Tim and Elizabeth Dahl have a food-world storybook romance. The former pastry chefs of top Chicago restaurants (Blackbird and Boka, respectively) have recently started a family and opened a restaurant of their own.
The only downside--for Chicago diners, at least--is that their restaurant, Nostrano, is in Madison.
It's worth the trip. Inspired by their love of Italy, the pair has built a menu rooted in local agriculture and full of the refinements you'd expect with their pedigree.
From the savory side, Tim cooks dishes whose simple appearance belies layers of flavor--like a roasted Brussels sprout salad ($11), a sweet, salty mound of farro, raisins and house-cured guanciale laced with Crimson grape vinegar and topped with fried Brussels sprout leaves.
His bowl of whole-wheat pappardelle ($18) references Southern Italy's position as a cultural crossroads, with a complex sauce of cumin- and cinnamon-scented lamb ragù, preserved lemons and mint.
Elizabeth crafts the desserts and the excellent ciabatta that accompanies house-made charcuterie ($17) and brodetto ($17), Italy's bouillabaisse. Match the meal with quartinos of wine or barrel-aged Negronis from barman Chad Vogel, and finish with an affogato flanked by cornmeal doughnuts ($9).
For a weekend excursion, visit the Dane County farmers' market; eat brunch at Tori Miller's casual new restaurant, Graze; and stay at The Speckled Hen Inn, a five-room bed-and-breakfast just outside Madison.
Nostrano, 111 S. Hamilton St., Madison; 608-395-3295 or nostranomadison.com
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