We had been to L'Etoile as a celebration dinner for our anniversary, and we had only lived in Madison for a couple months. It was then in a different location, above another restaurant, in a dark little space. We were the only ones in the restaurant who weren't wearing suits, and it felt pretentious. I don't remember what I got, but I remember thinking it wasn't worth the considerable price.
Then we went again recently, for my birthday. The restaurant had just moved to its new location, a much more modern space with bank-height ceilings, and a spectacular nighttime view of the lit capitol. When we arrived, they presented us with personalized menus for my birthday. Though things still felt expensive and stuffy, they at least felt "modern" stuffy rather than "old boys club" stuffy. I count that as a huge improvement.
As for the food, this was one of the best meals I had in Madison. It's even shaken my faith in my belief that Harvest is the greatest restaurant. The dinner worked in an interesting way: four-courses. That's right, four-courses. With an Amuse Bouche to boot. By the way, can you think of a better innovation than the Amuse Bouche?
The menu was a nice combination of fresh produce and local meats and cheeses. I had a cantaloupe carpaccio with crispy pork belly as the first course, and it was sweet and salty and crunchy and soft. Beautiful. Then came grilled octopus, in a chili-lime vinaigrette, and finally a dry-aged ribeye. That ribeye was fantastic and as tender as you could hope for.
The whole four course business was $65, which was expensive, but not beyond expectations and certainly a great deal considering what four individually ordered courses would cost. I don't know what changed between our first trip years ago and our latest, but it's worked out for the best.