I had one of the best meals of my life in the midwest.
In a signless, 18-seat restaurant called Forequarter in Madison, Wisconsin, every plate evinces epicurean talent: sautéed rainbow trout, pan-roasted quail, pork terrine. But there's no head chef at this place, which recently landed on Bon Appétit's best new restaurants list. The restaurant doesn't even have an owner.
In a chef-obsessed dining culture, Forequarter works as a collective.
The idea might sound contrived. Did this group come together just to make a statement and go against fads? It's possible. But while most chefs yearn for TV spots and endorsement deals, Forequarter chose collaborations and anonymity. And after dining at the restaurant, you won't be too preoccupied with the concept or alternative ways. You'll be talking about the food instead.
Some of the success can be attributed to the city's growing culture. Every Saturday, Madison's farmers' market wraps around the capitol. Stands proffer organic greens and zebra tomatoes. Forequarter's cooking highlights the vegetables of its surrounding farms.
Preparations such as roasted green beans -- tangled with smoked pork, sauerkraut, and pickled mustard seeds -- play up the produce and not the meat. Sure, they cook a fine sausage plate, which is made by their charcuterie team named Underground Meats. (You can score some of their stuff online.) But Forequarter's cooking is simple, not simplistic.
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The cuisine reflects the trends of the moment: whole animal cookery, superior butchery, preservation through curing and pickling, and vegetable-driven plates.
At the end of the evening, you can't ask anyone in the kitchen for an autograph. All you can do is enjoy your meal. And that's a good thing.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.