Sky Full of Bacon

After spending a number of hours in Mado’s kitchen shooting an upcoming Sky Full of Bacon, I finally ate there last night with a few others involved in the production. (The following is just a standard meal review, but trust me, the precise subject of the podcast will be much more exotic.)

For me, Mado is the place that people were looking for in a place like Bonsoiree, which got a lot of hype last year for its (increasingly pricey) underground dinners but largely underwhelmed me— but does so at the price point that makes experimentation and hits-or-misses an acceptable part of the journey. All over town now entrees start with a 3, and at that price they damn well better come off perfectly. At Mado, I think every entree (or at least nearly so) started with a 1— a price at which one can happily go for the ride with a couple of chefs who are making their menu up new, constantly, based on what’s in the markets. Rapid-response cooking like that is going to be better some times than others, by its nature, but rooted in classic skills, you should be able to keep that average pretty high– and that’s exactly what I think Mado has done. Superior ingredients and some classic techniques produced an outstanding value for the price (barely $20 per person before tip) and compared favorably with any meal I’ve had lately— Sepia, Graham Elliott, Mercat a la Planxa, etc.

The in-house charcuterie is certainly one of the big reasons to go. We tried three different head cheeses, including the pork which will star in the podcast, although I think my favorite (don’t tell Triska) was lamb, just a subtle lamb flavor shining through the texture of head cheese (which, at least the way they make it, isn’t a gooey gelatinous loaf but somewhat akin to chunks of leftover Thanksgiving turkey bound with a little cold gravy). Even better than any of them, though, was the copa, cured pork shoulder somewhat like prosciutto, which had the beautiful deep red color and winey complexity of the best charcuterie anywhere I’ve had it.

Antipasti consisted of a number of simply dressed plates, mostly fresh vegetables, and a selection of pickled items. I really liked the pickled watermelon slices and zucchini bits (there’s what to do with all your zucchini!), a beet salad with pistachios and a slightly spicy yogurt dressing was superbly fresh and bright, and a little tuna and potato dish poached in olive oil was like a great, simple tapas. I was less wild about uncooked brussel sprouts tossed with shaved parmesan, I would have liked them both softer and warmer, I think.

Although I liked the housemade pasta itself, I agree with those who find the pasta dishes a little too minimalist, even by authentic-Italian standards. But two entrees were really great. One, which chef/co-owner Rob Levitt had urged us to try, was calves’ liver in a reduction with bits of their homemade bacon— this was surprisingly easy to love even for someone who’s not wild about liver, the preparation gave the liver a steak-like richness. And a dish of little fried perch on top of a cauliflower puree with a saffron sauce was wonderfully light and fresh.

Mado has instantly climbed onto my recommend-to-people list for offering really well-made and interesting food in a comfortable setting at comfortable prices. I asked Rob during the shoot why he thought that some people had a negative perception of the value and the portion size and he said some of them seem to expect to leave with a big bag of leftover food. If that’s so, then they should be eating at Rosebud or something; the value here, of extremely high quality meat that’s raised and used in a responsible way, and served at a reasonable size for a reasonable price, seems like a very good deal to me. You get what you’re paying for here on the plate, not in a bag afterwards.

1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647

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