Saturday, August 26, 2006

happy birthday to you

I am a law student. Pregnant with a second child, married to an academic, holding the hand of a little girl. The three of us walk up the steps of l’Etoile. We haven’t the money to eat there really, but we are celebrating, big time. My then-husband has just just been voted tenure.

Creaky steps, warm space within. Our two-year-old orders something without sauce. The waiters smile.

Seventeen years later I am in the l’Etoile kitchen, plating appetizers and desserts, popping Vesuvius molten cakes into the oven, tossing wild mushrooms over mixed greens.

Two years more and I am rolling croissants and mixing up gougers for their Saturday market.

And a year after, I am the market buyer -- picking out produce and lugging it up the steps, to the small kitchen of l’Etoile.

Tomorrow l’Etoile celebrates its thirtieth year on the Square. There will be a party is for the farmers who supply the kitchens of this wonderful little place.

Last night I went back to eat there. And so you could see this entire week-end as being sort of a l’Etoile moment: from dinner on Friday, to making the Saturday rounds with farmers whom I know from my buyer days, to the official celebration tomorrow.

A colleague posted a question on the law faculty list this past week: what restaurant would you recommend to someone coming in from New York – someone who is used to the best of the best and doesn’t mind paying for it?

We are an opinionated lot and so suggestions appeared instantly. Fresco, Sardine, Nadia’s, Magnus, Harvest. Fine, fine, I’m sure good meals are to be had at all of them. But l’Etoile is special. It isn’t just a restaurant. It is the last link in that chain of events that begins out there with creating good soil. From field to table.

I can get quite emotional about the place. People don’t typically get emotional about restaurants. Do they?

Congrats, Chef Tory.

Melon soup with stravecchio cheese stick and prosciutto:
summer 06 794

summer 06 834
Jim’s muskmelons

summer 06 830
Black Earth Valley Red Bell Peppers

Jim’s Muskmelon Carpaccio with Dungeness Crab Salas, Shooting Star Farm Torpedo Onions, Black Earth Valley Red Bell Peppers, Fried Capers and Garlic Toast:
summer 06 797

summer 06 813
Snug Haven tomatoes

Roasted Wild Alaskan King Salmon with smoky Shooting Star Farm Cranberry Bean Puree, Stenruds Haricorts Verts, marinated Snug Haven Sungold Tomatoes and Riesling-Bacon Broth:
summer 06 802

summer 06 819
Ruth Lefeber’s blueberries and kids

summer 06 822
Bee Charmer Corn

Ruth Lefeber Blueberry Crisp with Cornmeal-Oat Struesek Topping and Bee Charmer Sweet Corn Ice Cream:
summer 06 804

summer 06 807
L'Etoile, inside and out


  1. Nina,

    Great post about a great place and great farmers. One small correction, as you can see from the picture's backdrop, it's BLACK Earth Valley Farm's peppers; the scowling farmer is Dan Deneen, whose peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes grace the tables of both restaurants and smart Dane County and Westside Community Market buyers.

    (Farmers' Market blogosphere publicist)

  2. Thanks, me and Barry. Typo fixed! I wanted to include bio notes on farmers, but the post was getting out-of-control long!


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