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Monday, February 11, 2008

Road Food: Christian's Bistro

If you ever find yourself smack in the middle of Wisconsin trying to find a nice, cozy little restaurant after nights of eating fried walleye at the roadside bars that seem to be more numerous than the trees, see if you're anywhere near Christian's Bistro in Plover right off I-39 about 90 minutes north of Madison. I spotted it out my hotel room window about 100 feet away on Monday. It was closed that night. Tuesday night they were booked solid thanks to Fat Tuesday. Wednesday night I didn't eat dinner but I finally made it over on Thursday.

I chose a seat at the Chef's Bar, a long polished granite counter facing the kitchen so you can watch the action. The service was top-notch. Better than I've seen at any restaurant in Lincoln. They even looked good. No stained yellow polo shirts like you might find in a certain "fine dining" establishment around here. My server, John, knew exactly when to approach and exactly what I needed each time.

Christian's has a nice, accessible and varied wine list featuring all styles by the glass (including a German red). I started out with a glass of Malbec and a Wisconsin cheese plate featuring three selections from the six choices on the cheese menu. I went with a fontina, an aged cheddar and a terrific manchego served with grilled toast points, toasted walnuts and apricot preserves. I was initially surprised by how much cheese I got for the price because I've been places locally where the cost was twice as much for less. The fontina was creamy and more pungent than I expected and went down nicely with the malbec. The cheddar was OK by itself but the sharpness of its aging paired very well with the mellow nuttiness of the walnuts. The manchego ruled as manchego usually does.

Sitting at the chef's bar pays off in other ways than just being able to watch. I was seated near where the executive chef put the finishing touches on dishes and he engaged me in conversation about the cheeses. When I expressed some interest and knowledge he spent about 10 minutes scrounging around in the kitchen for this really great cheese he wanted me to try. It turned out to be Taleggio a semi-soft Italian cheese I'd never had before. It was really great. What struck me was the texture, stretchy almost like taffy, even when cold, and very fruity. It was terrific with the earthy malbec I'd been drinking.

I was on somewhat of a budget so for the main course I went with the Kobe beef burger topped with locally produced bacon, swiss cheese and a generous slice of portabello mushroom served with the best steak fries I've ever had. There were only about six of them but they were all cut from very large potatoes and seemed to have been fried, dried and refried a couple of times. The best thing about the burger was that it was cooked exactly as I had ordered it, medium rare, which is so hard to get anywhere these days with the patties being so thin. I watched the line cook as he did it and he had the technique of not overcooking a thin patty down pat. Not too much time all at once on the grill.

At the end, after I had John box up half of my burger for the next morning because I could not take anymore Hampton Inn powdered eggs, the chef whipped me up a mini creme brulee on the house.

This place, in the middle of Wisconsin, hours away from Madison or Milwaukee or Minneapolis, seems very successful. They've been open for a year and they were busy every night I was there in the middle of winter. My whole meal was around $25 and that included an $8 glass of wine. Why shouldn't this work in Lincoln?


Anonymous Wisco said...

Mmmmm Cheeeeese
I didn't know about Christian's Bistro, Thanks for the review.

I'll spread the good word to some Foodie friends in Wisconsin.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We went to Christians several times last summer and we are so looking forward to going back this summer. It is a jewel!
Anette, Denmark

12:58 PM  

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