Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Lazy Jane's Morning

Photography by Amanda Manteufel
There are few things that I'll wake up before 7:45 a.m. for. I'm simply not an early morning person, and I'll choose sunset over sunrise most any day. But breakfast with a friend, especially when I know I won't get to see that friend for a length of time, is one thing that I make exceptions for. Recently, Amanda drove me to the airport to catch a flight to Philly, and so we breakfasted at Lazy Jane's Cafe and Bakery, a haunt so well-traveled to in Madison and such an East-side staple that it needs little advertisement.

Lazy Jane's' food is good, not great. But I appreciate a restaurant's ability do at least one thing exceptionally well, one thing that you'll consistently crave and return for, and that thing, at Lazy Jane's, is the scone.

Pictured here is the cherry, though I always struggle with the decision between the cherry and the lemon cream. Both are glazed in sugar and heavy with ingredients no one could call light. The fruit is always tart and fresh. What is nice is that if you just want to pick up scones from Lazy Jane's, you can walk into the restaurant (there's generally a line from the front door to the register), pick up a foam glove expressly there for this purpose, and signal to the counter staff that you'd like bakery to go.

I am also a sucker for cream cheese used well in breakfast food, and the cafe's SCC delivers a simple, yet well-balanced plate of eggs, scallions, and cream cheese.

Lazy Jane's potatoes are not my favorite; I usually leave them behind. There are thickly-cut and fairly greasy. The toast is fine; it's hard to go bad with Rye, and the cafe provides various jams, jellies, and butter to adorn the toast.

After I saw Amanda's BLT, I felt a little jealous, though . . .

Many in Madison love Lazy Jane's kitschy, homey decor and establishment in a two-story house, with many odd objects scattered around. It is kid and family-friendly, and children have not only books and toys available to them, but space to sprawl in the upstairs room.

What I enjoy about the decor is that it is like looking into a person's home; you learn a little bit about that person and what (objects) she or he finds significant. I like how most people I eat with at Lazy Jane's have a preference for which room or nook they like to eat in.

Some downsides to Lazy Jane's: the chefs call out loudly when your food is ready, and you pick it up in the window pictured in the first picture above. When you sit upstairs, it is hard to hear your name being called (I've begun in recent years to rely on the pseudonym Angelica, which, due to its four syllables, makes hearing it much easier). Sometimes, the jarring repetition of people's names adds to an unpleasant cacophony in the restaurant (and when people don't come down to retrieve their food, the chef yells louder and louder until you almost want to take someone's else's food to make it stop). The wait is often also a minus, so if you need to be somewhere in a hurry, Lazy Jane's is not your pitstop.

It is a perfect choice, however, when you have a lazy day ahead of you and want to stay on the East side. My friend David recently bought a house, and in his search, he said that it was important that the neighborhood he lived in have a neighborhood bar, by which he meant the street life and community that would foster such as enterprise. I feel similarly about restaurants; each neighborhood should have a walkable brunch joint, and Lazy Jane's fits the bill. This winter, on the one snow day I've ever had the luxury of experiencing in Madison, a few friends and I spontaneously brunched at Lazy Jane's (I took the opportunity to wear my snowboarding overalls, the adult version of the onesie, and something every adult should own), and it was a beautiful afternoon of conversation, coffee, and food. It was a special gathering of people whom I don't often get to brunch with and on a day when I'd ordinarily be working.

On this morning that I brunched with Amanda, I reveled in the early morning conversation that only two close girlfriends can share. We traded thoughts on books, and her description of Cormac McCarthy's The Road prompted me to buy it in the airport and devour it in one sitting, as I generally do with my cherry scone.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Madison Time Out: Philadelphia's Bibou

Photography by Cydney Alexis

One of my favorite things about traveling to Philadelphia to visit my friend David is that he generally plans the whole weekend in advance, which not only reflects research and planning but is really quite touching. He sends me a proposed itinerary a couple of weeks before with suggestions for where we'll eat, drink, and listen to music. This time, I let him fully run the show, and I'm most grateful for his having introduced me to Philadelphia's restaurant Bibou.

If you are ever in Philadelphia, it is worth planning your trip around this restaurant that is up for the James Beard Best New Restaurant award and that is run by French-born and trained Pierre Calmels (also a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic) and his wife, Charlotte.

Bibou is utterly charming, from its modest size to its simple decor to the way that Charlotte Calmels' graceful and elegant presence in the front of the house makes you feel that you are invited into something special. Chef Calmels also takes the time to greet all tables during their meal--we used our time  to ask him about his preparation of a show-stopping bone marrow dish we ate as a middle course.

Part of what makes Philly dining different than Madison and many cities is the BYOB culture that has been imposed due to the difficulty of procuring a liquor license. This enabled us (by which I mean David and Matt) to bring four bottles of quite wonderful reds (without a corking fee) and really experience traditional French cuisine the way it was intended.

Bibou purposefully keeps its menu intimate, like the restaurant. For the first course, I was torn between the fish bisque and escargots. We were nervous that the escargots prep would be traditional and, hence, signify butter more than anything else (not a bad thing, but we all saw this as a chance to step out of our usual culinary zone), but Matt took the dive and ended up with what was my favorite first course.

The escargot are cooked with mushrooms and tarragon and, hence, still retain a slightly meaty flavor from the former and a lightness from the latter that I've never associated with escargot. The bisque was not my favorite until the addition of the provided cream, which added a tang to the bisque that complemented the fish well.

As a middle course, we went with a bone marrow stuffing (marrow cooked with seasonal mushrooms and butter) that was out of this world and a foie gras that reminded me how so often it is the complexity of texture, even more than flavor, that makes a dish. The foie gras was served with a special bread and braised peaches, and, eaten together, the effect was remarkable. This foie was the most tender I've experienced it, and when it hit the tongue, it popped gently like roe. The flavors of this dish unfolded slowly, leaving the strongest suggestion of foie at the very end.

I made a mistake with my entree and did not order the halibut with cherry tomato and blood orange emulsion, a strange choice for me, since I usually order by my favorite ingredients (tomatoes and fruity fish sauces, in this case). Instead, I ordered a hangar steak with some of the most well-cut and cooked asparagus I've eaten--they left a hint of bitterness and crunch that worked well against the beef's tenderness.

David and Matt loved the pigs' feet cooked over lentils, and Kandace loved her sea bass with sage emulsion.

I had told my dining companions that the one French dessert I truly cannot resist is chocolate mousse, and so I easily caved in to dessert after our cheese course and ordered the mousse that was coincidentally on the menu. It was divine, a little more firm and dark than many mousses, a departure I enjoyed.

What made this night truly special were my dining companions, three close friends, food-lovers, and great conversationalists. We all reveled in the dinner knowing that we were there to savor each dish and moment of the meal. It is always a blessing to eat in that company (even though poor Kandace was still keeping kosher for Passover and had to pass over some of the best parts of the meal).

One gets the sense at Bibou, though, that we experienced a dinner just as the Calmels intended it: close, studied, and enjoyed.

And, as you'll see if you look at Bibou's seasonal menu (though the pigs' feet and boeuf tend to be staples, as Charlotte informed us), the prices are reasonable for food this remarkable.

Stay tuned for Madison Time Out, part two. The nature of Bibou demanded a post of its own.