- Views & Opinions
Tory Miller is one Wisconsin chef whose reputation precedes him. The Racine native’s fame is not limited to the state. Miller was recognized by the James Beard Foundation for superior performance. He earned his first nomination for Best Chef Midwest in 2011 and then nabbed the honor in 2012.
Last year, Miller was named a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef and this year his flagship restaurant, L’Etoile, is up for Outstanding Restaurant. Other nominees in the category include the Spotted Pig and Momofuku Noodle Bar (New York City), Topolobampo (Chicago), Jaleo (Washington, D.C.) and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas).
“This is super amazing for our team at L’Etoile,” Miller says.
Estrellón, the latest of Miller’s four Madison restaurants, opened in 2015 to well deserved accolades. Based on a recent visit, things seem to have only gotten better.
“Estrellón is Spanish for ‘large exploding star,’” Miller says.
Miller says the star theme follows that of L’Etoile (French for “The Star”), the restaurant Miller and his sister bought from Odessa Piper in 2005. But Estrellón could be applied to Miller himself, and for all the right reasons.
Estrellón is a tapas bar and restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients. Its high quality is the result of Miller’s skills and his passion for Spanish cuisine.
“I’ve always loved Spanish food, small plates and the cuisine’s communal aspects,” Miller says. “I was looking around in Madison and there wasn’t a local Spanish restaurant, so I thought that for our group to do one with our background and service style would be really cool.”
Estrellón occupies 5,600 square feet of floor space on the ground floor of a newly constructed Johnson Street condominium building a block south of State Street and around the corner from the Overture Center for the Arts. The restaurant is convenient for students from the nearby UW campus, legislators working in the Capitol and downtown theatergoers.
An open, European-style kitchen adds visual appeal and warmth to the space, also configured to reduce the amount of ambient noise.
“We didn’t want it to sound like a cafeteria or fishbowl,” Miller says. “We met with a specialist to get the tiles and panels needed to keep the sound at pleasant levels.”
Miller’s research took him on an extended visit to Spain, where he sampled cuisine at dozens of restaurants.
Still, “I am not being true to my Spanish roots because they don’t exist,” says Miller, who is Korean. “What we offer is not an authentic Spanish food experience so much as it is styling and influences to bring in some Spanish favors.”
The flavors produced by Miller and Estrellón head chef Desiree Nudd are some of the most vivid in the city. Something as simple as a warmed plate of olives drenched in olive oil ($5) paired with a Spanish wine sets the palate on the right course. The tiny, aromatic arbequina olive is one of the most interesting of the selection and is the basis for the 8 gallons of imported Spanish olive oil the restaurant uses each week, not counting the amount it expends in its deep-frying.
One of the most surprising dishes we tried was the Heuvos a la Lucio — eggs and ham served on top of french fries. Miller smiles when we mention this.
“When I was in Spain, every restaurant served heuvos all day long, so I tried it in one of Madrid’s best spots,” Miller recalls. “It was literally soft-fried potatoes tossed with eggs and was a big runny mess of awesomeness.”
Miller’s version ($14) is a nest of fries topped with thin slices of Iberian ham and two eggs cooked sunny side up and then dressed with a truffle oil mixture. “Awesomeness” is not a word we normally use, but in this case we heartily agree with the sentiment.
Miller also says the restaurant’s gateau basque, a dessert consisting of a bitter sugar pastry dough filled with almond or vanilla pastry cream or cherries, is the best in town. We were in a hurry when there and didn’t have time for dessert, but knowing that gives us a reason to come back. If we ever needed a reason, that is.
313 W. Johnson St., Madison
Dining Room: 5–9 p.m. Tuesday.–Thursday and Sunday;
5–10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Bar: 4:30 p.m.–midnight Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday;
4:30 p.m.1:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday 608-251-2111