Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mad About Mado

I met my supper club for dinner last night in Bucktown/Wicker Park at Mado, home of the fabled Rolled Pig’s Head from my previous post.

Although the restaur
ant is relatively new, husband-and-wife chef-owners, Robert and Allison Levitt, are already known around town for their daily seasonal menu of farm-fresh meats and produce.

Mado is an unassuming, even ugly brick building on an otherwise dreary sid
e street populated with shuttered buildings and empty lots. Until recently, it was a pizza joint with bright orange walls and plastic furniture. The windows are still tagged with spray paint, but inside, the orange walls have been stripped to reveal warm brick. The dining room is intimate and unadorned, and the food is outstanding.

We were tucked into the back corner at a long rustic table for eight. Our group arrived slowly, so we opened a bottle of wine and chatted until the last member of our party had arrived. By that time, we were all ravenous. S suggested ordering family style and the rest of us heartily agreed. We started with two plates of the meats, featuring Country Pate, Rolled Pig's Head and Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate accompanied by Freshly Baked Sourdough, Grain Mustard, and Pickled Vegetables. The assorted meats arrived on antique, pig-shaped cutting boards.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was excited about the Rolled Pig’s Head, but was possibly even more excited to be dining with a group of people
who were just as enthusiastic about trying something new. For four hours, we talked about food, and less important subjects, like men. It was refreshing to dine with a group of girls who are as passionate about food as I am—most of them more passionate and more educated about the subject I have only recently come to love. When I said that I’m looking for a pasta machine, they each had suggestions about the best one on the market. They agree that a culinary tour of Chinatown or the Korean neighborhood would be an ideal way to spend an afternoon. And without blinking an eye, they ordered Rolled Pig’s Head and critiqued its taste and the merits of its texture.

When the meats arrived, I am ashamed to say that we spent a good am
ount of time debating which meat was which. We finally puzzled out that the soft, pillowy mound on one end was the Country Pate, the grayish meat in the middle must be the Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate, and the strips that looked like Prosciutto must be the Rolled Pig’s Head. Of them all, the Country Pate was the unanimous favorite—smooth and delicate and addictive.

We followed the pig with a selection of appetizers: Roasted Baby Carrots with Gorgonzola; Grilled Calamari Panzanella w
ith Red Onion, Vinegar Peppers, and Capers; Confit Pork Kidneys, Grilled Bread, Hard Cooked Egg and Mustard (first photo below); and Fried Farm Egg Bruscetta with Truffle Butter (second photo below).Absolutely everything was wonderful. We raved over the crispy bruscetta oiled with truffle butter topped with a runny, salty fried egg. The carrots with gorgonzola were a surprising delight—and an aesthetic extravagance, with orange, yellow, and red carrots. I didn’t know that carrots came in yellow and red!

Next, we ordered two bowls of the home-made Rigatoni with Grilled Radicchio, Walnuts and Gorgonzola:
Followed by: Rainbow Trout Stuffed with Braised Swiss Chard and Confit Pork Belly (Pictured below with Rosemary-Roasted Potatoes), Hanger Steak with Gorgonzola Polenta , and Casuela of Farm Egg, Braised Pork and White Beans. With sides: Rosemary-Roasted Potatoes (pictured above) and Creamy Polenta. It would be a daunting task to describe each of these marvelous dishes, so I won’t try. I will say, however, that I have never tasted polenta quite like this. The polenta I make at home tends to solidify as soon as it hits the plate, while this was rich and creamy and tangy. I could eat Mado’s polenta with every meal for the rest of my life.

And the desserts: Chocolate Cream Pie with Almond Cornmeal Crust, Caramel Biancomangiare with Crispy Chocolate and Coffee-Chili Syrup, and Migas Bark. The Migas Bark turned out to be chunky sheets of chocolate which, while certainly delicious, did not quite live up to the exotic promise of its name. The Chocolate Cream Pie was stunning, but the Caramel Biancomangiare was something special.

I will admit that I did not know what it was, so I did a little research and discovered that biancomangiare is a Sicilian-style almond custard with almond milk. It is believed that Sicily’s Arab conquerors and four centuries of Spanish domination inspired this distinctive dessert featured in the cookbooks of the Italian Renaissance and served in large troughs of snow at the banquets of the Medici court.

Shaped with a decorative mold, Mado’s biancomangiare was soft and light with a delicate caramel flavor. Tiny balls of chocolate graced the top and rolled down the sides, and the coffee-chili syrup pooled around the bottom. A single spoonful combining the soft biancomangiare with the crispy chocolate balls and the spicy syrup was startling and extraordinary.

Eight girls, 2 bottles of champagne, 7 bottles of wine (BYOB), 2 plates of assorted meats, 4 appetizers, 2 bowls of pasta, 3 entrees, 2 sides, 3 desserts, and 4 hours later, I headed home completely satisfied—and completely enamored with Mado.

(Mado photo courtesy of Menu Pages.)


  1. so what's the cost, there abouts.

  2. Not bad, actually! As these dishes continued to arrive in quick succession, I started to worry about the final cost and wondered if I'd brought enough money. I was dreading the moment the check would come and I'd have to excuse myself to wander the streets in search of a ATM. But it ended up being $40 per person. And we ate a LOT of food!