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Fois gras mousse

The plate: This foie gras mousse, a $12 “small plate” is the epitome of foodie Madison.

“We don’t cut corners,” chef Dan Bonanno said, of his high-quality ingredients. “It’s what I envision food should be — done right.”

The “heart of the dish,” Bonanno said, is the cured patés. They’re stacked atop savory bomboloni (Italian hole-less doughnuts — but made with hearty-tasting malt and honey). The pastries are wrapped in cured lardo and set upon a bed of a fig port jam, and the whole stack is drizzled with an aged balsamic.

Why it defines Madison: The restaurant, located on the Near East Side, is a favorite haunt for Madison’s epicures.

“Any time you put oxtail bone marrow and a prime ribeye on one plate, it’s a foodie place,” Bonanno said.

But despite Bonanno’s culinary artistry, he and owner Bonnie Arent make a point to keep the restaurant laid-back. They don’t do dress codes; they don’t do reservations.

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“I don’t care what you’re wearing or how much money you have,” Bonanno said. “I want everybody to have a fair chance.”

Bonanno said he doesn’t read online reviews. “If one person doesn’t like it, it doesn’t ruin my day,” he said. And as a result, his good mood trickles down to the rest of his staff.

Diners cram in the cozy dining room, seated at long, communal-style tables. Bonanno said people have become friends at those tables, bonding over their love of food. The restaurant is “a true public house,” he said.

“Food shouldn’t be fussy,” Bonanno said. “It should be fun, and it should be talkative.”

— Cassidy McDonald

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