One of my favorite meals in Madison was at Harvest. Located in the downtown isthmus on Capitol Square, it presents itself with crisp earth tones and white linen table cloths. Wall art is simple but eye catching, an oversized vintage Lillet poster presides on one, while smaller black and white photographs are precisely placed on the opposite. It's upscale, while the vibe remains intimate and relaxed. It's the type of place you want to linger over a meal beginning with a strong apertif - try a Marquette & Joliet ($9) made with local Death's Door Gin, fresh lemon, angostura bitters, and house bubbly.
Specialty cocktails keep the pace, when I inquired with the waitress as to how the Vesper Rouge ($9) was she replied "strong", and explained that it was inspired by James Bond's cocktail of choice in Casino Royal and Quantam Solace, combining two parts extra dry gin with one part vodka and Lillet Rouge (it's Blanc in the Bond movies) with a lemon twist. Another local, small batch distiller, Yahara Bay, supplied the gin and vodka for this one.
I was here with a
large group (nine of us) and that worked out well; our waitress had a
good knowledge of the menu items, the evening was set at the perfect
pace, and everyone's dishes elicited high praise. An amuse bouche of mushroom and butternut squash soup was a delicate sip balancing the earthiness of one vegetable with the sweetness of the other. Rolls are served hot with soft butter. (There really is something special about the butter out there. It never fails to be really good anywhere you go.)
My first course was a memorable Duck Confit ($9), served with pickled plums, frisee, fennel and a five-spice plum puree. The pickled plums stood out, sweet and juicy, they added a dynamic counterpoint to the tender pieces of duck . I also tried the Pan Roasted Sea Scallops ($14) - some of the biggest, meatiest scallops I've seen, cooked perfectly to boot, topped with toasted pistachio and sitting in a vibrant green puree of herbs and brown butter, alongside concord grapes.
For my main course, the house made Pumpernickle Gnocchi ($19) was an exciting twist on your typical potato version. They were slightly grainy in texture, and super fluffy. Tiny cubes of butternut squash, pickled cranberries and an apple-caraway jus emphasize the fall season and compliment the gnocchi well.
The dessert menu is worth checking out. I sipped on Holz's Apple Crisp Liqueur ($8) (also produced by Yahara Bay Distillery) while sampling bites of the Carrot Cake ($8) with cream cheese ice cream, toasted walnuts and carrot caramel and the PB & J ($8) consisting of chocolate miso pound cake, hickory nut mousse and grape gelee. Carrot cake was the sure winner, the miso cake was dry and probably the only dish this evening that didn't make fans.
The choice to dine at Harvest was a good one. They succeed at elegantly preparing dishes and drinks using the finest seasonal and local ingredients, and while this is nothing new, it's still worth mentioning, they're doing it right. Have dinner here and you will certainly not be disappointed.