By Rachel Werner

METROPOLITAN STYLE MEETS SMALL TOWN HOSPITALITY at Graft, the latest small plates nook to open on Madison’s Capitol Square. It’s a place to linger for a spell: an intimate ambiance—dim lighting, a saloon inspired steel-wood cut bar and semi-circular booths flanked by heavy drapes—encourages you to nestle in.

And that’s just as it should be, says coowner Sam McDaniel, of this space, designed and decorated to “encourage visitors to relax and enjoy themselves.” And savor a few bites of all 18 menu items.

It can be done. Portions are small and Graft’s head chef Phillip Rodriguez constructed the Midwestern-themed menu to such precision that each entrée’s flavor profile and artistic presentation lends itself to the next. “We aim to have each dish speak for itself,” Rodriguez says. “We are a very naked restaurant.” An end achieved by streamlining each creation to a maximum of three to four ingredients.

The bare-bones structure pays off to stunning results with the fried chèvre, a chic twist on classic Wisconsin cheese curds, which literally melts onto the tongue through the fragile outer coating and delicate drizzle of honeycomb. The masterful coating of guajillo chiles permeates the lightly grilled red snapper to its depths—and the playful smattering of peppermint bark across the chocolate pots de crème adds a welcome complexity to a simple dessert.

Cap off the experience with a flight from the restaurant’s extensive wine menu showcasing the breadth of the world of wine. From robust zinfandels to French Chablis, you can find extravagance in your glass. “The more extensive our wine selection, the more opportunities our guests have to discover something great,” proprietor Lucas Henning explains. And, with Graft’s arrival downtown, we just did.

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