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Gazette restaurant reviewer Bill Livick ordered this dish of pan-seared diver scallops and mushroom risotto during a recent visit to The Tin Fox, 2616 Monroe St., Madison. The dish, which featured scallops Livick said melted on his palate, also was accompanied by fonduta (Italian cheese) and root vegetables on a bed of cranberry gastrique.

Although hampered by street construction for the six months it’s been open, The Tin Fox has managed to thrive at 2616 Monroe St., formerly the home of Freiburg Gastropub (which relocated to State Street).

And it’s easy to see why the new restaurant has been such a hit. It did everything right during a recent visit, providing excellent service and outstanding fare in a handsome, open dining area that features a long wooden bar on the south side of the room, a window into the kitchen and a mix of dark wood high-tops and dining tables near the front.

Locally owned by Marissa and Greg Neal, whose son, Justice, serves as executive chef, The Tin Fox offers upscale dining in a casual, comfortable space with entrees priced between $15 and $28.

“Nibbles” such as smelt fries, duck liver mousse, pork belly rillette and pancake-batter cheese curds cost between $3 and $10, and salads and starters are between $7 and $12.

The kitchen also offers three boards—a cheese board ($16), a meats board ($19) and a Wisconsin mix of the two ($25)—two desserts ($7 each) that both hit the mark, a long list of craft beers on tap and a bevy of creative cocktails.

A friend and I visited The Tin Fox on a Friday night, arriving early to beat the crowd. In fact, we were the only customers when we arrived around 5:30 p.m.—and by 7 p.m. the place was nearly full. The early arrival allowed us to talk with a server at length about the food and ingredients used, as well as the time to consider the options.

We weren’t disappointed.

Most popular among the list of nibbles and starters, our server noted, is the pancake-battered cheese curds, which come crispy and with a cup of maple syrup. We were looking for something a bit higher on the healthy-food scale, however, and opted for an order of steamed Brussels sprouts ($7), which came lightly buttered and dusted with Parmesan cheese and herbs. I’ve never considered Brussels spouts a favorite vegetable, but these were excellent—flavorful and slightly crunchy.

My companion and I also enjoyed the kitchen’s rich burrata ($8), an Italian cheese made from cow’s milk that features an outer shell of mozzarella and a soft, creamier cheese within. It arrived on a plate as a swirled mound of white cheese surrounded with cranberry jam and a balsamic glaze, seasoned with smoked sea salt and served with crispy slices of baguette. If you love cheese and haven’t tasted burrata, I would certainly recommend it.

I would say the same about our entrees, which were nearly flawless.

An order of pan-seared diver scallops ($28) came with a delectable mushroom risotto, fonduta (an Italian cheese), root vegetables—all on a bed of cranberry gastrique. The scallops were remarkably tender, seeming to melt on the palate, and they were complemented perfectly with the creamy risotto. The only drawback was the chef placing the succulent scallops in a pool of cranberry sauce that should have been on the side, making it difficult to taste the true flavor of those sea delicacies. But even that misstep didn’t detract much from a great plate of food.

Also excellent is the kitchen’s pasta plate ($23), which features house-made bucatini pasta mixed with wild-game Bolognese sauce, pecorino cheese, carrot and chervil (French parsley). Our waitress noted the pasta was made fresh in the kitchen that day. It was expertly cooked al dente and served with a tasty, meaty sauce that was lightly accented. It is simply one of the best pasta dishes that I’ve had in recent memory.

Fortunately, the quality remained high when we came to the desserts.

A dense piece of flourless chocolate cake ($7) was richly decadent and not overly sweet. It was served with raspberry glace and a scoop of salted caramel gelato for an out-of-this-world flavor, while a pumpkin cheesecake, served with hazelnut tuille, also was fine.

As mentioned, our server was great. She took the time to help us find the right wine, checked on cooking oils and generally did a fine job of making us feel welcome.

The Tin Fox had just initiated its fall menu a few days before our dinner there. If the rest of its seasonal menus compare to the food we enjoyed, I’d predict this comfortable restaurant is going to anchor its block on Monroe Street for a very long time.

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

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