L'Etoile or Harvest?

Where are you eating and what do you think? What's opening, closing, succeeding, failing?
donges
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Postby donges » Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:00 pm

Monzie wrote: Let's not invite Paco, though. He's cranky.

Paco's not cranky (unless an establishment runs out of beer). He's local. And realistic.
Look at what you posted, though. You said:
Plus, we're really spoiled and a bit too picky.

With an attitude like that, how can you avoid being disappointed with anyplace you pick to dine in and around town?
European traditions of dining are not evident in the U.S. Or at least in our little portion of it. And the closest you can get is....well....close. With that in mind, it will never reach your expectations.

Monzie
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Postby Monzie » Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:25 pm

donges wrote:
Monzie wrote: Let's not invite Paco, though. He's cranky.

Paco's not cranky (unless an establishment runs out of beer). He's local. And realistic.
Look at what you posted, though. You said:
Plus, we're really spoiled and a bit too picky.

With an attitude like that, how can you avoid being disappointed with anyplace you pick to dine in and around town?
European traditions of dining are not evident in the U.S. Or at least in our little portion of it. And the closest you can get is....well....close. With that in mind, it will never reach your expectations.


I never said that I expected any of the restaurants in Madison to meet a Michelin 3-star standard. I don't expect many restaurants anywhere to come close to that level of excellence.

I just asked whether you folks preferred Harvest or L'Etoile. And then I opened the discussion to suggestions of other "halfway decent" restaurants in Madison. Some people just seem to get annoyed when you explain that a big juicy steak at Smoky's isn't your idea of fine dining. By the way, just because I'm picky doesn't mean I can't appreciate simple meals. I do, very sincerely. But I also expect them to be tasty and made with a little bit of care.

And, for the record, I am "real"....and realistic about what I can expect from restaurants (and restaurant patrons) around here. The last time we took friends to dinner at Fyfe's, we were seated next to a guy wearing swimtrunks and a tie-dyed tank top that showcased his rather lush armpit hair. Our friends, who were visiting from up nort', expressed surprise that someone would feel comfortable dining in an upscale establishment dressed that way. "This is Madison," I explained "And those are probably his good swimtrunks."

aaron
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Postby aaron » Wed Aug 02, 2006 7:31 am

I've said it more than once and I will say it again:

Take a drive down to Monticello and try The Dining Room at 201 Main.
Former L'Etoile folks own and run it and it is superb.

TAsunder
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Postby TAsunder » Wed Aug 02, 2006 8:13 am

aaron wrote:I've said it more than once and I will say it again:

Take a drive down to Monticello and try The Dining Room at 201 Main.
Former L'Etoile folks own and run it and it is superb.


Didn't know it was owned by former L'Etoile folks, but I did know it is excellent. I still have wet dreams about the queso fundido and the toffee dessert there.

Also worth the drive is Glarner Stube in new glarus.

For slightly better than maharaja indian, try India Darbar.

If you want fancy that is arguably worth it, I guess my pick is Chop House. My real pick is Nadia's but you may have been there more recently than I.

If I had to pick one fancy restaurant to dine at in Wisconsin, though, it would probably be Sanford. I must admit I've not been there but if it's noticeably better than Coquette Cafe, it is worth the steep prices.

Madison is Madison, we aren't chicago. You're not going to find alinea or anything like that here.

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Postby Thusnelda » Wed Aug 02, 2006 9:22 am

Reading over your Muramoto thoughts, I'd like to note that while it does have sushi-like rolls on the menu, that's far from the only thing they serve. I'm lazy, so I'll direct you to my review, found here.

At any rate, it's absolutely worth checking out.

NullDevice
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Postby NullDevice » Wed Aug 02, 2006 11:38 am

L'Etoile is good, and for me has always been reliable...but is still IMHO a bit overrated. You'll have a stellar meal, but you'll pay through the nose, and it's doubtful it will be $50 more stellar than an equivalent meal at Harvest of Lombardino's. Harvest has been good although sometimes service can be hit-or-miss. L'Etoile does have some fabulous stuff, though, especially at the end of the summer when the interesting veggies are in season.

Lombardino's has actually become a bit of a favorite of mine for "facy night out" dining. Their standard italian fare is good, albiet nothing mind-blowing, but their more adventurous dishes are definitely worth checking out, especially the desserts.

For a city our size, we do have an astonishing array of really good restaurants. Most of the best ones are relatively obscure though. I definitely second Muramoto as a fantastic place to nosh. There're a lot of good little ethnic eateries that are a lot cheaper, and in my opinion much more interesting, than the big-name places.

Firefly has been disappointing to me on all the occasions I've gone. Once when it opened. Again a few months later, when I'd hoped maybe the first time was due to kitchen newness. And then again a little while after the new chef. Each time, not impressed. The new guy's menu is better but it's still pretty clear the restaurant doesn't know what it wants to be, and what you end up with is sort of a bland muddle with a side of wasabi-spiked mashed potatoes.

TAsunder
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Postby TAsunder » Wed Aug 02, 2006 1:44 pm

NullDevice wrote:L'Etoile is good, and for me has always been reliable...but is still IMHO a bit overrated. You'll have a stellar meal, but you'll pay through the nose, and it's doubtful it will be $50 more stellar than an equivalent meal at Harvest of Lombardino's.


L'Etoile is not even close to $50 more than Harvest unless you are dining with 10 people or so. Their entrees are practically the same price. Off by a few dollars. Appetizers and desserts seem to be the same.

Lombardino's can get pricey too, although not in the same league as Harvest and L'Etoile.

NullDevice
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Postby NullDevice » Wed Aug 02, 2006 3:12 pm

Hm. I always seem to spend a lot more there for some reason. Maybe it's the booze.

TAsunder
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Postby TAsunder » Wed Aug 02, 2006 3:51 pm

Yeah I don't know anything about the wines, could be a difference there.

Lombardino's is cheaper by a noticeable amount, as is the dining room in monticello.

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Postby doddles » Wed Aug 02, 2006 4:05 pm

I've found L'Etoile and Harvest to be good, but certainly overpriced for what they are. L'Etoile seemed to be a little more creative in the past. Last time we went there, there really wasn't anything truly creative on the menu, and our food was decent but not great. Harvest we've had problems with the service, leading to cold or overcooked food.

Magnus is in the same price range, and frankly I'd prefer to go there these days.

Lombardinos, while a cut below L'Etoile in terms of price, and one could argue quality of ingredients as well, is very nice and not such a wallet buster.

I've only been to Sardine once, but it shows real promise, and is much less expensive than the others.

Never been to The Dining Room, though every time we've thought about it, we've been a bit turned off by the menu. Now they've got photos up, and it reinforces my impressions. Dishes just seem to me to be too complex, with too many mixed in flavours, and importantly, sauce everywhere. From the photos, they don't seem to serve anything that isn't smothered in, or swimming in a pool of sauce. What's with that? Still, I will go there and try it out some time soon - hopefully it will prove me wrong.

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Postby TAsunder » Wed Aug 02, 2006 5:46 pm

That's pretty much how french food is as well. There's nothing wrong with sauce. I guess if you are more into the local ingredients as the only or major flavor, dining room definitely isn't for you. But if you are just into stuff that tastes good with a side dish on the same plate, give it a go.

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Postby kylcrowe » Wed Aug 02, 2006 5:48 pm

just my two cents......
first course entree
L'Etoile $9.50 - $16 $29 - $34

Harvest $9 - $16 $19 - $36

Charlie Trotters: Veg Menu $124
Grand Menu $145 (these don't include any tax, beverage or gratuity)

That puts Trotters at about double the other two. Just ate there about 4 months ago and loved it albeit a splurge.

I've never eaten at Harvest, but know lots of folks who have found it underwhelming.

I've eaten at L'Etoile many times and never been disappointed. Farmers at the market seem to sell a whole lot to them and I've always been impressed by how much of their menu is local.

I've been to Muramoto 8-10 times since I've moved here and find it consistently tasty.

my advice.......start asking about WHAT you are getting for your money. I prefer to vote with my food dollars by spending a bit extra for my meal if the ingredients are actually procured from local farmers.

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Postby direne » Wed Aug 02, 2006 8:17 pm

Back to the original question--I haven't been to L'Etoile since Odessa left, but I hope to go soon. Odessa's last few years were underwhelming and I've heard good things about the new owners.

I go to Harvest approx. 4 times a year. The special menus (I've been to the garlic, heirloom tomato, tapas, and wild game dinners) have been spectacular. The new chef (Justin) is quite proficient and the room is comfortable and classy but not overly formal or intimidating. Tami Lax is a great host.

I've also been to Charlie Trotter's and other "star" restaurants in Chicago and New York (btw, I would eat at Topolobampo anyday and prefer it to CT's)--they are a different experience altogether.

Now drifting further away from the original question--one visit to Sardine has impressed me very much (see posting on that topic elsewhere).

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Postby Ducatista » Wed Aug 02, 2006 9:36 pm

kylcrowe wrote:I've eaten at L'Etoile many times and never been disappointed.

I've eaten at L'Etoile only four times (all in the lauded Odessa Years), and was disappointed every time. I ate there long before I could afford to, so that a ho-hum dinner seemed like an affront. Now that I can afford to eat there, four letdowns = zero desire to go back.

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Postby TAsunder » Thu Aug 03, 2006 8:47 am

Ducatista wrote:I've eaten at L'Etoile only four times (all in the lauded Odessa Years), and was disappointed every time. I ate there long before I could afford to, so that a ho-hum dinner seemed like an affront. Now that I can afford to eat there, four letdowns = zero desire to go back.


That's the problem for me. My first L'Etoile experience was great. But the next two were disappointing. There shouldn't be any entree on the menu that is disappointing, certainly not two items, when the menu is so small and moderately pricey like that. That's why I don't picture myself returning either there or Harvest in the future. Or to Johnny Delmonico's. When paying that much for an entree, you should never be disappointed.

Even the less exciting entrees and Lombardino's, the ones that cost half as much, were still better than the disappointments at those places.

Now salads and appetizers, I guess that's ok. I kind of recall the bread at the dining room being unimpressive, and possibly the salad too. And the water at Chop House which I paid extra for wasn't that great. Fortunately the steak was divine.


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