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On a weekend trip to Madison, I didn't make it to L'Etoile or even the farmers' market, but I did have an excellent breakfast at Dobhan, an elegant, airy Nepalese restaurant on the developing Atwood Avenue strip on the east side of town. Dobhan's the latest in a clutch of family-run Himalayan restaurants that includes the venerable Himal Chuli and more upscale Chautara. Brunch may not be the most authentic meal by which to judge the cooking, but it was pretty tasty: pictured are mildly nutty mung bean cakes topped with ham, poached eggs, and jazzy drizzles of a green (cilantro?) mayo. My guide, chef Leah Caplan, went for the lamb dosa, a ten-inch pancake stuffed with spiced ground lamb. Both came with crispy potatoes and a sort of herby pico de gallo.
Later that day we stopped by the Washington Hotel Coffee Room, a year-old outpost of the sustainably minded restaurant and hotel Caplan runs on Washington Island, off the tip of the Door Peninsula, which I wrote about in 2004. On the shore of Lake Monona, the coffee shop's in a quiet, peaceful room behind Lakeside Fibers and shares that store's yarn-intensive aesthetic. The menu's mostly sandwiches and soups and baked goods made on the island and shipped down to Madison; I grabbed some coffee and sweet/tart cherry-flax granola for the road.
Upstairs is the two-room headquarters of Death's Door Vodka--the latest venture from Caplan and her partners in Washington Island Brands. Eighteen months ago Capital Brewery in Middleton started producing the wildly popular Island Wheat Ale from organic grain grown on the island. This winter the brewery turned more wheat into an uncarbonated beer that was trucked to a distillery in Cedar Rapids and, presto, vodka! Produced in limited batches, the hooch, which has a clean, full flavor, is so far only available in Wisconsin, but Chicago distribution is in the works (and so is a gin flavored with island juniper).