FRENCH QUARTERS

LA KITCHENETTE’S JE NE SAIS QUOI

By Rachel Werner

Owner Virginie Ok’s La Kitchenette is a mod reboot of its predecessor Chez Nanou at the same Willy Street locale—though now its interior is lighted by exposed bulbs dangling from knotted sailing ropes and customers’ Polaroid snapshots adorn the walls. “Nanou didn’t have an espresso machine,” she says. “And in France, we only drink espresso and short coffee. It’s very hipster to seek out a place where you can have a good cup of coffee and I want my guests to savor the experience.”

Relocating from Paris to Madison in February 2016, the chef arrived on a mission to give Americans a backstage pass to the trends dominating the Parisian culinary scene. “The inspiration of La Kitchenette comes from Paris where you can find small ‘un café-cantine,’ a place where you can eat fast and good—especially for lunch,” Ok says. “We want to offer comfort food since not all French food is high-end and expensive.”

Using ingredients from local purveyors like Jordandal Farms and Madison Sourdough, Ok developed menu staples—the Poulet à la Normande, tender chicken cuts roasted in cider and mustard; seasonal tartines stacked with eggs, prosciutto and avocado; and the decadant Fondant Ultra-Fondant, anchored by salted caramel and vanilla ice cream.

She’s also honest about retaining a few of Nanou’s popular items. “I know customers would be disappointed if they could not, for example, find crepes filled with Nutella or lavender crème brulee anymore,” she says.

Ok says she’s invested time to create an authentic European dining experience by having the same staff serving imported Belgium chocolate and TeaGschwendner from Germany, decked out in the marinière-themed attire epitomized by Gaultier.

She also has at least one wine on the menu from every major grape region in France. Ok gushes, “French food without wine is not French food.” We couldn’t agree more.

Madison, (608) 283-4266.

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