Restaurant review: Madison's Red is a top-flight source for sushi

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By Bill Livick/Special to The Gazette
Thursday, January 5, 2017

MADISON—The popular Red sushi restaurant that operated for five years on King Street closed for a day in August and then re-opened in its upscale new digs in the AT&T building on West Washington Avenue.

The new first-floor venue is larger and more chic than its predecessor, but the food is essentially the same—some of the tastiest sushi and sashimi in town.

The restaurant has an urbane feel and includes a lounge area and bar with seating for about 50. A main dining area also seats 50. There's also a sushi bar where customers can watch skilled chefs at work in an open kitchen and a private chef's table (where for $100 per person, you can have a one-on-one dining experience with chef and co-owner Jack Yip). A patio outside offers a spectacular view of the state Capitol building.

Inside, the gorgeous décor is all about ocean bubbles and oyster pearls, with globe lights hanging from the ceiling, beaded curtains, a mermaid mural and half-moon booths.

We appreciated that the dining room seating didn't feel overly crowded and that there are sound-absorbing elements in the room to keep the volume at a reasonable level, even when the restaurant is full.

An extensive menu offers appetizers (snacks, soups and salads), plates designed for sharing and a ton of sushi and sashimi options including cooked rolls, raw rolls, seasonal rolls and vegetarian (battered with tempura and deep-fried) and vegan rolls.

A bowl of steaming miso soup ($3.50) was a welcome respite on a cold winter night, as was the kitchen's soup du jour ($6)—a seafood soup with a variety of fish contributing to a complex flavor.

From the snacks section, an order of bourbon ginger-glazed carrots ($6) is sweet and seductive—more like dessert than a vegetable dish. The sharing category includes wagyu beef tartare ($17), which comes with a white truffle caper vinaigrette, a quail egg, Parmesan Reggiano, fried shallots, wonton chips and is served with horseradish flan on the side. It's a combination of flavors and textures that complement each other perfectly.

Of course, sushi rolls and sashimi are the real draw, and rightly so. From the seasonal category, the frostbite roll ($18) offers a mix of fire and ice: spicy salmon and tuna with grilled green apple, cucumber, avocado, jalapeno, kale chips and wasabi edamame puree.

The kitchen's orange crunch ($14) combines shrimp tempura with salmon, cucumber, crunchy bits of tempura and spicy aioli, while a rainbow roll ($18) combines a classic California roll (crab, cucumber and avocado) with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore, smoky tobiko (flying fish roe) and microgreens.

The mermaid roll ($17) is a sweeter take on sushi, with mango, strawberries and kiwi sauce adding flavor to shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, avocado and pickled jalapeno.

Red offers a wide range of inventive cocktails, a full wine list and a good selection of bottled beers. Desserts include a raspberry panna cotta ($10), a blueberry lemon cheesecake ($10), pumpkin tiramisu ($10) and flourless chocolate truffle cake ($11).

Service at Red is first-rate, with servers who are personable, knowledgeable and professional. In fact, that pretty much sums up the overall dining experience: first-rate food, service and atmosphere.

While pricey, Red is an ideal place for a special occasion.

Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette

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