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L'Etoile- Madison, WI

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Entrance Signage

L'Etoile, located on the Capitol Square, is a fine-dining establishment in Madison, Wisconsin, focused on local and seasonal offerings. Arguably Madison's most renown restaurant, I couldn't have skipped a trip to Madison without trying this place for myself.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Interior

L'Etoile provides an air of simple elegance. Housed in a building with floor to ceiling windows, with an interior that has understated neutral tones, the scene warmed up with the extensive wine cellar, candlelight, and flower arrangements.

At our table, we received custom printed menus for the evening. It was here that the attention to detail came about. When making the reservation, we had noted the occassion that presided our visit, and our menus had a small message to reflect that note. Moreover, the employees also were aware of the occassion--a very nice touch.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Brazilian Holiday

Brazilian Holiday (13 USD)
Pitu gold cachaça, makrut lime-infused vodka, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao, lime juice, lavender syrup -- served on the rocks with a sparkling wine float

We began the evening began with a drink. The aptly named Brazilian Holiday had a festive vibe, with lime notes coming from the juice and vodka, complemented by the citrusy curaçao and sugar-cane based cachaça, sweetness from the lavender syrup, and carbonation from the sparkling wine.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Cheese Puff

Both of us ordered the 7 course tasting menu (125 USD), which changes throughout the year to focus on seasonal ingredients. This was quite fun, for we were able to see items being featured often at the Dane County Farmer's Market being put in place in our menus.

Before starting the 7 courses, we first received two amuse-bouche. The first was a cheese puff, accented with goat cheese and lemon. This was an extremely small, but pleasant bite, with the warm, flaky cheese puff complementing the cool, creamy, lemon-scented goat cheese very well.

Throughout the evening, I loved how our waiter went through in detail how each ingredient came to play in the making of a single dish--noting its origin, but also where it was located on the plate if it was obscure. Utensils also changed throughout the evening. We were in for a closely orchestrated experience, with us only waiting a few minutes between courses after we had finished each one.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Blackberry

After finishing the cheese puff, our waiter brought us a blackberry, accented with a basil puree and coconut in the form of coconut cream and toasted coconut. This was a pleasant flavor combination, with the bright berry accented with the verdant basil, but then smoothed out with the creamy coconut. 

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Epi Baguette

Coming alongside these amuse-bouche was also the bread offering for the night, house-made epi baugette with butter. This was delicious, with a crisp exterior and chewy, soft interior that went well with the softened butter. More bread was generously offered as we finished pieces.

L'Etoile- Madison, WI: Snug Haven Heirloom Tomato

Snug Haven Heirloom Tomatoes
Tamworth ham, arugula, cucumber

After enjoying the amuse-bouche, our next course quickly arrived. What was described simply as tomatoes with ham, arugula, and cucumber came out as a gaspacho terrine and foam. This was delightful, with the gaspacho jelly providing some savoriness and pepperiness to the vibrant tomato. The savory ham, peppery arugula, and cool cucumber developed the flavors further.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: La Belle Farms Foie Gras

La Belle Farms Foie Gras
apricots, lavender, pain d'epice

Our second course was a super soft, buttery, lightly seared and scored piece of foie gras, topped with lavender and accompanied with arugula flower, apricot, and the pain d'epice. Our waiter had to specially point out that the lavender was placed just atop the foie gras; this was hard to spot to the eye.

This was my favorite course of the night. The foie gras was cooked just right so that there was no gristle, but seared for maximum flavor. Meanwhile, the accompaniments complimented the richness well--from the bright apricot, to the floral lavender and soft spiced bread. I wished there was more!

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Langoustine

popcorn, blueberries, violets

Third was the langoustine course, which came with popcorn, blueberry and blueberry puree, violets, and a lemon butter and corn based soup. The langoustine was lightly poached and extremely tender, lightly briny, and sweet; the corn based soup and blueberries added to the sweetness. Meanwhile, the airy, crisp popcorn provided a texture contrast to the soft langoustine.

My friend and I polished every spoonful using both our spoons and the bread--and our waiter was very happy to see that!

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Blue Valley Gardens Duck

Blue Valley Gardens Duck
eggplant, basil, balsamic

Our fourth course was more substantial, with a seared duck breast, duck confit leg, eggplant ravioli cooked in tomato butter, a chantrelle puree that meshed the plate together, and some balsamic gel for additional brightness. Here we saw yet another interplay between rich and bright flavors, with the tomato and balsamic providing contrast to the duck. The duck breast was cooked to a medium, lightly gamey, with a crisp skin, while the confit was crisp on the outside but extremely tender on the inside. I really appreciated the ravioli however, which were bright from the tomato butter, and came with a creamy eggplant filling. Very pleasant.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Pinn Oak Ridge Lamb

Pinn Oak Ridge Lamb
ground cherries, cranberry beans, carmen peppers

Our last major savory course of the night came in the form of lamb, which came topped with salt and carmen pepper, and served along with an auj jus, arugula flowers, ground cherries, and cranberry beans. Here, creamy, peppery, and meaty flavors joined together, with the cranberry bean puree and pieces rounding out the little dots of pepper relish, the lightly sweet ground cherries, and the tender lamb. By this point in the night, both of us felt quite stuffed, and although this course was good, it didn't impress like the earlier courses.

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Dream Farm Goat Cheese

Dream Farm Goat Cheese
oats, alfalfa hay, goat salumi

Our cheese course came with a similarly artsy presentation, with the goat salumi, goat cheese, brown sugar oats, oat milk, and alfalfa puree and sprouts dispersed throughout the plate. The gameiness of the goat was accented nicely by the oats and alfalfa, and the salumi provided some nice savoriness to the rich cheese, sweet oats, and creamy milk and bright sprouts. 

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Burnt Honey Torrijas

Burnt Honey Torrijas
poached cherries, black tea ice cream, chai spices

We reached our last official course with torrijas--described by our waiter as a Spanish bread pudding. The rectangular piece of brioche was fried and dusted with cinammon sugar, before being plated with macerated cheeries and reduction, chai tea ice cream, and bee pollen with honey. I liked the interplay between flavor profiles here again, with the creamy, smooth ice cream complimenting the sweet, crispy brioche and countering the bright cherries. Tea worked surprisingly well with these other flavors!

L'Etoile--Madison, WI: Fiddle Faddle

Just because we were at the end of the meal didn't mean that we were finished with the food, however. After almost three eye-opening hours of tasting great food, things officially closed off with L'Etoile's own fiddle faddle--caramel popcorn with peanuts--and berry gelee candies. A nice mix of causal and classy.

This was both my friend and I's first experience at L'Etoile, and suffice to say, we were impressed. L'Etoile was expensive, but was also quite the experience. You didn't just enjoy food that looked like art and was expertly prepared, but also the friendly employees who were informative and conversational, and the pleasant view of Capitol Square. L'Etoile is food, education, and atmosphere, all in one place.

1 South Pinckney Street
Madison, WI 53703 
Tel: (608) 251-0500

L'Etoile Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato