Maybe it’s because Jon Bon Jovi’s cry of being “halfway there” was echoing throughout the room, but when I was eating the pizza fondue at La Madia, I couldn’t help feeling like I was 13 again. The dish was so simple it could have been a mere bread plate: a hot loaf of bread fashioned from pizza dough flanked by a cup of Parmesan-topped marinara sauce. Tear the bread— palming its hot, steamy interior if your fingers can bear it—and dip it into the tinny sauce. And there you have it: a teenager’s idea of the perfect dinner.
At lunchtime, when I was trying the dish, this kind of thing can fly (even if just barely). But La Madia’s menu remains the same from afternoon to night. And while such equality is a good idea in theory—both meals are given the same weight, and why not?—what’s merely fine for lunch becomes downright disappointing for dinner. The risotto—soupy but studded with crunchy spears of asparagus and earthy shards of Parmesan—fell just short of fine for a dinner visit. During lunch, however, when my expectations were lower, the dish would’ve been perfectly satisfactory (that is, until it quickly congealed, at which point it became unsuitable for any meal).
Perhaps La Madia can transition so easily from lunch to dinner to late night (it serves until 11pm) because it’s a pizzeria. But the fact that the restaurant identifies itself as such makes the state of its (inconsistent) pizza all the more sad. On one visit, a spinach-and-speck pie was too soft and overly bready. The next day, things were much better: A taleggio-and-grape pizza came out of the wood-burning oven with a thinner, crispier crust. (The flavor was better, too, as the salty, lightly funky taleggio found a perfect companion with the occasional sweet burst of grape.) Pastas, on the other hand, were so consistently standard that they were unimaginative, from that asparagus risotto to the “Straw and Hay” pasta, whose combination of white chicken meat and mascarpone was overpowered by truffle oil.
Simplicity does not always fail La Madia, however. A Braeburn apple, arugula and spicy walnut salad proved to be a congruous combination. Foil-roasted niçoise olives boasted big flavors of garlic and thyme (though the dish would benefit aesthetically from being removed from the foil before being served). The pine nut–studded Wisconsin “electric” butter cookies were sumptuous, crumbly and delightful. And the miniature panini (which, for the record, are not pressed) were as solid as miniature Italian subs can be (and awfully cute to boot). In fact, paired with a glass of wine from the well-pruned list, they’d make for a nice lunch—or a rather unexceptional dinner.