If you’re in Madison  for only one night, the place to choose is definitely L’Etoile (1 S. Pinckney St., 608/251-0500, www.letoile-restaurant.com , 5:30–8:45 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 5–9:45 p.m. Sat., $20–35), on Capitol Square directly opposite the Capitol . The creative regional fare has garnered nationwide raves and placed the owners in the national cuisine spotlight—named one of the United States’ top 50 restaurants by Food and Wine. The restaurant was slow-food and locavorish and whatever decades ago; it also truly strives to reach that esoteric netherworld of the harmony of cuisine, art, and culture. Simply put, the menus are incredible gastronomic representations of the geography and ethos of this place. L’Etoile is highly recommended. The owners also have a wonderful gastropub contiguous to it with delectable bakery and light meals all day and comfort food Sundays to take up L’Etoile’s slack.
No places at L’Etoile? Problem solved: Walk one block north to the equally well-realized Harvest (21 N. Pinckney St., 608/255-6075, 5:30–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 5:30-11:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $16). The burgeoning slow-food movement—French and American, with local organic ingredients—inspires the culinary experience at this, one of southern Wisconsin’s best.
Making a name for itself is the newer Sardine (617 Williamson St., 608/441-1600, 5–10 p.m. Tues.–Thurs., 5–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun., $6–20). It may not consider itself a fine dining establishment (as in posh), but the seafood in a capacious lakeside dining room is really something special. The skate here is sublime.