Monday, July 14, 2008

Still Mad for Madtown - Madison, WI

Schedule Your Staycation?

I am mad for Madison, Wisconsin. Not the least bit mad that my usual choice of stay, the Concourse, was out of my budget this trip, nor was I mad that Priceline found me no place within my budget at all. Instead, I turned to Plan B,, which provides the uncertainity of a hotel name with the certainty of a price--with both Priceline's "name your price" and Hotwire, you do not know the name of your hotel until after you hit the pay button. Anyway, I'm mad enough to say OK to a $32 "two star-er" on Hotwire in West Madison. After all, my wife, who will not be known as the Condiment Queen, takes it as a matter of pride and principle to spend less that 12 hours in a hotel room, check-in to check out. How bad could the Rock Star Inn (i.e., Road Star) be. I mean it did not get featured in this apt cover story in this week's Isthmus. Answer: gross, but just barely tolerable. Vital advice: take slippers when ever staying in Hotwire 2 star hotels. Cheap room equals more food budget.

So, I'm not the least bit mad over the prices at Lao Laan Xang, Madison's foremost Laotian restaurant, which seem a bit high, about $16 for house specials. We hit Lao Laan Xang because my older daughter, on the verge of birthday, felt Laotian would cleanse her after two nights of Ann Boylen (i.e., our Wettstein's Organic Farm hog, so named because it's head had been lost). (Also, Mom and Dad had just watched Tony Bordain mope through Laos on the DVR.) To daughter's chagrin, we ordered more pork as well as catfish, not a fave either.

I'm madly in love with Laotian food, at least as served at Lao Laan Xang. I cannot say I know much in the way of Laotian food. I figured the best way to start was with the four house specialities on the Lao Laan menu. My younger daughter balked, something about house specialities and spice or what not through her off (and she was mad we were not at Old Fashion or the Washington (Island) Hotel Coffee Room). Utilizing her enormous skill to pick dishes she will later dislike, she opted out of the family plan for a private beef salad. Trouble brewed further as goaded by her sister, she switched her heat level from careful to adventuresome (the rest of us going for "native Lao"). Her lunch turned out to be mostly gobs of sticky rice. We on the other hand, loved-loved the beef salad, heavy with fish sauce and maybe something else that gave it a funkier taste than similar Thai salads. Of course the adventuresome spice level helped.

I'm not mad that I did not pay attention to the name of one house speciality, tum som to realize it was papaya salad (in Thai, "som tum"). The menu describes
pounded in a mortar, fresh garlic, chiles, shrimp paste, tamarind, lime, cherry tomatoes, Thai eggplant, fish sauce, unripe papaya
I had in my mind, nam prik, pounded dishes used as dips. Instead, papaya salad and a quarter of fried chicken. The other funny (not as in ha-ha funny) thing about this dish was about 25 minutes (at least) after we ordered it; the waiter came by and said they currently had no papaya on hand. They were in the process of getting some though. Would we like the dish with cucumbers they asked. We said no, papaya, just bring us the other dishes first. Without going into a detailed review of Lao Laan Xang, let me say that the restaurant showed why they needed the time and the money. Our dishes, the papaya salad with chicken, a catfish stuffed with herbs and grilled-steamed in banana leaves and a variation on that dish, the catfish with ground pork, all tasted complex and labor intense. Ordering Lao meant eating fire, but it also meant eating a range of intense flavors. Nothing was dumbed dumbed down for us. I'm madly in love with this place.

And not the least bit mad that our raison d'etre for Madison, the World's Greatest Farmer's Markettm gave ground this weekend for Art Fair. All the more excuse to visit a new market. We highed early Sunday morning to the Northside market [ed., could not wait to get out of the Rock Star huh?]. As a known flamin' liberal, I got the cred to say this market mimicked the Democratic National Convention. The vendors: a Mexican, a few Asian, the organic, the lesbians (no stereotyping, they flew the rainbow flag at their booth), an African-American, the not bitter white working class, the yuppies with the yogurt enterprise. As a flamin' lib, I enjoyed the hell out of it all. The Mexican guy, who spoke nary a word of English had squash blossoms nearly the size of sunflowers and herbs like epazote and papalo--of course I had to buy. My wife and I had to buy something from nearly every vendor. We are madly in love with this market from its dairy to its fish farm called Pleasant Springs Hatchery to woman who makes caramels from local elderflowers and various jams at her Pamplemousse Preserves. I think I captured all our purchases here (scroll down), but don't be mad if I forgot something. You can do no worse if in Madison on a Sunday than visiting this market.

I am certainly mad that this post has gone on much longer than I wanted. I'm mad that the IGA market, Pierces, contains more local than any Whole Foods, but I'm not the least bit mad that we joined the Willy Street Coop (I'm just mad we don't get to use our membership more often). I'm mad for Old Fashion, the supper club-y place on the square and especially mad in the best of ways for an event my wife luckily, oh so luckily, found while reading the Isthmus, namely Pie-palooza, an eat local benefit. Eating local is as easy as pie they said. So, don't be mad if it takes me a bit to blog about it.

1 comment:

leedav said...

Thanks for your kind words about my preserves! Say hello if you ever make it back to the Northside Market again.