10 February 2007

Dinner at Johnny Delmonico’s, Madison, WI

Johnny Delmonico’s is a cool, sophisticated steak house that could fit into any capitol city in the country. It’s practically in the shadow of the Wisconsin state capitol, barely two blocks away. The fact that Delmonico’s is locally owned and that you can only enjoy it in Madison, Wisconsin, just adds an intangible sense of enjoyment to the experience of dining there.

My guests at dinner work for the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives. Since WFC is significantly a lobbying organization, and several staff members spend significant time at the Capitol. So I was quite surprised to learn that none of them had eaten at Delmonico’s previously.

Neither had I. I don’t get to Madison nearly enough. It’s a fun town to visit. The combination of state capitol and University of Wisconsin campus, located on either end of State Street, gives the city a fun combination of moods and experiences. I think the city’s restaurant scene is very creative. There are fun and funky bars and burger joints. Some great fish and seafood restaurants. Lots of ethnic restaurants (including the only Nepalese restaurant that I’m aware of in the Midwest). And, of course, Capitol Square is surrounded by restaurants and bars, which brings me back to my dinner at Delmonico’s.

The décor is open, inviting, and comfortable. Tables are discretely spaced so that the diners at the next table won’t hear your conversation … unless you want them to.

I was very impressed by the service. Our server was friendly and engaging. Some servers have a hard time figuring out how to break into the conversation in order to take orders or take care of the business of serving the meal. Our guy handled that very smoothly and unobtrusively. He was attentive but not pushy. I made a point of arriving a few minutes early and I laid out a few of my preferences as the host. He was very conscientious about observing my ground rules. (I gave him a healthy tip. But after writing about how good he really was, I probably should have given him more.)

The food was great. We started with a couple of appetizers – one order of oysters Delmonico and an order of bacon-wrapped scallops. The scallops were the most popular at our table. Since I like oysters, I deferred from taking a scallop. Judging by the enthusiasm of the other diners, I would say the scallops were good. I liked the oyster Delmonico quite a lot. It was broiled with spinach and bacon. Very tasty.

For entrées, the menu offers a lot of variety. But steaks (and fish) are featured. At our table, three people ordered 6 ounce steaks, one ordered an 8 ouncer, and one rib eye. One guest had grouper, and I had a veal chop. I like the option of ordering a smaller steak. Some of the national steak house chains serve steaks that are so large it’s ridiculous. Another option at Delmonico’s is to dress up the steak with ‘add ons.’ Two of my guests had their steaks ‘Oscar style,’ that is with crab meat, asparagus and hollandaise. It’s a creative option. Other choices are with a hollandaise and blue cheese sauce, bacon-wrapped, or a selection of sauces and rubs.

A salad is included with the steaks at Delmonico’s. That’s a nice touch in a world where everything usually is ala carte. They also served a basket of nice, crusty bread with a little tub of butter. But like most steak houses, the sides are extra. We had two orders of asparagus, on order of creamed spinach and one of whipped potatoes. They all were quite good.

I liked the wine list at Delmonico’s. They offered an ample selection of reasonably priced wines. I easily found one I was familiar with at a reasonable price. They also have a ‘reserve list’ with more expensive wines. But all I wanted was a pleasant, drinkable wine that my guests could enjoy and I wouldn’t have to worry about whether to give the nod to open another bottle. We had a pinot noir from Estancia. It fit my wishes precisely.

In sum, Johnny Delmonico’s turned out to be just right for this small dinner meeting. It offered good food, a comfortable setting, attentive and unobtrusive service. It stays on my list of Madison restaurants that I would come back to.

1 comment:

Benjamin said...

There's a Nepalese restaurant in Minneapolis called Namaste. It's in Uptown at 25th and Hennepin. I've never been in there, but I've curiously peered in a couple of times in passing. Looks nice, very clean and minimalistic.