I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to title this blog post “Why I want to be Best Friends with Austin Hu (and his cousin Garrett),” but I decided that was probably borderline creepster. A few months ago, I wrote about brunch at Madison and how it was one of the best brunches of my life. One month ago, Austin Hu actually commented on my blog and I had a mini freak-out because he liked my blog!
I’ve been dying to try Madison for dinner and now I wanted to meet Austin. When my sister came into town (who is a bigger foodie than I am), it was the perfect reason to book a dinner reservation. At dinner, Madison actually has two sides to the restaurant: a more casual gastropub called Madi’s and the more refined dining experience at Madison.
As soon as we sat down, I asked to meet Austin and asked him for his recommendations of what we should order. My sister and I were slightly overwhelmed so when Austin offered to make us a personal tasting menu, we couldn’t refuse! The man made us a nine-course tasting menu. It was so much fun being surprised with each dish. While I won’t talk about every single course in detail, I will highlight my favorites!
The definite star of the night was the kanpachi. It was seared perfectly with that raw pink center. The fish is wrapped in seaweed and gently sliced, topped with puffed black rice, mushrooms and fried pickled ginger. I was loving every single bite of this dish and I didn’t want it to end. Everything worked so well together. The cold fish with the crunchy bits of rice made the textures so interesting. Once you added that sweet and spicy ginger into the combination, then it created a party in your mouth.
My second favorite dish was the spinach pasta with duck ragout. The pasta was cooked that perfect al dente texture and the sauce was rich and hearty. I wanted to drink it up. Once you added the slight tangy, creamy crème fraîche-like topping, you had the perfect bowl of pasta. It reminded me of flour + water back home, making me nostalgic for San Francisco.
The squab was served two ways. Another slice of perfectly-seared foie gras was served on top of the squab breast, while the confit leg was flash fried. The combination with the sweet potato purée was divine. The real winner was the short rib that Austin specially prepared off menu. Keep in mind, I was so full at this point, but I still managed to eat my plate. This was because the short rib was unctuous and literally melted in my mouth. I couldn’t let such delicious food go to waste!
Austin is constantly changing the menu since his food is locally sourced. If you ever see the kanpachi, duck ragout or short rib, order it immediately! After our amazing dinner, Austin actually talked to my sister and I for a good 45 minutes and we even got a tour of the kitchen. I just loved the way he talked about food. It was absolutely fascinating and I felt like I was learning so much (hence why I want to be his eating friend). We also met his cousin, Garrett, who works the front of the restaurant and is super welcoming and friendly.
It was not planned at all. My sister was only in town for less than two days. The next day, we made a last minute decision to go back to Madison’s for brunch. My sister had seen “duck fast disco fries” on the menu and she was sold. Yes, we ate at Madison twice in the span of 12 hours.
The sister and I wanted to sample a bunch of dishes. Between what we ordered and what Austin made for us, we had 8 dishes at brunch. You should have seen the table next to us. They literally thought we were crazy when our entire table was filled with plates and then MORE plates of food came.
We sampled the banana-stuffed French toast, donuts, duck fat disco fries, cornbread, poached eggs, scotch eggs, flower pot sourdough bread (dinner menu normally only) and finished it all off with a S’more sundae.
There was so much goodness happening on the table that I will honestly try and recap as best as possible. Duck fat fries were so amazingly good. They were seasoned, crispy on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside, and served with a rich gravy. The donuts were like churros that were light and fluffy without being oily. Austin explained that they were Jewish-style and I could not get enough of the raspberry sauce which accompanied the donuts.
I talked about my love of the skillet cornbread in my previous blog post, but I had to mention it again BECAUSE I learned that Austin coats the bottom of the skillet with caramelized honey! Dear me, no wonder it tastes so good. The sweetness of the honey cuts the savory cheese, bacon and Tabasco butter.
The flower pot sourdough bread is on the dinner menu, but they were cool enough to make us a batch. I miss good bread. When the sourdough came out warm, I literally was sitting at the table listening to the audible crunch of the bread. My sister was smelling it to see how sour it was. We looked like a couple of crazy people fondling bread. BUT THE BREAD WAS OUTSTANDING. While not as sour as the bread back home, I was more than happy to pair it with the warm, creamy chive butter.
The poached eggs are Austin’s favorite dish. I can definitely see why because the hollandaise sauce was mind-blowing. We learned that Austin adds his own homemade XO sauce to give it that slight kick. I really enjoyed the mustard seeds that popped in your mouth– almost like caviar. The sauce was creamy and lemony, without being too heavy. The poached eggs were served on top of pork trotters and toaster muffins. We were digging the combination of the eggs with the more gelatinous texture of the pork trotters. I discovered the best combination was taking the sourdough bread and sopping it in the hollandaise sauce.
A HUGE thank you goes out to Austin and Garrett Hu for being such amazing hosts and also for not judging two sisters for totally pigging out at their restaurant. Madison is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Shanghai (and not just because Austin and Garrett are so cool), but because the food is absolutely delicious, the ambiance is fun and the cocktails are also inventive.
And now, I will end this blog post with a photo of the S’more sundae. If you were able to read this blog post without salivating, I commend you.