Acclaimed Wisconsin chef Tory Miller is changing things up at the landmark Madison restaurant L'Etoile. As originally reported in the Isthmus, the James Beard Award winning chef is getting rid of the restaurant's a la carte menu at the end of this month. Eater spoke with Miller to learn more about why he's inspired to give Madison its longest tasting menu.
Beginning on June 30, Miller and his team will be serving two menus only: a three-course menu for $65 (guests will be able to make choices there) and a seven-course tasting menu for $125. There will also be corresponding four- and six-glass wine pairings at $35 and $65, respectively. Miller says the longer tasting menu will be "vegetable-forward" with a focus on seasonality. It being Wisconsin, Miller says that the seven-course menu will always have a cheese course to showcase the best local cheese he can find. Miller wants to launch in the Summer to take advantage of the harvest. The longer menu will also use "more luxurious" ingredients like fresh truffles and caviar. "It's like when a friend of a fellow chef comes in, and you send them all this food because you want them to experience the restaurant," Miller explains. "Why shouldn't every guest get this?"
While the change (and price point) might surprise Madison diners, it's been a long time in the making. "It's something we've been wanting to do for years actually," says Miller. "When I would bring up doing a tasting menu, everyone would always ask 'Well, is this Madison? Is Madison ready for this?' And I would always be the one saying yes, we're totally ready." Miller says that as Madison's restaurant community (and his own restaurant group) has grown, it's time for him to push himself further at L'Etoile. "I want to push and do something that isn't being done in Madison that frankly should be done at a restaurant like L'Etoile."
While he is enthusiastic about the new menu, Miller does anticipate some pushback. "We are trying to bring a different experience to guests, so we will have to do a lot of explaining. The challenge will be making sure that explanation doesn't come off as bouginess or snootiness." He also thinks that the smaller portions and focus on vegetables might raise some eyebrows. "There's the Midwest attitude of like 'Am I going to be full?'" says Miller. "I'm from here, I grew up eating 20 oz steaks. But times are changing and to be real about it, people should be eating less proteins, and when you have a tasting menu you have the opportunity to control that, too." Ultimately, Miller thinks the menu change can have a great impact in the city. "Madison as a dining destination is a great place. I'm hoping this will drive it forward even more, which is something L'Etoile has been doing since 1976."