As I said last week, our trip to Madison was in many ways an inverse of our trip to Kansas City in July. The earlier trip was centered on the eating of barbecue and we didn’t find Kansas City to be so very compelling as a family destination beyond that. Madison on the other hand didn’t hold very particular food significance for us but there was a lot of outdoor stuff for us to do or there would have been (even more) if not for the weather. However, armed with recommendations from friends who know the city very well and some people who’ve lived there a while, we ate quite well anyway. That said, the list of places we ate at might possibly strike some people as surprising and perhaps not in line with what comes to mind when you think of food in Wisconsin. For example, our first meal there—a few hours after arrival—comprised ramen, at Strings Ramen, a hop, skip and a jump from our hotel.
This is an outfit with four other locations: three in Chicago and one in New York. I’m not sure where the Madison location falls in their timeline but it seems to be quite popular with a young crowd. Not surprising as they’re in the general University of Wisconsin area. We selected Strings Ramen as our first meal stop as they were 1) very close to our hotel; 2) had outdoor seating (a table or two on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, as it turned out); and 3) we all like ramen. I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere close to the greatest ramen we’ve had in the US but it was quite decent indeed.
We started with a couple of appetizers: spicy menma, a cold dish of bamboo dressed with chilli oil; and an order of steamed pork gyoza. Both were tasty enough. We got three bowls of ramen for the four of us and as an insurance policy for the boys also got an order of the chashu don. As it turned out they quite liked the tonkotsu ramen with pork belly that they shared—and it was quite large—and weren’t quite as big fans of the chashu don, which had a few too many pickled toppings etc. for their liking. We took most of the chashu don back to the hotel room (equipped with fridge and microwave) as an emergency meal if needed at some point and finished up the ramen.
The boys’ tonkotsu ramen was quite tasty, as I said. The missus was not quite as enamoured of her miso ramen with spicy crab but she didn’t have any trouble finishing it. I thought my order of the level 1 “Hell Ramen” was fine. Hell Ramen, in case, you’re wondering is a series of increasingly hot ramens they serve. 1 is the lowest level and 5 is the highest. I can report that level 1 did not make me break a sweat; my guess is level 5—which comes with a “can you finish a bowl in 20 minutes?” challenge attached—is stupidly and probably unpleasantly hot. If you’ve had it and can confirm or deny, please write in below.
For a look at the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it cost, my overall take and to see what’s coming next.
With tax and tip the total was $78. Which is not outrageous but is probably just a bit high in the abstract for the quality—Doug Flicker’s ramen at Bull’s Horn in South Minneapolis is a fair bit better at about the same price. But it hit the spot on the night and if we were staying at the same hotel again odds are good we’d grab another bowl or two there again.
Our next meal in Madison was also East Asian in provenance, Southeast Asian this time. That’ll be next Saturday. Before that on the restaurant front I’ll have a report on a takeout meal from a Thai restaurant in St. Paul. And, of course, a few whisky reviews and a recipe.