Just how much fancy chocolate can Madisonians eat? Boutiques selling sophisticated, locally made bonbons seem to be popping up everywhere, and the Capitol Square storefront of Candinas Chocolatier is but the latest. Just in time for Valentine's Day, the store opened Feb. 9 at 11 W. Main St. and follows Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier(2086 Atwood Ave.) and Nilda Chocolates(<2611 E. Johnson St.), east-side chocolate shops that opened last year.
Even though the downtown Candinas shop is new, the company has a head start on the competition. That is because Verona-based Candinas has been producing luxurious confections since 1994. Till now, proprietor Markus Candinas has sold his wares via his Web site (candinas.com) and from his outlet at 2435 Old CR-PB in Verona, but 'I've always wanted a place in a more urban setting,' he says. 'When I started, I realized I couldn't afford to be on Michigan Avenue, much less downtown Madison.'
At the Main Street location, which still looks a little unadorned, Candinas workers sell chocolates that are brought at least once daily from the Verona kitchen. (Freshness is, Candinas says, one of his guiding principles.) Candinas likes to maintain a relatively small assortment, just a dozen or so varieties at a time. At the moment the lineup of sweets includes chai truffle, raspberry truffle and Irish creme, all in the candymaker's signature shape, a square with rounded corners.
A Madison native, Candinas studied chocolate-making in Thun, Switzerland. His chocolates have won national plaudits, including nods from Consumer Reports, but he is keen to spread the word about his candy locally.
Although there is growing interest in premium chocolates, Candinas says consumers should not get hung up on the minutiae of cocoa count and so forth. 'In the end, it just comes down to what you like, and there's nothing wrong with a Mars bar,' he says. 'Not that I'm comparing my chocolate to a Mars bar.'
Madison's downtown dining scene burgeons, but savvy local diners should also watch the outskirts. The latest suburban eatery is Fitchburg's The Continental(2784 S. Fish Hatchery Rd.), from the same Schiavo family that brought you the King Street mainstay Cafe Continental. The new restaurant opened Monday.
'The city's been very cooperative,' says Jim Schiavo of Fitchburg officials. 'They have welcomed us with open arms.' The new location has the same dinner menu as the original (steaks, seafood, pasta) but is not open for lunch. On Sunday, brunch is served.
Why Fitchburg? 'There's so many people out there that don't, can't, won't come downtown,' says Schiavo. 'We've tapped a new market.'
And on an unrelated note, what is the status of the Majestic Theatre,the troubled King Street nightspot that the Schiavos have put up for sale? 'We have a couple of interested parties,' says Schiavo.
Also far from downtown is the site of Takumi Japanese Restaurant,which is slated to open in the early part of March at 4222 East Towne Blvd. Owner Kong Feng Ni is a shareholder of Madison's Takara Japanese restaurants, but he says, 'This one is all by myself.'
The restaurant scene around East Towne Mall is thriving, he notes, and he believes locals will seek out his sushi and hibachi fare. He will also offer a delicacy that is rare around these parts: Kobe beef. Kobe beef cattle are given beer to drink and then 'massaged every day in order to produce tender meat,' he says.
'Once people taste it, they won't forget it. They'll want more.'
Say goodbye to The Saz, the joint at 558 State St. that served a mix of Middle Eastern and Mexican food. But say hello, soon, to its replacement: Maza Restaurant, which will serve '100% Afghan food,' according to co-owner Shekeba Samadzada.
Samadzada cooked for 15 years at nearby Kabul restaurant. 'I just decided to open something myself,' she says. Maza, she notes, means 'delicious' in Farsi.
She hopes to open Maza on March 3.
Sad news for east-siders: The Crandall's Carry-Out at 5696 Monona Dr. is no more, and also closed is the short-lived branch of Sunprint Bakery & Cafe at 4429 Milwaukee St. And the Cottage Grove Road barbecue redoubt Bull's had an eviction notice on its door Tuesday morning. Too bad.