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14 date night restaurants in Madison
These spots will sweep you off your feet
When the kids have a babysitter for the night and the adults are looking to treat themselves, that can only mean one thing — date night. While there are plenty of excuses to head downtown on a weekly basis, there’s something special about splurging on a night out while admiring the beautiful views of the state Capitol. Whether you’re celebrating an anniversary, grabbing a special Valentine’s Day dinner or simply getting some one-on-one time with your significant other, these 14 spots will sweep you off your feet.
Graze is a great spot to sit down with your bae when you want something familiar with an elevated twist. Executive chef and co-proprietor Tory Miller’s gastropub-inspired spot on Capitol Square takes some of Wisconsinites’ favorite pub food to a new level with seasonally inspired, farm-fresh ingredients. The Fried Hook’s Cheese Curds are a standout, as the perfectly crispy curds are battered with vodka as opposed to beer batter. The Double Cheese Smash Burger — which can be substituted for an Impossible Burger — and bibimbap are also must-orders for any occasion. If you’re missing Sujeo’s menu, Graze offers dan dan noodles and a twist on Sujeo’s Korean fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, kimchi coleslaw, a biscuit, maple bourbon butter and honey-gochujang. Graze does not take reservations, so on busier nights expect a wait unless you plan an early night out. 1 S. Pinckney St., 251-2700
Three-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest semifinalist Dan Fox takes farm-to-table cuisine and elevates it for Madison diners at Heritage Tavern. Since opening in 2013, Heritage has become a destination for a romantic rendezvous with cozy booths, dim lighting and delicious dishes that can be shared. If you’re hoping to pair a meal with a nice bottle of wine, you’ll love the restaurant’s expansive wine list. While the menu constantly rotates, try a pork dish if you see it on the menu. Chances are it will be delicious, as it uses pork from Fox’s own Fox Heritage Farms, which raises heritage breeds that are known for flavor. For a sweet way to end the night with your sweetie, split the eatery’s famous caramel profiterole with Wisconsin maple ice cream, sea salt caramel and toasted pecans. 131 E. Mifflin St., 283-9500
If you and your loved one want cocktails, Merchant is a go-to spot. For the past five years, readers have named Merchant the best bar for cocktails in the annual Best of Madison poll. Each season, Merchant shakes up new original cocktails created by its mixologists. There’s also a cocktail menu with classic drinks like French 75, Tom Collins, La Paloma, Sidecar and Gold Rush. For a weeknight deal at Merchant, go on Tuesdays for its “Cheap Date Night.” For $50, you and a plus-one get two portions of the featured entree which rotates weekly (check social media that day to find out the selection), a bottle of wine and dessert. Past selections have included pork tenderloin, grilled bone-in pork chop and roasted mushroom risotto. 121 S. Pinckney St., 259-9799
Nothing says love quite like Italian food. Paisan’s, established in 1950, has gone through four different moves, ultimately ending up at its current location overlooking Lake Monona. Regardless of the season, Paisan’s offers dreamy views of the lake and sunset, accompanied by classic dishes. Paisan’s, like its sister restaurant Porta Bella, is known for its Porta Salad with ham, salami, cheddar, mozzarella, garbanzo beans and green peppers, which is great to split along with any of the homemade cheese breads before a meal. Paisan’s has five homemade sauces that can be added to your choice of fresh pasta, including spaghetti and meatballs if you’re looking to have a “Lady and the Tramp” moment. 131 W. Wilson St., 257-3832
On any given night, there are plenty of couples splitting sushi and sipping on lychee martinis in RED’s upscale dining room. The spot has a relaxed ambience conducive to chatting. While there are traditional rolls like spicy tuna, yellowtail and unagi, RED also has special offerings like the Firecracker, a deep-fried roll with spicy salmon and avocado, topped with spicy tuna, tempura crunch, green onion and tobiko, or Smokeblossom with crispy smoked salmon, avocado and pickled jalapeño topped with seared scallop, chipotle aioli, citrus tobiko and microgreens. For those who’d rather stay away from sushi, RED has a “Plates to Share (Or Not)” section, with options like Brussels sprout petals, ramen and shumai. As you head out for the night, make sure to take time to gaze at the 123-foot-tall illuminated “Technology in Motion” mural by artist Jonathan Brown that looks like a waterfall above RED’s entrance. 316 W. Washington Ave., 294-1234
As soon as you step into Sardine, you feel as if you’re no longer in Madison. The interior of the space is reminiscent of a French bistro. But instead of seeing the Parisian lights in the City of Love, there’s a beautiful view of Lake Monona. It’s worth waiting for a table to spend some time sitting at the bar before dinner, especially if you want to try the bistro hot dog, sopressata ham sandwich or the 4-6 p.m. daily oyster happy hour. Once seated, immediately order moules frites to split. The mussels — covered in white wine, Pernod, cream, fennel, tomato, garlic, bay leaf and thyme-covered mussels — and accompanying fries are guaranteed to warm you up even on the coldest day. For dinner, order multiple shareable entrees so you can try as much from the menu as possible. 617 Williamson St., 441-1600
Tempest Oyster Bar
Even though Wisconsin is landlocked, Tempest Oyster Bar finds delicious seafood to bring to Madison. Tempest is known for its oysters — which are considered to be aphrodisiacs — and rotates the selection frequently. For the ultimate seafood tasting on date night, consider trying one of the three towers. Each tower has different amounts of seafood, with the largest featuring oysters, shrimp, clams, snow crab, mussels and lobster. Indulge a bit with lobster mac and cheese, king crab or bucatini with lobster, a scallop, mussels and clams. While Tempest largely is known for seafood, you can treat yourself to a decadent steak with the option of adding shellfish for a surf-and-turf meal. 120 E. Wilson St., 258-1443
Tornado Room Steak House
The dimly lit, upscale atmosphere at Tornado Room is perfect for cozying up to that special person in your life. Tornado Room is “famous for steaks,” which is perfect for a fancy night out on the town. Tornado Room offers seven different cuts of steak cooked to perfection. Filet au poivre, a filet of local grass-fed beef with a peppercorn crust and mushroom cognac cream sauce, goes beyond expectations in terms of flavor. Tornado Room is also one of the few places in Madison to offer duck, rabbit and venison. If you want a late night out, Tornado Room also has a special menu from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. What could be better than escargots with herb butter and breadcrumbs paired with an Old-Fashioned to close the night? 116 S. Hamilton St., 256-3570
Spots to Share
While you might not always be inclined to let your partner grab a forkful from your plate, these spots encourage smaller shared plates so you both can try more off the menu. Show your date you care by being willing to share.
A Pig in a Fur Coat
Chef Daniel Bonanno’s eatery on Williamson Street is great for splitting meals. Good luck choosing just a couple items from the small and large plates menus. Some standouts include octopus, rabbit, pork tripe and lamb carpaccio. 940 Williamson St., 316-3300
Eno Vino Downtown
Stare lovingly into your date’s eyes with one of the most beautiful views of the Capitol in the background. Eno Vino’s menu is devoted to shareables like braised short rib, sweet chile calamari fries and lobster risotto. There’s also nothing like a cheese board to start off a date night. 1 N. Webster St., 10th floor, 455-0663
Order the tasting menu for two to try a selection of dishes at Tory Miller’s Spanish tapas-focused spot. It’s one of the most laid-back, zero-effort date nights since everything is chosen for you. If there’s one thing that you shouldn’t share, it’s the rich and warm Basque cake with sour cream frozen custard and seasonal fruit compote. Trust us, order two. 313 W. Johnson St., 251-2111
Graft on the Square specializes in Midwest-inspired small plates and wine pairings. Since Graft focuses on ingredients from local farmers, growers and producers, the menu will change, giving opportunities to try something new each time you go. 18 N. Carroll St., 229-8800
For an Instagram-worthy couples photo against Mint Mark’s iconic wallpaper, visit this east-side small plate destination. The menu changes on a daily basis, so the best way to find out what’s available is to check its Instagram story early in the day. If the fresh-baked skillet cookie is on the menu, make sure to head there immediately. 1929 Winnebago St., 285-5096
Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
What could be better than splitting a tomato pie at Salvatore’s? The cozy, homey vibe at both locations is worth the wait. The Sun Prairie location also has a menu full of shareables and entrees if you’re not craving pizza. 912 E. Johnson St., 238-6040; 121 E. Main St., Sun Prairie, 318-1761
Maija Inveiss is digital content editor of Madison Magazine.
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