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Review Wed Jun 25 2008

More mado, more!

If, when you when you walk into a new restaurant on a weekday evening, Rick Tramonto is sitting in the window enjoying his dinner...chances are it's going to be a decent meal. Of course, if you have poor eyesight and do not immediately notice Mr. Tramonto in the softly lit confines of Mado, (or even have lingering doubts over the strenuous but whispered protests of your all-but pointing and waving dining companions) you are probably still going to have a more than decent eating experience.

With its exposed brick, wood and gleaming stone appointments, and excellent locally sourced, clean and simple Italian cuisine, Mado is edging fine, trattoria-style dining ever further north on Milwaukee. More details on a great meal, after the fold.

Mado is still BYOB at the moment, and does offer a short list of non-boozy beverages (aranciata, coffee, teas), which you can enjoy at the solid, dark marble bar while you wait for your friends to arrive. On time for my 7:30pm reservation, the small space was hushed, though far from lonely, with only a few diners in groups of two or three. By the time we left two and a half hours later, Mado was bustling and busy, barely an open seat in the house.

Menus are printed on thin brown sheets (almost like butcher paper) and scrawled out on several wall-mounted chalkboards, where descriptions of antipasti and sides are interspersed with information about the local growers and producers whose fare is being featured this week. Attentive and good-humored waiters are quick to open your beer or find a small juice glass for wine if you decide to add a little fermentation to Mado's otherwise entirely crisp and clean menu.

The antipasti in particular seem to be made to share (preferably on a cute pig-shaped cutting board, it seems, if you go all out with the meats). Everyone at my table just opted to fend for themselves, however, which also seemed to go over easily. From the appetizers, smoked duck breast arrived in three thick slices, no accompaniment (though mustards and breads are available for pairing), and deliciously cured and rich without being at all heavy. A simple lettuce salad arrived as a little green cloud of leaves, lightly oiled with a surprisingly complex dressing, all citrus and green notes with just the faintest not-even-sweet hint of honey or fresh mint.

Creamy polenta seems to be the major stand-out among the side dishes -- like a dessert crafted entirely from butter and air, it has a silky consistency closer to pudding than grits, and a richness just under its sunny lightness (blue cheese? cheddar? a liberal dollop of heavy cream? mystery!). Paired with a deliciously seasoned and perfectly cooked skirt steak, this time with an intentional sprinkling of gorgonzola, polenta and steak seemed to just melt away somewhere between fork and throat.

Pasta seemed to be the most popular entree at my table, available in both half and full portions. The noodles are made in-house (of course), and, like any good hand-made pasta, bring their own character and flavor, rather than just serving as a bland canvas for marinara and meatballs. Mado's pasta is eggy but delicate, with a little of that extra al dente texture the fresh stuff always seems to add. This week's tagliatelle was a foil for a green and light sauce combining garlic scapes, lemon and chilies. The three ingredient descriptions seem to be entirely accurate -- there's nothing more to these dishes than meets the eye. Except for their surprisingly rich and layered flavors. In the pasta dish, scapes (the center spine of the top greens of the garlic plant) are like the love child of green onion and leeks, caught in a complicated relationship with garlic. Lemon and olive oil make the grassy, biting notes of the scapes sing, while the slow heat of chili flakes is tempered by the buttery sweetness of the garlic flavor. It's a clean-cut dish, and the expertise required to balance all those distinct flavors with so little room for error, so few masking elements, is impressive.

With these rustic, simple and well-executed dishes, Mado is already a darling of the localvore movement, has garnered a glowing first look from Gourmet, and, if you believe seven eighths of my dinner party, charmed Rick Tramonto to boot.

Mado
1647 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 773-342-2340

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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