The Backstory: Sean Pharr, the new executive chef at Capitol ChopHouse, missed Madison. Pharr lived and worked here in some of the city’s top kitchens before moving to Chicago, where he spent 10 years climbing the culinary ladder. He most recently was executive chef at The Bristol. “Chicago was a wonderful experience, but at the end of the day, I wanted to be back in Madison. My wife wanted to be back in Madison,” he says. “This is where I want to raise my family. This is where I want to cook.”
The Vibe: Capitol ChopHouse is a destination spot not just for hotel guests, and Pharr is further proving that point. He’s the kind of talent Madison needs, and he’s continuing to serve food fit for the white tablecloth dining experience ChopHouse offers.
The Menu: The menu is nearly brand new since Pharr arrived, besides a couple of crowd favorites. The obvious choice for dinner is a prime cut of meat, like the New York strip or bone-in rib eye. But not to be overlooked are Pharr’s Hungarian goulash, the Hook’s two-year cheddar grilled cheese and roasted garlic tomato soup. Best to keep the ChopHouse in the downtown lunch option lineup.
The Must-Try: It’s a ubiquitous menu element, but the smorgasbord is excellent. Pharr uses this item to teach his team baseline skills and recipes, like making summer sausage, bread and butter pickles, pimiento cheese and olive confit. He also instills the idea of using as much of the animal as possible, as with the salmon rillettes, which utilizes the body of the salmon that is then brined, cold smoked and folded into a crème fraîche.
The bottom line: Pharr’s style, menu and leadership make for a breath of fresh air for this Madison steakhouse, which continues to raise the bar for all hotel restaurants.
Located: 9 E. Wilson St., 255-0165