10 February 2008

Tornado Steakhouse, Madison, Wis.

Totally in contrast to the Yachtsman (previous post), the Tornado Steakhouse in Madison, Wis., is an example of an excellent, independent restaurant that accommodates business travelers.

In early February, I had my annual sojourn to Madison for a meeting organized by the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives on behalf of Land O'Lakes to discuss legislative issues that affect farmers and co-ops in the state. Last year, we went to Delmonico’s, another wonderful, locally-owned steakhouse. While I could have happily gone back, I’m always eager to try new places. So after checking around a little, I picked the Tornado.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love traveling to Madison. It’s a beautiful little city and it has a great restaurant scene. This year, the city was not very hospitable. Attendance at our meeting the next day was threatened by a looming snowstorm. Though I worried about the storm, it couldn’t spoil the fun of being in Madison.

Tornado describes itself as having a supper club atmosphere. The bar feels old and clubby with lots of wood. When we entered, there was a small group of people laughing and chatting at the bar. Total strangers, they gave us a cordial welcome, the camaraderie of fellow travelers seeking refuge from the storm. The dining room has a feeling almost like a lodge – wood beams, knotty pine paneling (almost like a log cabin) with antiques and western art on the walls.

Because some of my guests live out of town, they requested an early dinner so that they could hit the road before the snow started. So when we sat down, the restaurant was fairly empty. Service was prompt and very friendly. Our server described the evening specials and took our beverage orders.

Though steaks dominate the menu, there is enough variety to satisfy anyone except a vegetarian (no pasta or vegetarian entrées). Our group of five ordered three steaks, one salmon, and one walleye. The steak offerings are varied enough so that you can find whatever size fits your appetite. They all were big enough to be satisfying, but none so big as to be obscene.

I ordered the evening special, which was a grass-fed tenderloin. (When I ordered it, I joked with the server: “Grass-fed, that means tough, right?” I think she knew I was joking, but she assured me that it would not be tough.) I almost changed my mind when she said it came with a sauce. But when I asked if it could be served on the side, she accommodated my request. I’m glad I ordered it. It was very tasty. The sauce also was good, but I liked being able to decide how much or whether to have any sauce with the meat.

My guests who had the other two steaks liked theirs as well, as did the fish eaters. I didn’t taste either of the fish. The salmon looked better than the walleye. It was a thicker piece. The walleye looked like it might have been overcooked. I would not hesitate to recommend the Tornado Steakhouse to anyone traveling to Madison.

Our meeting the next day was very successful. The storm held off until about 4 p.m. We had a good group dinner at the Madison Club. One of the guests who was a member at the club gave us a tour and hosted us for a drink in the clubroom after dinner. We watched the Super Tuesday returns while the wind and snow began to build outside. I left Madison at 8:30 the next morning. It took me an hour to go 30 miles on extremely treacherous roads. But by the time I was 30 miles north of the city, I was out of the storm and had a smooth drive home. Madison had a record snowfall by the end of the day.

No comments: