L’Etoile has been a staple in the Madison culinary scene and Pinckney Street for quite some time. This summer begins the next chapter in the restaurants history.
By now, some of you may have heard the news about our big move coming this summer. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support and also to answer some of the many questions I have been getting these past few weeks. Dianne, Traci and I understand that this is a major undertaking and that it is going to be a crazy spring/early summer to get it to all to come together. There will be much to report over the coming months, but I will try and shed a little light on things as they stand right now.
We are moving L’Etoile to the US Bank building, the big glass building just a few doors down on the Capitol Square. We will be on the capitol side with, dare I say, an even better view of the capitol building than we currently have. The lease on our current location is coming up and the opportunity to move into the US Bank Plaza became available, so we decided to go for it. I don’t know what will happen in the L’Etoile space. The building is owned by Sonya Newenhouse. She is currently looking to fill the lease. We are shooting to be in the new space by mid-July. We will not be moving into the Sunprint space. I don’t have a relationship with Sunprint (yet), so I can’t answer when people ask me about their plans for the future.
We understand that recapturing the intimate feel of the L’Etoile dining room in a space that has 30 foot tall ceilings and a front wall made of all glass windows is going to be a difficult task. But, we are working with a great designer that really understands our wants and vision for the new space. He also understands our commitment to being green and sustainable so that is in his mind when selecting materials and lighting. Our seating capacity will be about the same but we will have a larger bar. We will also have a private dining room that will seat up to 90 or so guests. The history and memories from the current building will be with us all forever. My wife and I met here, had our wedding dinner here, and just celebrated a baby shower for our soon-to-be-born son. We completely understand the romanticism tied to this place for so many of us. But, at the same time, we are very excited to start a new chapter in this adventure. We still do not know what will happen to Café Soleil. But have no fear though, our croissants and pastries will live on…
In the same building and connected to the new L’Etoile, we will also be opening a second restaurant called Graze. It will be a gastropub which, for those who don’t know, is a place that has a bar and is focused on making food that goes beyond the expected “pub grub”. All of the food that the farmers bring in the back door will be kept in the same cooler for both restaurants. I am excited to be able to change directions and use our local farmers’ food in a different setting. Graze will have outdoor seating (we are right across from Concerts on the Square) and will feature twelve WI craft beers on tap and a wine list that will be an extension of our L’Etoile wine team. Graze will have brunch on Saturday and Sunday. I love big breakfasts: eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, pastries… you get the idea. Graze will also have a late night menu. I am pumped to be able to serve food like oysters on the half-shell and charcuterie after midnight. We will do a sustainable fish fry on Fridays. Sustainable seafood is as important to me as buying from local farmers. I will be happy to serve a traditional Wisconsin fish fry with all of the usual fixins, but with the star of the show being a certified sustainable fish that changes with what the fishing boats are catching.
The idea for Graze came to me as I was eating at the Spotted Pig, an awesome gastropub in New York City. As I sat in the restaurant, I literally turned to my friend and said that I would open another more casual place where the food was still rendered at a high level using our same great ingredients. I had a flush of menu items come into my mind, as well as the name: Graze. Grass-fed animals and rotational grazing/growing is a practice that is important to us. I am inspired to make a menu for Graze that inspires our guests to do just that: graze. I want them to try many different tastes and new things as well as enjoy those classics like a delicious burger. What comes to mind most to me when I think about the menu is modern American comfort food; things that chefs and foodies love to eat.
Traci and Dianne are really working hard to get the “guts” of the deal done: lots of meetings, phone calls and emails. All of our L’Etoile family is excited and can’t wait to see what the summer will bring. I can promise that it will be well worth the wait!
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