When I heard the word “minimalist” associated with Mado Restaurant in Chicago, I wasn’t expecting what I got. Sure, it was a simple brick building with hardwood floors, muted but striking artwork, and a what-you-see-is-what-you-get hospitality. But it was also some surprisingly complicated menu work.
The antipasti, for example, offered roasted carrots with ras el hanout goat cheese, pistachios and cumin honey. And wood-roasted cauliflower with almonds and charmoula. And, of all things, citrus cured lake perch with preserved lemon and parsley. All of them are reasonable, with enough to be shared for $10 and less.
Still, you have to try the spicy greens with roasted pig head. After all, how many places can you go where you can claim that kind of bragging rights? It was actually pretty tasty, if you can get past the images in your, um, head.
Of course, any place that butchers its own pigs has to be about the meat. So, try the meats platter with accompaniments, offering ciccioli, copa (a cured meat, and the best of the trio), and guanciale (described as a “melt-in-your-mouth” bacon-like meat made from the jowls of a pig, although we found it a tad chewy ourselves). For an upcharge, the meats come with a hearty sourdough, pickled vegetables, and a wonderfully grainy mustard that balances the meat flavors perfectly.
For a main course, you can go with a pasta dish but why, when there are choices from the grill, the oven, and the rotisserie?
Here, again, the selections are unexpected. Wood-grilled hanger steak with gorgonzola polenta. Spit-roasted chicken, wood-grilled rainbow trout, beer-brined pork leg, or a pork chop that will likely be the largest one you’ve ever seen (and, at $52, is meant to serve two). It comes with delectable roasted potatoes that pop in your mouth and are a nice complement to the flavor of the chop. They present it to you in all its fresh-off-the-grill glory, then whisk it off to be sliced in the kitchen. It’s that momentary rush, when the smells are wafting off the meat, that makes your mouth water impatiently for its return.
The Food Channel crew actually saw Mado owner Rob Levitt demonstrate whole animal’ butchering during the recent National Restaurant Association show, and chose that scene as one of our Top Ten Things Seen. How nice, then, after seeing how it’s done, that the flavors didn’t disappoint. We didn’t love everything, but the experience was different enough, and most of the items pleasing enough, that we would return.
We were going to pass on dessert, but just had to look at the menu . . . and next thing you know, we were trying some cakes and chocolate that just cried out for coffee. That coffee may be the best $3 you’ll spend, with an individual French press presented per cup. The chocolate is another example of their philosophy of using everything they make—yes, those chunks are from their homemade sourdough bread, with a touch of salt and a great chocolate coating it all. Even for this chocolate afficianado, it was memorable. If you just go in for coffee and the chocolate, you’ll have had an experience.
Menu selections change daily, so you may find something completely different—but equally intriguing—when you stop in. Mado is BYOB, so be sure to go prepared one way or the other.
Mado is one of the most talked about restaurants on the circuit, and now we see why.
Check out the Mado listing in our iRaves section as well!