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  • Welcome! My name is Kelly, and I am a picky eater. On this blog I share recipes, new (to me) foods, restaurants, and products that I try in an effort to expand my tastes. You might also find me talking about my pug Olive, Miss Kitty, Project Life, my journey with running, and more! Feel free to contact me: [email protected]

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Restaurant Review: The Wise

Full Disclosure: I was invited to The Wise to try their new menu.  I did not pay for this meal, but I am not being compensated for this post and the opinions are completely my own. 

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the public relations manager at The Wise to tell me about their new Spring menu, and ask if I would like to set up a time to come in and try some things from the menu and talk with the chef about the restaurant.  I was immediately interested.  I have been wanting to try The Wise for a while now, so this seemed like a wonderful opportunity.  Also, one of the example menu items that she mentioned caught my eye: “Lunch: Grilled Cheese. The Wise version is made with Jones Dairy Farm bacon, Green Bay cheddar and Madison Sourdough bread, with roasted apple jam made with Wisconsin apples.”  That sounded SO good….minus the bacon of course 🙂 (We didn’t actually get to try that one since it is on the lunch menu, but we had plenty of other delicious food so it wasn’t a big deal) Sarah and her husband had been invited as well, so we decided to make a date night out of it and go together!

The restaurant is located inside the HotelRed on the corner of Monroe and Regent Street, across from Camp Randall.  The setup is more like a lounge or bar setting than a restaurant. I wasn’t expecting it to be like that, but I actually really liked how open the setting was, it gave it a bit more of a relaxed feel.


When we first arrived, the Kentucky Derby was about to begin so we took a seat at the bar and watched that before we sat down to eat. They have a new Spring cocktail menu, so we each tried something off of that as well.  I had the Capitol Cocktail – Rehorst Citrus and Honey Vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, cranberry juice & seltzer.  It was SO good. The husband had the Red Rum Smash – Yahara Bay Premium White rum, Chambord, simple syrup, lime juice.  He really enjoyed that as well.  Throughout the evening we tried pretty much the entire list of drink specials between the four of us.  Another favorite of mine was the Infrared – Stoli razberi Vodka, Chambord, lime juice, sparkling wine. The husband also liked the Moscow Mule – russian Standard Vodka, Wiscopop Ginger Brew, lime – it came in a cool copper mug!


 With the drinks, we had some crab cakes – Tender crab meat in a crisp fried cake with house seasonings, lemon aioli & bell pepper. I am not a huge crab cakes fan, but I do really like crab, and these were good! They were minimally fried, and mostly crab on the inside – they tasted very fresh, not like many restaurant crab cakes that taste like they could’ve just come out of the freezer.


To start our meal we snacked on a an Olives, Meat, and Cheese Tray – House marinated olives, local charcuterie from Underground Meat & Wisconsin cheese, garnished with fruit.  A great way to start the meal.  I loved the cheese, crackers  and apples, and I know the husband is a big fan of the Underground Meat.


Also as an appetizer, we had some Hand-Cut French Fries with Dip.  These were SO good, the secret is apparently that they are double fried.  The other secret is the sauces! Normally you get to choose once dipping sauce, but we got to try all of them: smoked paprika, mustard dip, ginger & wasabi mayo, aioli or basil mayo. My favorite was by far the basil mayo.  I am not at all a mayo fan, but the basil was really amazing and a great compliment to the fresh fries.



Along with the fries we had Fish Tacos – Market fish marinated & grilled, topped with pineapple & RED salsas, queso fresco, finished with fresh cilantro.  I am not a huge taco person, so I didn’t love these but I did really like the sweetness of the pineapple with the fish!


Next we tried a few different salads.

We got to sample all three of the salad options.  First was the Spinach Salad -with roasted beets, pickled watermelon rind, Wisconsin Chevre & a local honey lavender dressing,


then the Stone Fruit and Passion – avocado & mango with mixed greens, sunflower seeds, cilantro & passion fruit vinaigrette,


and finally (my favorite) the Spring Greens – tossed with grilled asparagus, bell pepper & citrus dressing.

The spinach salad  and the stone fruit salads were alright, but I’m not a huge fan of avocado or beets so they weren’t my favorite.  The spring greens salad on the other hand, I loved. I could do without the bell pepper, but the greens with the grilled asparagus and delicious citrus dressing was probably one of my favorite things that I ate all night.  It wasn’t a very heavy salad so it was great to start the meal.


Throughout the meal, Chef John came out and chatted with us about the ingredients in the dishes, asked us our thoughts about the food we were eating.  I was a little bit surprised (in a good way) about how down to earth he was!  He was very friendly, answered all of our questions as best he could, told us stories about how he got the be where he is today, and we even chatted about other local must-visit restaurants. (apparently I need to visit Pig in a Fur Coat ASAP!) I thought it was awesome that he really tries his best to source locally if he can, but he also realizes that if he wants things on his menu that aren’t grown in the area (like mango) he has to make sacrifices for that.

Next it was on to the entrees.

First was the Pork Tenderloin Medallions marinated in rich spices, grilled & topped with lime-washed mango relish alongside a crisp & fresh gingered cucumber salad.  I’m not a big pork person, so this was just alright for me.


Next I tried the Local Hereford Beef Short Ribs slow cooked in a Guinness & pomegranate demi above fork crushed Wisconsin potatoes drizzled with a garlic & peppercorn oil.  This was definitely a favorite of the group.  I am not a fan of ribs, so I didn’t love it.  I did, however, love the flavor of the glaze, and the potatoes!


The third was my favorite entree – and something that I had never had before – Lamb Chop Pops with shiitake & herb crust, house mustard jus, herb pesto and bacon and shallot roasted Wisconsin potatoes.  Lamb is definitely something that kind of scared me to try before, but these just looked so pretty and fancy that I had to try them – and I am sure glad I did! They were incredibly tender and had just enough seasoning.  And of course the potatoes that were with them were delicious as well.


After dinner we were all pretty stuffed.  But wait, there was still dessert! There is always room for dessert!

We decided to dine al fresco on their patio for the dessert course.


We got four different desserts to share among us.  First was the peanut butter and banana cheesecake with house-made peanut brittle. Not my favorite (as you might have guessed) but I did actually try a small bite of the cheesecake and it is more like banana with a hint of peanut butter, still too much for me though.  This one does win my vote for best presentation though!


The next one I tried was the chocolate pots du creme with Alterra espresso.  This was delicious.  It looks kind of like just a chocolate pudding, but the texture is thicker and the flavor is richer.  The espresso flavor is there, but not overwhelming, just how I like it!


The next dish was probably the most unique dessert, a citrus olive oil cake with blueberry jam and mascarpone.  I don’t think I’ve ever had (or heard of) olive oil cake before, but it was tasty! It was super moist, and I loved the citrus flavor, especially mixed with the berries and mascarpone.


The last dessert was probably my favorite.  It was a raspberry and chocolate truffle torte with raspberry coulis.  It was so dense and rich and chocolatey.  It tasted like one giant truffle – which I suppose could be why it is called a truffle torte.


After dessert we were all completely stuffed.  Chef John offered to give us a little tour of one of the rooms in the HotelRed which is connected to the restaurant.  I absolutely love boutique hotels (which HotelRed is) so I jumped at the chance.  The hotel had a modern feel and is definitely somewhere I would stay.  Each room has ample space, flat screen televisions, modern decor, and a kitchenette.  Many of the rooms have a balcony with an awesome view of Camp Randall and/or downtown Madison.  It is definitely somewhere I would stay if I was coming in from out of town…or maybe even if I was going to a Badger Football game and wanted to have the convenience of being able to stay downtown for the night. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the room that we saw (I blame my extreme fullness for that blogger fail!) but we did get a photo of the four of us on a balcony with a view of the stadium.


Overall it was a really great night.  Delicious food, fun atmosphere, and great company.

Taste: A, really delicious and lots of options – much more on the menu that we didn’t even get to try.  My favorites of the night were probably the crab cakes, fries, spring greens salad, lamb, and raspberry and chocolate truffle torte.
Cost: Since we didn’t pay for our meal I can’t really comment, but I will say that there is something for every price range.  While the lamb is definitely on the expensive side, the spring greens salad was $9 and the french fries were $8 and I could probably make a decent meal out of that without it being overly expensive.

Would I go there again? Absolutely. I’m kind of craving those crab cakes again after writing about them…and also that Capitol Cocktail.

The Wise on Urbanspoon

8 Responses

  1. Obviously not very vegan friendly, but I super want to try that Capitol cocktail!

    • You are correct in that it isn’t very vegan friendly – although I’m sure they would make you a killer salad with lots of local veggies if you asked. And yes, all of their cocktails were pretty unique and amazing, but the Capitol Cocktail was definitely my favorite!!

  2. mmm. re-living this meal through your post was almost as good as the actual meal! 😉 great job recapping it! 🙂

    also, i’m stealing that group photo!

    • Thanks! Yeah as I was editing the photos I was practically drooling over the deliciousness!

      and go ahead and steal that photo! 🙂

  3. WOW, everything looks amazing! Especially the fries, fish tacos, and lamb chops. (I’ve always been scared of lamb too, but if you liked it, I have a feeling I would too!) And such impressive presentations–love the flowers on the crab cakes and the little chocolate pot container. I’ve never heard of this place, but now it’s officially on my List. Thanks for the review!

    • Yes, they were beautifully presented, too!

      To me, the lamb almost tasted like really well cooked steak. It was SO moist and tender – definitely not what I was expecting lamb to be like!!

  4. […] awesome menu. we were lucky enough to try many, many items on the spring 2013 menu. kelly did a pretty great recap of the whole meal, so if you’re curious about the food details, you can check out her […]

  5. […] Tory Miller of L’Etoile. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you recall that I visited The Wise not too long ago, so I am familiar with the deliciousness of Chef John’s cooking.    The […]

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