Hudson County Restaurant Week Food Diary: The Madison

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The adventures continue as we eat our way through the list of restaurants participating in Hudson County Restaurant Week...

Friday, February 1, 2pm: Madison Bar and Grill, Hoboken
We decided on The Madison Bar and Grill for a late lunch that Friday afternoon. We were looking again to go to a place in Hoboken out of convenience. Unfortunately, we went there with tentative mouths and hesitant bellies. The lunch prix fixe looked good, but we were still wary because our last experience at the Madison was less than a pleasant one; we both ended up sick in some shape or form, and were severely underwhelmed by the food. That was far more than a year ago and we hadn’t returned since. The Restaurant Week gave us an excuse and opportunity to try it out again.

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The layout was familiar, the heavy wooden elements and d├ęcor, the hearty American accents— all American. The light was beautiful in the space on that clear afternoon, making the place warm and glow, and the crisp white table clothes whiter, and the red pink flowers on the table more vibrant. There were not a lot of people in the place, but there was a constant stream of in and out, some taking advantage of the deal, and others regulars.

The lunch prix fixe was a steal, $15 for three courses, way increasing the value of the meal. Not only was the money right, but even the choices had major variety and appeal. There were sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, something to please everyone, as well as displaying the fare of the restaurant's regular menu. We were hesitant but hungry.

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We always chose our food by what we both want to taste, so there is always some discussion, some back and forth, and some compromising. But sometimes when ordering there is also some confusion, who gets what… and plenty of giggling.

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To start we had the crab cake as one appetizer, and the Mediterranean mezze as the other. This mezze included roasted red peppers, a pool of thick hummus, bitter olives, artichoke hearts, warm stuffed grape leaves, crunchy falafel and enough pita for a party. The crab cake was delicate and dainty compared to the inordinate amount of food of the other appetizer. But it showed true craftsmanship and a complex understanding of flavor and balance. The crab cake was in fact small; a crunchy, crispy sphere on the outside but a well seasoned mess of stringy crab on the inside. What made it extra good was what was happening on top and around the solitary crab cake. There was a tiny heap of micro greens on top of the cae and a delicate ginger dressing in a shallow pool surrounding it. Floating in the pool of the sweet dressing, were crunchy green onions to brighten the appetizer. Something magical happened between all the elements creating a complex mix of sweet, salty, fresh and strong.

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The mains were nothing to really write home about. I indulged in the pizza bianca, which had far too many colors to call white; the green of the arugula, pink of the prosciutto, the red of the tomato, and under all of that finally, was the bianca. My dining partner in crime had a shrimp and bacon club, which had swiss cheese and a pesto mayo. I was not wild about the combination (cheese and seafood, Scott Conant would have a fit), however it proved to be a hearty sandwich.

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Dessert was limited to a few flavors of gelato, a few flavors of sorbet (gelato is gelato and sorbet is sorbet, especially in this case), and the champion, a key lime cheesecake. The cheesecake was like an individual cake, small, proper and round. There was a graham cracker crust, crunchy and sweet. And the creamy cake had a small hint of lime, just enough to add a little kick, but not enough to make the mouth pucker. The raspberry coulis on the plate also added another hint of both tartness and sweetness; just another level of fruitiness to almost bring out the lime. This was a fun and delicious twist on two different classics.

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Doing the math, this Restaurant Week meal was a steal. The proportions were really comfortable, the food was not boring but also not unpredictable. It makes me change my mind about the place. Though, if I go back (which I am pretty sure I will), I will avoid the things that I ate there the first time, and try something new.
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