Restaurants, Contemporary American Wicker Park
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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I’d love to gush about the poached tuna at Mado. I’d love to explain, in detail, how rich and meaty it was, and how the flesh was soaked with olive oil in the most decadent way. I’d like to write about how something so simple was also surprisingly satisfying.

But I’ve already said too much. Recommending great dishes at Mado is a somewhat cruel practice, because there’s a good chance those dishes are one-night-only affairs. So instead, I’ll settle for recommending the restaurant itself. The spirit of what made that tuna so good—the combination of exemplary ingredients and minimalist preparation—is at the heart of every dish here, so though the menu changes daily, the style of food remains the same night after night. Most of the time, this turns out to be an excellent way to cook. It allows sunchokes, dressed with lemon and parsley, to show off their woody, crunchy earthiness, and scallops, prepared crudo-style with grapefruit, to boast their clean, natural sweetness. Housemade beef-shank terrine exhibits lingering richness, and the house-cured guanciale, though sliced so thin it’s transparent, has a big, deliciously salty flavor. The hanger steak, set over a bed of Gorgonzola polenta, was one of the most flavorful steaks I’ve tasted; the halibut one of the most perfectly cooked filets I’ve forked.

However, extreme simplicity is not without risks. Just as even the smallest stain attracts attention on a white shirt, Mado’s food is so naked that it can’t hide even the smallest flaws. Case in point, one night a rack of pork—which was only slightly smaller than, I kid you not, a football—arrived overcooked. Without a sauce, it was just an enormous chunk of dry, chewy meat. That same meal, the tagliatelle was not so much al dente as it was tough, and as there was not much else on the plate, the dish could not be saved. And some of the smaller plates were nothing short of stingy: Mixed baby lettuces—there could not have been more than ten leaves on the plate—go for four dollars; no more than three forkfuls of spring onions “agro-dolce” (that is, sweet and sour, Italian style) go for five.

Easily forgivable? That depends on what else you ordered. So one final recommendation: the shortbread. The first time I tried it it was the most fantastic shortbread I’d ever tasted, each bite disintegrating into millions of tiny, buttery crumbs. The second time? Not exactly as fantastic. Instead, it was simply good. And at Mado, simply good is precisely the point.

By: David Tamarkin


Venue name: Mado (CLOSED)
Address: 1647 N Milwaukee Ave

Cross street: between Caton St and Concord Pl
Opening hours: Brunch (Sun), dinner (closed Mon)
Transport: El stop: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72.
Price: Average main course: $18
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