Monday, June 23, 2008

Beat helmets and birthday revelry at Madison Bar & Grill

This past weekend, it was faithful quadrumvirate member J's 26th birthday. His parents were in town for the day, and he graciously invited the bro and me to join them for dinner in Hoboken. On a steamy Saturday evening, we, J and J's roommate B met the parents at Madison Bar and Grill for a lot of food, a lot of merriment, and a bonus vocabulary lesson.

Madison Bar and Grill is the kind of nice-but-not-too-nice, easygoing American bistro of which there are too few in Manhattan. The decor was anonymous, the service was friendly, and you felt instantly at home once you walked in the door. We were seated at a round table in the corner, and since the crowd was quite sparse throughout the evening (and we ate on the earlier side), we felt as though we had the place almost to ourselves.

The menu front

Our server let us take as long as we wanted with our meal. She gave us quite a while to select drinks, and Mr. J took the reins in selecting a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine. We looked over the menus as the wine service began; I chose the white, as is my custom. It was a yummy Chardonnay, not too oaky and heavy, with a good flavor and solid acidity.

With the wine came the bread basket. Ooooh man, I will say this: Madison does its diners right by its bread basket. It's a paper cone of pizza-like foccacia. Each small square has a savory, tomato-sauce-and-basil top and an oily, crunchy bottom, with a light and airy interior separating the two. While this bread needed no accompaniment, it was brought to the table with a small condiment tray holding olive oil (which I didn't try) and a dish of lemon ricotta. This ricotta was spectacular-- truly fresh and homemade-tasting. I could have eaten the entire little trough of cheese with a spoon. Or, you know, my fingers.

Bread and dips-- you can sort of see the flecks of lemon in the ricotta

Foccacia up close

With our wine and our bread slowly disappearing, we were ready to order. We ordered a few appetizers for the table, and the waitress disappeared (leaving us still with our menus, yet to order our mains... perhaps there is such a thing as TOO leisurely an ordering pace). She returned after a few minutes, though, and finally we placed our orders.

Shortly, our appetizers arrived. J had ordered one plate of spinach-artichoke dip and two orders of lobster spring rolls, upon our waitress's advice. The spring rolls came four sizeable rolls to an order, arrayed around a small dish of orange-colored sauce. Since these were crustacean through-and-through, I refrained from trying one, but they disappeared agreeably with the help of my dining companions.

Half a spring roll order, with oil-slicked dipping sauce

The spinach-artichoke dip was a large bowl of creamy, bubbly cheese mixture surrounded by a generous scattering of toasted bread rounds. I tried a few forkfuls of the dip, and it was extremely creamy. In fact, I found the dominant flavor to be cream, not even really cheese. All in all it was a bit too heavy for me, but my few tastes were certainly satisfying, and the growing boys around the table certainly enjoyed the app.

Cheesy, creamy dip in a forest of toasted bread

As we slowed down on the appetizer course, the wine kept flowing and the conversation picked up. The dishes were cleared and we waited for a bit before our entrees arrived. Soon enough, though, the plates descended upon our table and we were off and running.

B had ordered the paella. It was a large bowl of saffron-colored rice studded with clams and other forms of seafood and little rounds of chorizo. While many restaurants would go heavy on the rice and easy on the seafood here, Madison packed its paella with admirably large chunks of high-class fish like lobster. B thoroughly enjoy this dish, and it was so large that he took much of it home for a day-after meal (in an adorable little take-out bag, I might add).

A jumble of paella

HUGE piece of lobster claw meat here

Lovely take-home packaging

Mrs. J ordered the angel hair pasta. This was an enormous dish of pasta in broth, studded with bits of lobster and crab. Mrs. J seemed to enjoy this pasta, though she was unable to finish it (this was a Kobayashi-sized portion).

Colorful...and massive

The remaining men at the table (that would be J, Mr. J, and the bro) all went for Madison's specialty: Chicken Raphael. This was an array of chicken rounds stuffed with goat cheese, spinach, and pancetta, all rolled in a crunchy crust and fried. It was accompanied by a mound of silky mashed potatoes, although my brother, innovator that he is, replaced the mashed potatoes with a side order of mac & cheese. Expressions of delight resounded across the table as the various Chicken Raphaels were consumed. I had a bite of the mac & cheese, and it was really delicious: comforting, flavorful, and sprinkled with shreds of salty parmesan.

Raphael's finest work

Mac & cheese, in a tiny and adorable little crock-pot

Amidst this meat and seafood revelry, I ordered-- I know, I know-- a salad. I went for the chopped Mediterranean salad, although I replaced the romaine base with spinach (a request they gladly accommodated). The salad was chock full of olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bits of red onion and sprinkled liberally with feta cheese. This was an incredibly satisfying salad-- a good portion, lots of good flavor, and not stingy with the non-lettuce ingredients.

Mediterranean and scrumptious

At this point we were all approaching food-coma status. Mrs. J had baked J a cake for his birthday, which awaited at his apartment, so we skipped dessert (somewhat mercifully, as I'm not sure any of us was up for a huge dessert binge at that point). Note to my own mother: if you're reading this, my birthday is coming up. I like cake. That is all.

We talked happily for a while longer as Mr. J incredibly generously took care of the bill. Soon, we all waddled happily out into the no-longer-stifling early evening. I can honestly say that this was one of the most enjoyable dinners I've had in a long, long time. The food was great; the atmosphere was comfortable and inviting; and, above all, the company was top, top notch. I feel lucky that J and his delightful parents allowed me to join in their birthday festivities-- it was certainly an evening I will remember for a while. As for the restaurant... here's where I truly wish I had half-spatulas, as Madison is clearly a four-and-a-half Offset Spatula place. The only thing between it and a five-spatula rating is, really, its location in Hoboken, so the likelihood that I'll go back is fairly slim. So, as it is, I'll award Madison Bar & Grill a four-OS rating, with a note that this is definitely a high-four-OS.

Oh, and as for that vocabulary lesson: the phrase "beat helmet" now has a prominent place in my lexicon. To use it in a sentence, in hopes that you faithful readers will aid J, B, the bro and me in bringing it back into fashion: "That girl has a beat helmet"-- i.e., "that girl was beaten by an ugly stick." Please, for the good of humanity, use at will.

Madison Bar & Grill
1316 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ


NYC Food Guy said...

very generous with those offset spatulas... how about a phone number for this place?

Mrs J said...

We were delighted to have you join us in celebration of J's birthday. You added an element of surprise and sophistication to what would most certainly have been simply a bawdy birthday bash. Let us add that we are most impressed by your steel-trap memory. You remembered every single detail of everyone's meal; yet you never took a single note. Well done! You can join us anytime for dinner. We will consult you for recommendations for our next visit. THANK YOU, Mr. and Mrs. J

Janine said...

NYC Food Guy: It was a great dinner. You should definitely check it out! I'll add in the phone number with the restaurant's info at the bottom of the post.

Mrs. J: Glad you read the post! I meant every word, and I hope you do get in touch next time you're in the city.