The Tornado Room, Madison, Wisconsin
Rating: 4 out of 5 Old Fasioneds
Relish Tray: arrived at the table before we had our coats off
Salad Situation: all dinners served with salad
Ice Cream Drinks: not sure
Ambiance: retro, dark, wood paneled, but also Madison
Owen and I went to the Tornado Room to celebrate a special occasion – Owen’s birthday. It was a snowy Wednesday night in Madison, but the Tornado room was packed. The Tornado Room is just off the capital square and very “Madison” – the capital building is glowing just few steps away, with trendy glass buildings springing up on every corner. Owen and I had a couple disagreements that night, about what exactly it was about the Tornado Room that made it feel not quite right, not quite supper club-y enough for us. I think our problem with the Tornado Room gets to the very heart of “what is a supper club”. On the surface, the Tornado Room has everything – a beautifully retro lounge, excellent food, huge portions, dark wood panelling. But can it overcome being just steps from the capital square? Is part of the charm of a supper club that it’s rural – and that it’s a destination? Not just another meal out, but an entire evening?
Because it was a special night, we had made reservations. In retrospect, I wonder if that was the right choice for us. The Tornado Room has a really lovely, retro lounge, but we didn’t get to enjoy it while we sipped our usual pre-dinner cocktail. We were sat at our table right away, and a relish tray – or in this case relish cup – was at our table before we had our coats off. The Old Fashioneds were excellent, very tart and not at all sweet.
The dining room we were in had wood panelling and wooden booths. It was appropriately dark – dark enough that a woman at another table was using her cell phone light to read her menu. The walls had some vaguely western themed artwork and artifacts.
The bread basket was a borderline absurd amount of bread. This is not a place for the gluten-intolerant. We got both a gargantuan homemade breadstick and our own loaf of a herby bread, both obviously homemade.
Owen gets a real kick out of trying unusual foods, especially unusual meats, so we had to try the frogs legs. It was my first experience with frogs legs, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – but I did not expect them to be sweet. The frogs legs were crispy in a very salty breading, and the honey brandy sauce was surprisingly sweet and so very sticky. We could have used a moist towelette after eating them.
Entrees come with a choice of salad or soup, and we both went with the salad. You can choose between four options: Caesar, field greens with a vinaigrette, iceberg lettuce with French Roquefort, or spinach with a warm bacon dressing. The server offered fresh ground pepper on the salad, Olive-Garden style (“say when”), a very nice touch. I had the spinach salad, and Owen the wedge, both were incredible. The bacon dressing was smokey and tart but not oily at all. The wedge salad was well dressed with lots of bonus veggies and a healthy amount of onion. At this point, we were both full and content, and we hadn’t even been served our entrees yet.
For our entrees, I had the shrimp with a side of hash browns. The shrimp may have been the best shrimp I’ve ever had, super moist and delicious. Half of the shrimp were broiled and half were fried. The batter on the fried shrimp was somehow thick and airy and crisp, all at the same time. The cocktail sauce was also wonderful, thick and chunky, perhaps with onions but I couldn’t say for sure. The shrimp was served with approximately six potatoes worth of hash browns – I was in heaven.
Owen, always a fan of the uncommon meats, tried the rabbit. The rabbit came with a mustard au jus with kale and bacon. Owen loves mustard, so slather a mustard sauce on anything and he will love it – this did not disappoint. For his side, Owen went with the yorkshire pudding – which was enormous. Neither of us have had many yorkshire puddings, but in our inexpert opinion, it would benefit from some sort of sauce. The yorkshire pudding was especially daunting considering we had already had an absurd amount of bread.
Our leftovers were packed in a professional doggie bag – each labeled with what we ordered and the date. We even each got our own shopping bag to carry out – very classy.
Our rating of the Tornado Room is complicated. The food was truly excellent – some of the best food I’ve ever had at a supper club. But we just couldn’t give it a 5 out of 5. The Tornado Room is missing some of the “x-factor” that makes a supper club unique. It might be too trendy, too posh. I wonder if we would have felt the same with a couple of pre-dinner drinks.