Meals I've Eaten, Issues I've Seen & Operations Advice


Restaurant Week “Lunch of Perfection” at Nostrano

Since arriving on the Madison restaurant scene in 2010 Nostrano has consistently impressed me, enlightened me about new food, wine and libations and held a place in my top 3 favorite restaurants in town. EVERYTHING they make is fresh, seasonal and hand-made with precision and delightful detail.  Nostrano is only open for “Apertivo” (their version of happy hour) and dinner. Although they are right off the square in a lovely historic building on Hamilton, they are still not on many people’s radar (or at least not the people I’m telling).  It’s smart of them to take part in Restaurant Week because it allows them to showcase what they do and guests can try them at both lunch (only this week) and dinner for a modest price. Another crazy smart move Nostrano makes during Restaurant Week is to create beer and wine pairings for all three lunch and dinner courses.  Beer pairings were an additional $12 and wine was an additional $15 at lunch. Nostrano also offers their popular marinated olives as a starter for $6.  Over the years, I’ve heard many restaurants complain about Restaurant Week.  There are various issues and reasons, but one of the big complaints of the higher end restaurants is they have a tough time meeting food costs at $15 & $25 per person.  Nostrano doesn’t sit and whine about it, they come up with ways to give their customers a better experience and what they want and make money doing it! My lunch companion and I happily ordered the wine pairings with lunch and they were fantastic, well thought out and suited for all three dishes.  $30 lunch?  I don’t regret it one bit and I’m sure Nostrano made some money…as they should!

Below is the entire lunch menu complete with my pictures and Nostrano’s descriptions.


Nostrano3Cauliflower Soup
Smoked Wild Mushrooms |Thyme | Olive Oil | Sumac

Pâté CampagnolaNostrano1
Chicories | Green Apple | Puffed Wild Rice |Celery |Shallot Mostarda

Roasted Carrot Salad 
Farro | Winter Greens | Sheep’s Milk Feta |Pomegranate | Nigella Seed VinaigretteNostrano2


Nostrano4Charred Eggplant Panino
Calabrian Chile Peperonata |Arugula | Chickpea Aioli | Multigrain Sourdough

Smoked Pork Shank SandwichNostrano6
Giardiniera | Grain Mustard |Pickled Red Onion | Grilled Focaccia

Rapini Pesto | Gamebird Sausage |Broccolini | Fiore SardoNostrano5


Brown Butter Cake | Grilled Pineapple | Marcona Almonds |Rosemary Gelato

Baked Chocolate GanacheNostrano9
Toasted Walnuts | Persimmon |Crispy Meringue | Ceylon Cinnamon Gelato

Caramel Gelato | Sea Salt | Espresso | BomboliniNostrano8

Appetizer highlights included the earthy, out of this world smoked mushrooms on the Cauliflower Soup, the tiny and surprising bit of puffed wild rice on the Pate Plate and the bright vinaigrette and multi colored carrots on the Carrot Salad.

The pork shank sandwich has been on Nostrano’s Restaurant Week menu for the past 3 years, that I know of, and at first I was a bit annoyed. I wondered why they didn’t offer something new this year, but then I took a bite and remembered why it’s smoky, tender, juicy deliciousness remains on the menu. The pickled onion really helps the flavor develop.  This is the top entree for sure at lunch.  The eggplant sandwich was fine, but didn’t wow me. The Orecchiette, also consistently on the menu, is not overly heavy for a pasta entree and the sausage is very good.  I wished the pasta had been slightly more al dente.

A lot of restaurants buy their desserts or make something to please the masses. Dessert is more of an after thought and sometimes not even mentioned. I believe this is a mistake and a missed opportunity for sales (as is selling bad coffee or not offering dessert at all-we’re in America people- we like to eat!). At Nostrano, James Beard nominated Elizabeth Dahl turns the dessert course into an opera diva’s solo at the Met…center stage, bright lights, holding your breath in awe.  I’m not kidding.  Look at the pictures below. Her pastry is as much a intricate work of art as it is an journey into flavor combinations you have likely never had or even thought of.  Grilled pineapple with tender butter cake, little fronds of fennel and rosemary gelato were by far my favorite this visit.  Bold choices, but boy do they work!  The rosemary gelato was so spectacular that I almost lost all manners and fought off my two lunch companions for their share. We all collectively agreed and would like to come back in the summer for “gelato cones” please….whatever interpretation Ms. Dahl comes up with for that I’ll be there for!

Can I say enough about Nostrano?  Not really. What I will say I love most is their attention to what seems like every detail.  Little garnishes are not just there to add to the beauty, but add to entire plate profile and interesting experience.  Consistent dedication and integrity in creating food this good should be rewarded.

Go!  Just Go!

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