The Bottom Line
- Nationally acclaimed
- Menu showcases local foods
- Capitol Square location
- High-end dining
- Dinner-only menu
1 S. Pinckney St.
Phone reservations advised.
Dining begins at 5:30 p.m. weekdays, 5 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Cost: At least $100 for two people.
Guide Review - L'EtoileMany worthy chefs compete for consumer attention in Madison and prefer to cook with locally produced foods, but few showcase farms by name on the menu. Tory Miller's mentor, L'Etoile founder Odessa Piper, began this tradition after opening the restaurant in 1976. She earned a James Beard award 11 years before her successor.
Other Madison chefs have accepted invitations to cook at Manhattan's James Beard House, but only L'Etoile has earned a James Beard award. A one-block move in 2010 increased the size of L'Etoile (French for "star") by 75%.
Diners see the softly lit State Capitol through a wall of glass (the setting is a former bank building). Restaurant décor is sleek, uncluttered and edgy. The food doubles as art, stylishly plated and garnished.
Tory goes whole hog, literally, by buying animals from local farms instead of just prime cuts of meat. His staff also preserves locally grown fruits and vegetables, so strawberries and sweet corn might appear on menus in winter.
Menu Favors Local Farmers, Artisans
"John & Dorothy Priske's Fountain Prairie Farm Scottish Highland dry-aged, grass-fed steak with gruyère-potato latkes, Blue Valley Gardens asparagus, copra onion confit & mushroom ragoût, blue cheese & bone marrow compound butter with Cabernet jus."
This beef ensemble comes in two sizes: $56 for the 13-ounce rib eye and $54 for the 9-ounce New York strip. Fish and vegetarian entrées always make it onto the menu, too. Meal portions are delicate in appearance but filling.
The pace of dining is leisurely and spacious, especially when compared to the cozy, dimly lit and romantic upstairs quarters of the original L'Etoile, which also overlooked Capitol Square.
Odessa sold L'Etoile to Tory and his sister, Traci Miller, in 2005. Dianne Christensen was added as a co-owner before the restaurant location changed and expanded. Besides more space, the move made it easier for the chef to establish his own culinary identity.
Specialty Dinners, Pairings, Gastropub Fare
Proceeds from the $105 meal defrayed gardening costs at Sherman Middle School, where Tory helps teach students about growing food, cooking and eating nutritious food.
Wisconsin cheeses are star players in occasional wine-cheese tastings, which are five-round and two-hour events. Michael Kwas, longtime wine director, favors artisan wineries with sustainable practices in latitudes that are comparable to Madison's (43rd parallel).
Living on a leaner budget? The more casual counterpart to L'Etoile is Graze, an adjacent gastropub. Tory describes the cuisine as "modern American comfort food."
That means familiar foods with unpredictable twists. Example: Springtime rhubarb ceviche, instead of rhubarb pie.