During my convalescing from my hip replacement surgeries, our company signed a deal with American TV in Madison, WI to carry some Focal and Cambridge Audio products in their 15 stores. My colleague, John Bevier, who had a previous relationship with American TV's new buyer, Gary Lahmers, when Gary was one of the senior buyers for the now-defunct Tweeter stores, got the ball rolling and we got some products placed in their main store in Madison. John made plans to go to Madison to do some training and I thought that since I was going to be the ones calling on all the stores, I'd better go up and participate in the training, as well. This was the first long trip for me, even before I got my "official" release from my doctor.
On my way to Madison, I was in contact with John who said that Gary wanted to go out to dinner that evening with us. John, who was in a layover in Detroit, said that he didn't know where Gary wanted to go, but said he'd call me as soon as he found out after he landed in Madison. Along about 7:30 p.m., John called me and said, "Well, Gary also has a couple of other guys with him. And we're meeting at some place called the Tornado Steak House in downtown Madison." Well, I'd been coming to Madison for years and I'd never heard of the place before. But knowing Gary Lahmers' penchant for fine food, I'm sure it had to be good. I punched up OnStar and had them direct me to the Tornado Steak House.
I pulled up in front of the Tornado Steak House, just southwest of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison (see map). John was standing out front, talking on his phone to his wife while waiting for me to show up. John hadn't seen me since January of this year and I'd lost 45 pounds since then. He was absolutely blown away when he saw me. He said, "You are such a skinny son-of-a-bitch!" Obviously, I'm still not skinny, but 45 pounds lost is beginning to be noticeable.
We went inside the Tornado and looked around for Gary and the other guys that were there with him. The Tornado has a large bar area in the back - which was packed; and a pretty good sized dining area with dark lighting, white linen tablecloths and knotty pine hardwood walls. It was the quintessential Midwestern steak house.
We found Gary and the two other guys - Dan and Adrian from Sonos, a company that makes wireless whole-house solutions - at a big table in what would be the front corner of the dining room. The waitress handed us our menus and asked if we'd like something to drink. We all decided that wine was going to be the drink of choice, so Gary picked out an Oren Swift Papillon red blend to try.
Steak is the king at the Tornado and their signature steak is a 20 oz. bone-in tenderloin. They also have a 28 oz. ribeye on the bone, as well. But they also have just regular tenderloins, a strip steak and a t-bone steak on the menu. They also had a special that evening - a 10 oz. grass-fed tenderloin filet topped with a creamy peppercorn au poivre sauce, placed in a bed of grilled mushrooms. In addition to steak, the Tornado has seafood including salmon, walleye and Alaskan king crab; and they also have an interesting mix of wild game such as duck breast, a venison filet and rabbit.
And the Tornado is also known for their appetizers which include frog legs, Oysters Rockefeller, and something called the Seafood Tower that features fresh chilled seafood on a layered server. The Tornado also features an appetizer that I don't see very often in the states - Coquille Saint Jacques. I had Coquille (Co-KEEL) Saint Jacque on my first trip to Montreal in 2002. It consists of poached scallops or shrimp in a white wine sauce, then placed in a dish with a cream sauce and covered with a layer of mashed potatoes, then broiled quickly in the oven. Oh, it's very good, but - OH! - so filling.
We decided against getting appetizers because the steaks were so big. I knew I couldn't go for the 20 oz. bone-in filet, that would be too much food. So I went with the 10 oz special filet they had that evening. Gary said they had a tendency to under cook the steaks at the Tornado, but I still went ahead and ordered mine medium-rare. If they're going to err on one side or the other, I'd rather have them under cook the steak.
Gary and Adrian went with the bone-in tenderloin filet, while John also got the 10 oz special grass-fed filet. Dan ordered up the 16 oz. New York Strip. You get your choice of sides such as either a baked potato, hash browns or steak fries; or you can order asparagus, brussel sprouts or green beans. I went with asparagus. A dinner salad with balsamic vinaigrette comes with the meal.
I found the wine to be a little heavy, yet sort of flat and lifeless. And being the wine-head that he is, Gary, obviously, felt so, too. He determined the wine was probably too young to drink and asked the waitress to see the wine list again so he could get something else. The second wine he ordered, which I can't remember what it was, was much better than the Oren Swift blend.
The conversation while we had our salad was wide and varied. It turned out that Dan and I had probably met before as he had been an audio-video industry veteran for a number of years. We knew a lot of the same people and we exchanged stories about some of the more notorious people we'd worked with over the years. And getting together with the guys from Sonos also opened a door to some merchandising ideas where we could team Focal speakers with their little kiosk displays.
Our steaks came out and my special grass-fed filet with the au poivre sauce appeared in front of me. It was fabulous looking and I couldn't wait to get a fork and knife into it. Now, grass-fed beef is making a big comeback in some Midwestern restaurants. It's generally sort of tough, but this piece of meat was very tender and the au poivre sauce was a great complement to the taste. And Gary was right - the medium-rare was more rare than medium. I didn't mind it a bit.
But the hit at the table were the Tornado's signature 20 oz bone-in filet. Adrian, who hails from Massachusetts, was floored when the waitress set his steak down in front of him. Here's a picture - albeit somewhat blurry - that Adrian took on his cell phone of his steak. It was truly a large hunk of meat. While a lot of the 20 oz. listed is in the bone, there's a lot of meat to eat. Adrian was able to eat the whole thing. He said, "We just don't get good steaks like this back home."
Although the waitress tempted me with dessert, I passed on the last course. A couple of the guys did order up a couple things - a decadent chocolate cake dessert and a cheesecake covered in raspberries. I just sat back, let my steak digest and finished up the wonderful wine in my glass.
John and Dan split the check 50-50 so both companies weren't saddled with a $400 plus bill with tax. I thought it to be a little high priced for Madison, but it was still very good.
For as many times that I've been to Madison, I still find that I'm rather in the dark when it comes to some of the more fine dining establishments the town has to offer - especially downtown. I learned on this trip, however, that there is more than one very good steak house in downtown Madison. And the Tornado Steak House is one of them. I'm looking forward to going back and trying a couple more of them out with Gary in future trips to Madison.