The drive to Mad-town seems longer than it is, primarily because of the neverending expanses of farm land and the dearth of substantial towns along the way. I pulled into Madison as the sun gave one last fiery appearance before slipping over Lake Monona and gracefully allowing the moon to cut into the blue-black sky.
I dined at Eldorado Grill, a slightly gourmet-ey Tex-mex restaurant located in an old candy warehouse. I settled into my table, extracting my tenure-track notebook (green with white hearts on the cover) out of my purse, and instead of writing deep thoughts about large projects or lofty goals, wrote notes about the restaurant. I'm waiting for the day when someone mistakes me for a semi-famous regional critic, but alas, I'm merely a foodie blogger with a tendency to verbosity and a palate limited by my personal ethics of eating (in the words of Phoebe Buffay, "no food with a face." Unless, of course, it's a morsel of crispy bacon, or tender ham. I know, Pigs are the 6th smartest animal, which should potentially make my craving for all things porcine seem all the more deviant. What can I say? My inconsistencies are complicated. But I digress).
I ordered a mojito, chips and salsa, and a guacamola tostado. The mojito refreshed my road-weary nerves, though I don't like it when the mint is cut into small bits. These are easy to suck up in the straw and then tend to get stuck in my teeth or lodged in my throat. The chips and salsa were delightful, and the black beans that came with my tostado were simplicity. And wonderful for their utter pureness. The crispy corn tortilla base had that slightly off flavor that fried foods can acquire, but overall the meal was satisfying, and would be even more so with a raucous group of friends to keep me company.
And perhaps my slight harshness towards Eldorado can be attributed to the fact that my parents and I dined at Rick Bayless' legendary--and James Beard Foundation Award Winning--Frontera Grill the next night, and everything was fabulous. Hot, spicy, flavorful, simple. Yumm. We sat at the bar since the wait for a "real" table was 2 hours. We enjoyed drinks--various mojitos (watermelon, mexican, and traditional, all with nice large mint leaves that stayed put in the bottom of the glass), margaritas, and, for Dad, a tumbler of second-shelf tequila.
Several summers ago, S, H and I went to Frontera and loved the food and ambience, and I was eager to share the experience with my parents, especially since Dad adores Mexican food. There's always a moment when I hold my breath, afraid that the restaurant I've raved about will disappoint my fellow diners, but luckily, this weekend all grills and cafes satisfied everyone.
We struck up conversations with others at the bar, and passed drinks back to the crowds of people enjoying the nightlife. I was--sort of--hit on by a 70+ year old man wearing a tweed jacket (no, seriously!), who then proceeded to hit on my mom by telling her she's "the best looking mom he's seen in a long time." Meanwhile, Dad was learning about Tequila and sampling habenero sauce from the man sitting next to him...
We walked back to the hotel, enjoying the bright city lights, wrapping our coats around us to shut out the very slightest of chills in the air. We stopped at Intelligentsia for a decaf nightcap, and went back to the hotel to chat and sleep. Poor Dad had to spend his Saturday in meetings, but Mom and I ventured out on the town, wearing stylish but in-advised shoes, and dodging attacks by kamikaze pigeons, but those are stories for another day...