Monday, June 16, 2008


Eat Local Out

On Saturday, the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance was generous enough to let me lecture on eating local. During the question period, someone asked about eating local out. First, I realized I had glossed over the part in my speech where I said I limit my eating local to eating in, that I still enjoy the wealth of interesting restaurants around Chicago (see this meal for example). Then, when talking about local restaurants serving local, I went on for a bit about Lula's Cafe, in Logan Square, where I had had sous vide rhubarb the week before. My wife, in the front row, was mouthing to me, Vie, Vie. She's was making little victory signs with her fingers if I could not read her lips. She was afraid that if Paul Virant hears the speech when it's podcast by WBEZ (I'll post the details when I know), he'd be offended (or at least disappointed) that I did not mention his place. To my wife's relief, I spent a minute or so kvelling about Vie. I never did mention Rob and Allison Levitt of Mado. My bad. Any discussion of eating local out must include them and their restaurant Mado. I bet within a few months, any discussion of eating local out will begin with them.

Diligent readers of this blog will know that I've entertained the idea of opening a restaurant. If I did, it would not be quite like Mado--I'd like a more classic decor: tile floor, wood booths than Mado's spare style, and our cuisine would be a bit more Midwestern, haute farm, than Mado's Mediterranean focus, but in spirit, we'd be Mado. I SO admire what they are doing and how they are doing it. Buying local. Changing the menu frequently to reflect the buys, the seasons, the offerings; using the whole beast, butchering their own animals, making use of each part. On one visit I had lamb belly. Every have lamb belly? Try Mado.

It's already cliche to begin a Mado review by telling the audience they will not eat the same food as the reviewer. That's not really true. I've been to Mado twice, and both times had the bruschetta con pulpo, braised octopus, seasoned with a bit of red chile, on toast. Mike Sula at the Reader found the dish "off-key", but I've enjoyed it each time. Rob must do a lot of slamming of his octo, because it's never been the least bit tough. My second try with this dish received a bit less chile, a slight shame, as this item can support a fair amount of spice-heat. I would order it again, and I bet you can too. Likewise, you will probably find some type of headcheese, translated to the Italian testa, to assuage the squeamish, on the day's menu. In fact, Rob told me that Crain's Chicago Business is doing an article on him and Paul Virant and headcheese. Sic! And, and in fact, in a few week's Rob's gonna make headcheese (or something) from the head of the hog we've purchased from the Wettstein's. Get the headcheese. Mado's methods limit the jelly aspect of the dish. Instead you get nicely seasoned, meat made into neat shapes, square once, ribbons another.

Another thing you might have heard about Mado is that it's maybe a bit on the pricey; not so much pricey but small portions for the money. I disagree with that too. I think their prices/portions are eminently fair, and I've walked away twice finding my bill much less than I believe it should have been. Mado prices their chaucuterie at $4 each or 4 for $15. I've tried several items in this category. The slabs are big enough to fully enjoy, and rich enough you don't want more. A half order of pasta, I've tried a ramp stuffed ravioli, is worth adding $8 to the bill. Dinners come with a side, but are already portioned with sides. I will confess that my very, very favorite thing I have eaten at Mado were the two sides that came with our fish last Saturday: thinly sliced raw Michigan asparagus, lightly dressed, and English peas, with a dab of butter [or what I thought was butter, see comments below]. I have never left Mado hungry, nor feeling gypped in any way.

I do have my quibbles. We can all quibble, no? In between my first and second visits to Mado, I ran into Rob at Red Hen Bakery. My wife was aghast that practically the first thing out of my mouth to Rob after "hi" was, "funny seeing you in Red Hen as you need to serve some bread." He does. Mado's food is spare and intense. He does not need bread so much to mop up sauces as to give a bit of palate relief. This was especially true for the rabbit pate we had the other night. My next quibble would be that Rob has a heavy hand with salt. I can understand why he uses it. It's the same issue as the bread. The richness is such that salt cuts. Still, sometimes, I would like just a wee bit less. It's a fine line, and maybe I'd rather him be at edge and fall over than undersalt this kinda food. Finally, I would say, richness aside, a sauce, a bit of sauce would not be the worst thing. For instance, on Saturday, we had pike, cooked just fine, perfect; moist, crisp skin. Yet, pike is a very mild fish. It begged for a beurre blanc (although my wife sez, "I disagree totally"). Likewise, on my first visit, I had the lamb belly as noted above. It was very much in the same vein as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's lamb breast St. Ménéhould, long cooked, then breaded and fried. Only Hugh gilds the lily with a tarter sauce. Rob leaves the breaded lamb meat on its own. I liked Rob's spicing and he fried it well, but I would have liked the sauce.

So, Mado and She's Cooking will not be the same restaurant, but good natured rivals. Until my place opens, I'll be eating a lot at Mado. I will certainly mentioned them more, next talk I give.


rob levitt said...

rob from mado here again! thanks for the props! it is wonderful to get such a gracious response from someone who really cares about food. a few comments if i may...
the asparagus was froom my good friend farmer nick nichols in marengo, illinois...not michigan (local!) also, nicks peas had not a drop of butter in them. the were warmed in a puree made from the pea shells.
you'll be happy to know that on day two of the lamb belly dish it was served with a generous dab of lemony aioli. i needed a bit more.
next time you come in there will be plenty of bread waiting for you. just don't eat too much and fill up before the feast!

VI said...

Rob, thanks for stopping buy. I hope I can eat at Mado a lot more so I can get your comments here. Planning an Oak Park venture soon?

Interesting on the peas. I was thinking it had to be butter as there was no taste of olive oil or bacon or any thing else lipid.