Harvest’s meaningful menu

There's symbolic reasons behind every ingredient
Harvest’s meaningful menu
Photo by Larry Chua
The scallops are round, which represents a year coming full circle. The pomegranate is a Mediterranean symbol for abundance and fertility. In China, oranges are believed to bring good fortune, wealth and gold. And the gold tone in the polenta signifies wealth.

For 17 years, diners far and wide have trusted Tami Lax at Harvest to make their New Year’s Eve special. This used to mean a more formal, all-night affair; six or seven courses, a solo guitar player strumming in the corner, a champagne toast at midnight. But as downtown Madison has evolved into a vibrant scene with more to do and eat than one could ever manage in one night, so, too, has Harvest.

“Now we set up a menu that’s not really rigid, so you can choose and mix and match,” says Lax. “We create traditional foods that people from around the world eat on New Year’s Eve to bring fortune into the next year, or good health.”

That could mean feasting on lentils, which Italians believe resemble Roman coins, and promise wealth and prosperity in the New Year. Oranges, a Chinese wish for good luck, or pomegranate, the Mediterranean symbol for abundance and fertility; soba noodles, a Japanese signifier for long life, or vasilopita, a Greek citrus cake into which a coin is baked.

Whatever Lax and chef Jon Pieters create at Harvest, they will source as much as possible from the producers and farms that make Wisconsin strong. Lax comes from generations of farmers, and she also grew up celebrating a New Year’s Eve tradition in which all of the families in her Green Bay neighborhood made the rounds to each other’s homes, sharing an appetizer and drink at each house before moving on to the next. Most of all, she loves the idea of renewal, of reaping the harvest of the prior year and planting anew for a rich future.

“That’s what keeps our guests excited, we’re always trying to push the envelope and create something new, a unique experience instead of just ‘I’m going out to dinner,’ ” says Lax. “We like to serve things with a reason.”

For more Festive Foods, click here.