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Graze

Where are you eating and what do you think? What's opening, closing, succeeding, failing?

Graze

Postby TAsunder » Fri Jul 23, 2010 9:34 pm

With one fell swoop arrives Graze to outclass all the other "gastropubs" in town, even with opening-night jitters. Top to bottom an excellent menu that is simultaneously playful and elegant.

We started with the "pork buns" which kind of resembled a pork bun taco. Great stuff... best pork bun I've had in Wisconsin. Next up was the popcorn with truffle and cheese deliciousness. I wouldn't normally consider ordering popcorn at a restaurant but I remember fondly the fiddle-faddle at L'Etoile and the waitress recommended it. She was right.

A quick word about the cocktails... they are good and interesting. I really liked the "Rhum Fire" and the fruit punch of the day. My wife had a melon drink that was outstanding as well. The beer selection is perhaps a bit sparse for a gastropub, but they focus on local brews and have a decent selection of them.

A minor service issue meant that a couple of the drinks did not have the proper garnish, however, and in general the drink service had a few opening-night kinks - the sort I would have expected from the kitchen but didn't really find (save one exception noted below). They didn't always arrive in a reasonable time but the waitress was profusely apologetic about the understandable kinks.

Satisfied with the small bites thus far, we decided to pile on a few more and sampled from the house-made snack mix - a nice mix of crunchy items including a delicious puffed wild rice - and the potato fondue, which was basically several puffy croquettes filled with potato and a fabulous cheese dipping sauce.

We sampled several entrees at our table. For me the standout was the pork^3 ... ribs, pulled pork, and sausage reminiscent of many fond memories at tuesday dinners, accompanied by killer collard greens, mac and cheese, and a tasty little bisquit.

Also good were the fried chicken and waffles, featuring the same quality of fried chicken you might have seen at a tuesday L'Etoile dinner and a remarkably tasty, spiced waffle. Sorry Roscoe, but you lose.

A companion sampled the mac and cheese with pulled pork and spoke very highly of it. I didn't get a chance to try it myself but it looked excellent and wasn't quite the same mac and cheese that came with the pork dish.

Next time I'll probably man up and try the burger made from short ribs and other high quality cuts. At $19 it would be among the most expensive burgers I've had, but according to the staff it is meant to be the best cut of beef in a burger possible. They also have a $10 pub burger that would probably make a great lunch, served on a "Big John Burger" style english muffin.

Another companion had the moules frites, which featured an absurdly huge portion of delicious fries and a nice serving if mussels. We also had a "side" of cheese curds. The curds themselves were crispier than one might expect - in a good way. But the dipping sauce that came out was a tartar sauce instead of the ranch sauce we were supposed to receive. It didn't quite make for a good accompaniment.

We couldn't pass up dessert. A simple-looking menu turned out to be some of the best stuff of the night. A house-made hickory caramel pie was divine, certainly a strong rival for the pecan pie at Cilantro. The cheekiness of offering $1 snow cones wore off once we tasted the predictably delicious house-made syrup accompanying the ice. House-baked chocolate chip cookies with sassy cow milk were surprisingly delightful. The cookies were warm, crispy, and gooey at the same time.

All in all a great meal that ended up being surprisingly inexpensive considering many of us ordered $20 entrees.

The decor is worth noting. It is absolutely gorgeous to view the capitol from the vantage point of Graze. The interior is stunning, and makes me wonder whether I was right in assuming that it's not possible to dress up a weird industrial-like building in my review of Cilantro. I'm not sure about the really bright subway lights above the booths, but the people in them didn't seem to mind.

Really a great night. I will be back. Possibly tomorrow.
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Re: Graze

Postby admin » Fri Jul 23, 2010 9:53 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience! Check out a preview and photos of Graze and the new L'Etoile on the eve of their opening today.
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Re: Graze

Postby LaughingGirl » Wed Jul 28, 2010 1:37 pm

What a great, detailed review TAsunder. I'm really looking forward to going there. ASAP!
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Re: Graze

Postby TheBookPolice » Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:08 pm

Great minds, and all that, right TA? That popcorn was killer.

And point of note: the cookies are baked-to-order.

I can't wait until this place is open until 1am. I will put a HURT on some charcuterie and cheese curds in the dark of night.
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Re: Graze

Postby Marvell » Wed Jul 28, 2010 3:16 pm

Graze upon their works, ye mighty, and despair.
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Re: Graze

Postby TAsunder » Fri Jul 30, 2010 10:22 am

The lunch menu, while largely reliant on cafe soleil lunch items, does have some interesting new stuff, including a bahn mi sandwich and ramen noodle bowl. I haven't tried either yet but I will say that the short rib sandwich is excellent. Thought I'd mention the bahn mi because there are/were some tdpers who were on the hunt. I'm looking forward to seeing how the ramen bowl compares to muramoto's.

Also worth noting: the reason the pastries weren't served until wednesday is because of their new water. They have a "Natura" water filtration system that caused the pastries to come out strangely. The pastry chef needed time to figure things out.

I'm not sure if it's the power of suggestion but the water does seem really good there. There're murmurs about charging for sparkling water eventually, but for now it's free, so ask for it if it interests you.

I'll be back this Sunday for the first $22 comfort food dinner at Graze (clam bake).
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Re: Graze

Postby boston_jeff » Fri Jul 30, 2010 1:05 pm

Totally going to the clambake Sunday, will try the regular menu soon but it looks great!
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Re: Graze

Postby TheBookPolice » Fri Jul 30, 2010 3:19 pm

Banh mi: good, but a little small. BBQ pork sandwich: terrific. Dining companions had good and great things to say about the reuben and the ramen noodle bowl, respectively.
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Re: Graze

Postby swoon_queen » Sun Aug 01, 2010 9:38 am

I've been to Graze 4 times now and have experienced all of their menus. I keep wanting to love it absolutely, but my prevailing opinion is that the food is delicious and hopefully the overall experience will eventually catch up. I thought I'd add a few words here.

Highlights:
side salad on the lunch plates. have had it twice and its sliver thin summer squash and radish slices, perfectly crunchy daikon shards, and smattering of roasted pepitas was perfect.

the smoky ham and obviously homemade English muffin on the Eggs Benedict really made the dish (which, honestly, was otherwise unremarkable-- and the whites of the eggs weren't cooked all the way through).

I've tried a couple of their cocktails, one being the punch and the other a gin-based concoction (can't recall its name). Both were fabulous.

The cheese curds. Should have abstained but couldn't resist. These may surpass Old Fashioned's curds-- less greasy, more cheesy, and served with a lovely buttermilk/green onion dressing. Beer batter, if I'm not mistaken.

Water! Yes, I guess I'm a water snob. The water tastes delicious, as ridiculous as that may sound, and resides in a large carafe on every table.

Downfalls:
subbing in greasy hashbrowns for the "roasted potatoes" I was expecting w brunch, without telling me. Espresso machine inoperable, according to our server. Wines by the glass fairly limited. Seems pricier than expected for gastropub fare, though I am definitely willing to pay an upcharge for locally sourced ingredients.

As far as the total experience, the service is fairly shaky for a place that seems to be trying to set a standard for casual upscale dining in downtown Madison. Our server apologized and confessed yesterday: "They have me stretched pretty thin." Everybody there is pleasant and capable, but they do seem a little frazzled to the point of forgetting anything other than strictly what was ordered. Surely these early weeks will help them work out the kinks.

I'm also not really buying the "gastropub" moniker. The vibe is that of a bright and sunny [floor to ceiling windows bright and sunny] farm cafe, the bar and its offerings seem peripheral rather than central to the experience, and I can't imagine going there after 10:30 pm or so. As one dining companion pointed out, both the Old Fashioned and Cooper's right on the square and Natt Spil/Opus just off the square have cozier seating, more extensive drink menus, and zero pretension, making them far more appealing for a late night bite even if their food might not be on the same level as Graze (and I'd argue that Old Fashioned and Natt Spil both put out food that is on the same level or above what I've had at Graze).

Anyway, it's been slammed there every time I've gone so kudos! And I'll certainly be back. The comfort food dinners, especially, intrigue me.
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Re: Graze

Postby MadtownFoodie » Sun Aug 01, 2010 2:04 pm

Upon first glance I was impressed, but I was let down in the end when the food ended up being very fatty, right in line with the other "gastropubs" in town. I wonder if people even realize what eating this stuff will do to you.

I did feel a bit like I was in a hotel bar in Chicago. Having traveled the country extensively, I was disappointed to see that Chef Miller has ripped off several dishes from well known establishments around the country. A few of them are even the exact dishes, shame on you.

Lastly, I'm not sure that the US Bank building works for this, it feels over-the-top corporate and what I enjoyed about the old location even more than the food was the atmosphere. The new location reeks of big money and that didn't settle well with my dining companions.

I will be back, but will keep my fingers crossed that someone comes along and opens a place that doesn't focus on burgers, cheese curds, and beer. It seems like Graze, Old Fashioned, and Cooper's are making a fat city fatter.
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Re: Graze

Postby TheBookPolice » Sun Aug 01, 2010 6:35 pm

Dear Foodie:

Such a place existed on the Square. It was called Sucre, and it closed. Coopers Tavern took its place. As it is, I strongly recommend you get over it. Going out to eat isn't about eating on a diet.

I encourage you to patronize Fresco, and Green Owl, and La Baguette, and all the other wonderful restaurants that don't "focus" on cheese curds, burgers, and beer.

People are allowed to enjoy what they enjoy, and they're even allowed to eat things they know aren't healthy in the strictly "every day" sense.

Signed,

Everyone but you.
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Re: Graze

Postby Thusnelda » Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:31 pm

Dear Foodie AND BookPolice,

Nobody is forcing you to pig out on fried food when you go to certain restaurants. True, I wouldn't choose the Old Fashioned for a low-fat meal, but Cooper's does have some wonderful non-fried food. Three of their four salads are a far cry from the iceberg wedge or plain mixed greens offered by most other restaurants nearby, and I challenge you to find something more health-nutty than a cashew butter and [local] apricot jam sandwich served on [local] cracked wheat bread with arugula. They have all sorts of stuff with roasted red pepper and tuna and apple pear slaw and and and... can you tell I think they're pretty tasty?

Oh... and they have poutine. GLOMP GLOMP GLOMP.

Signed,
Pedantic McLickerton
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Re: Graze

Postby TheBookPolice » Mon Aug 02, 2010 8:13 am

In my defense, Thu, that's why I put focus in non-air-quotes. I don't think it's fair to say that any of those places focus on cheese curds, burgers, and beer.

That said, they make and sell some mean ones, so more for you and me to enjoy with MF looking down his/her well-toned nose at us.
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Re: Graze

Postby swoon_queen » Mon Aug 02, 2010 9:10 am

MadtownFoodie wrote: Having traveled the country extensively, I was disappointed to see that Chef Miller has ripped off several dishes from well known establishments around the country. A few of them are even the exact dishes, shame on you.

Lastly, I'm not sure that the US Bank building works for this, it feels over-the-top corporate and what I enjoyed about the old location even more than the food was the atmosphere. The new location reeks of big money and that didn't settle well with my dining companions.


Stripping the calorie counting out of this conversation--though for what it's worth, a pal of mine on a strict diet was able to find plenty on the Graze menu-- I agree that some of the dishes were evocative of those I've had at similar concepts elsewhere in the country but I think this is probably more symptomatic of the evolution of a concept genre, wherein each chef takes a dish within the "gastropub" repertoire and puts his/her own spin on it. The most egregious example of this, however, is the popcorn-- delicious, yes, but the Orpheum has been serving the same at their happy hour for months now (and it's free,or it was the last time I was there about a month ago).

On more than one occasion the folks I was with at Graze commented on the austerity of the location. I realized that one issue with walls made of glass is that there is nowhere to hang art. Hard to personalize a space without touches like that.
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Re: Graze

Postby Bland » Mon Aug 02, 2010 9:18 am

MadtownFoodie wrote:I was disappointed to see that Chef Miller has ripped off several dishes from well known establishments around the country. A few of them are even the exact dishes, shame on you.


Is this really a problem? Do restaurants need to be wholly original or just serve good food? Is this complaint limited to places where the chef's name is known or do people have similar complaints in general? Because lots of signature recipes have become staples over the years- Cobb and Waldorf salads leap to mind, or even something as simple and ubiquitous as buffalo wings (I'd search my brain for more and better examples, but I think you get my point.)

Just curious what others think. I'm not entirely sure how I feel, frankly.
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