehicle would have let the cheeses speak for themselves a bit more. At last, dessert... second only to breakfast in my list of favorite meals of the day. We ordered the chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate bourbon mousse (mmm...chocolate and booze - two great tastes that go great together!) and the vanilla panna cotta with plum compote. The latter ended up being our preferred dessert, as there was something positively magical about its wiggly texture and smooth, vanilla-bean flavor.

Thus ended our epic day and night of eating and shopping in Madison, the city where we met and spent the first five years of our relationship. We drove home listening to our wedding mix CD, which brought back fun memories of our big celebration last November. It's hard to believe we've been married for almost a year already! We are planning a getaway for our one-year anniversary - stay tuned for details.


Jean said...

Miss Madison, miss you guys! Sounds like a fabulous day!

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha Does it come with a side of E. Coli...hilarious.