Ornately wooden screens with curlicues of carved vines and leaves free the aromas of spices, sweet basil, and coconut milk to drift between booths. Beneath lavender walls and intricate woodcarvings, diners slip chopsticks into noodle-tangled bowls of chicken, shrimp, stir-fried vegetables, and curry. As the clatter of plates and conversation gives way to happy sighs, Thai Hut's dessert roster parades out thai custard and fried bananas, which work well as punishment for children who do too much homework.
Though its food can be fiery, the atmosphere at Mai Thai Restaurant is decidedly cool. Its photographs of serene beaches create a tropical vibe, complemented by sheer curtains billowing between tables and lights twinkling from inside strung netting. Even appetizers of coconut shrimp and crispy calamari transport diners to a scenic shoreline.
Those hoping for something spicy aren't left adrift, however. The staff increases the heat in each dish depending on what number the diner gives them on their spice scale. Those preferring milder fare can ask for a 0-spice plate, while the truly adventurous can select the maximum 4-spice option, or simply ask for their meal served inside a bottle of sriracha sauce. Flavorful curries also follow a spectrum of spiciness, from the sweet Patpong panang to the more intense Bangkok green. And house specialties employ heat in a more literal way?the volcano chicken, for example, arrives sizzling atop a bed of vegetables with plum sauce.
The Thai Lotus kitchen comes alive at mealtimes, when chefs roll up their sleeves and begin preparing fiery noodles, garlicky stir-fries, and creamy red, green, and yellow curries. The aroma of fresh herbs fills the air as the chefs whip up Thai specialties like volcano chicken and sweet basil duck. The versatile chefs also extend their culinary expertise toward a variety of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, including tangy orange chicken and simmering pho noodle soups. As the chefs labor in the kitchen, their guests perch on tufted booths, sipping fruity bubble teas and imported beers.
As hungry customers approach the flat-top grill after which the restaurant is named, they'll find it a sizzling island surrounded by a sea of rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, and colorful sauces. Disenfranchised by the undemocratic menus of all other restaurants, Flat Top diners are empowered with the right to vote for the ingredients of their choice. Start the process by choosing rice or noodles. Then fill your bowl with fresh, seasonal vegetables (such as tomatoes, snap peas, and carrots), mix and match three or four ladles of sauces to create a sweet, spicy Asian-inspired flavor or your own personal concoction. Finally, add a hearty protein (including white fish, chicken, beef sirloin, tofu, or a host of vegetarian and vegan options). Add the finishing touches with clever customizations like hot and sour soup, mu shu wraps, skewered shrimp, or roti prata bread. Lunch bowls are $8.99, and dinner bowls are $12.99. Once your dream dish is assembled, let Flat Top's experienced chefs bring it to life on the grill while you treat your taste buds to an appetizer, such as the kung pao prata ($3.99) or a chilled summer shrimp roll ($5.99). Flat Top rookies needn't fear: Knowledgeable staff are happy to offer advice, popular recipes are perched atop tables, and tips are available on oversized chalkboards around the dining room. For an extra $2 (or $1 at lunch), diners can enjoy unlimited trips through the line, allowing them to try a wide variety of stir-fry combinations.
Named for the famous city on the island of Java, Bandung is the only Indonesian restaurant in Madison—and only one of a handful in the Midwest. Specializing in traditional Indonesian recipes as well as fusion dishes, Bandung offers vegetarian- and carnivore-friendly menu items to perk up mouth bungalows with flavorful furnishings. Start off with appetizers such as the krupuk bawang putih (garlic chips made with tapioca flour, $1.25) and pangsit goreng, which combines green onions and water chestnuts in a crispy wonton wrap with your choice of tofu ($4.25) or chicken and shrimp ($5.25). Main dishes include opor ayam, which bathes taste buds in a silky coconut broth containing bamboo shoots, lemon grass, and marinated chicken ($7.95 for lunch, $10.95 for dinner), and nasi goreng super, a super-powered fried rice that mixes garlic, candlenut, and shallots with sambal (a chili-based paste), veggies, and the meat of your choice ($7.95 for lunch, $10.95 for dinner). Nearly all dishes can be changed to accommodate allergy needs or vegan requests. During or after dinner, crack open your miniature party umbrellas to celebrate Bandung's new touch-screen cocktail menu and try the Long Island Thai tea ($6), which packs the same punch as a Long Island but is wrapped in creamy Thai tea for a bruise-free wallop.
Noodles & Company's cooks unite a diverse menu of Asian, Mediterranean, and American fare with the common thread of the noble noodle. The friendly cooks speedily serve each order, which deliciously bridges the gap between convenience and fine dining with casual fare and a strictly enforced dress code of flip-flops and tuxedos.