Let’s start with this admission – L’Etoile is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. Over the last 25 years, L’Etoile in Madison and Sanford in Milwaukee have defined the best of dining in the state of Wisconsin. In 2005, Tory Miller moved from chef de cuisine to owner of L’Etoile and has wonderfully nurtured the concept Odessa Piper first opened in 1976. Neither Sanford nor L’Etoile fits the working definition of Great Lakes Cuisine we subscribe to here, but they are both fantastic examples of the best of cuisine, and just happen to be located in the Great Lakes region. L’Etoile, by name and by execution, is French inspired. It is the very best of the French tradition of connection to the farmers, attention to detail, and coaxing out the best flavors possible from every ingredient. The rolls are wonderful, the butter somehow more buttery. And it is amazing what they can do to vegetable.
The reason L’Etoile is relevant has to do with the “companion” restaurant for Tory Miller, Graze. They attribute the inspiration for the concept to the “New York gastropub scene”, the effort to serve pub fair at a higher culinary level, but they also directly reference the inspiration from local products, the local farmers, and the local food traditions. And the most intriguing part is the collaborative dinners with local craft brewers, upcoming dinners feature pairings with Hinterland and Rush River Brewing Co.
They describe their menu this way: “Our eclectic menus allow you to taste the local terroir through farming practices that embrace the land where food is grown or raised: grass-fed beef, acorn and whey fed hogs, artesian trout, cave aged cheeses, and an amazing variety of vegetables grown in Wisconsin’s most fertile soils.” A number of local traditions find their way on to the menu from Friday Fish Fry to Fried Cheese Curds. The menu promises to be eclectic, so you may also their version of Bibimbap on the menu or Korean BBQ. These would be less traditional and more reflective of the owners’ wide ranging experiences. Nevertheless, the beer dinners trump all and warrant inclusion in our list of Great Lakes Cuisine.