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Dining Out: Mad About Mado

Laid-back and green, a Mediterranean storefront opens in Bucktown; Topaz takes Burr Ridge on a Euro tour.

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Open the door to MADO and a smoky aroma grabs you, almost like an inhalable amuse. Chef Rob Levitt deploys his grill and rotisserie to fine effect in this modest new Bucktown spot, where he cooks Italian/Mediterranean food, equal parts rustic and contemporary. He and his wife and co-owner, Allie, fly the green flag of sustainability. Their chalkboard menu lists local farmers’ markets and artisanal growers whose ingredients make up Mado’s offerings.

Allie, like her husband a grad of the Culinary Institute of America, handles the pastry chef duties, and the restaurant’s name signals the closeness of their working relationship. Mado was the great chef Fernand Point’s nickname for his wife, Marie-Louise, who, the story goes, had to approve every dish before it was allowed to leave the kitchen of La Pyramide. A former environmental biology major, Allie ensures that the restaurant uses green cleaning supplies and serves filtered water. Even the furniture in the exposed brick storefront comes from sustainable materials: A recycled farmhouse table is used for large parties and communal family dining; bare bamboo tables with red leather chairs await smaller parties. Allie also often patrols the room, helping out when the well-intentioned but erratic servers need backup.

Except for beef, Rob butchers whole animals—"out of respect,” he says—and uses the odds and ends for house-cured meats. Order the $15 meat platter and your party will get a pig-shaped wood slab with four kinds of top-notch charcuterie. There might be guanciale (dry-cured pork jowls), rough-textured pâté, testa (head cheese), rabbit galatine, mortadella, or pork rillettes. The chef is a purist and doesn’t serve mustard or bread other than crostini for the guanciale—but something sweet or pickled would cut the fat and snap the palate back between bites. At any rate, the meats would be right at home at Avec.

Sliced scallop crudo with grapefruit supremes and espelette pepper may be a little meager, but the bright flavor refreshes. Bruschetta topped with braised baby octopus and Calabrian chilies has more heft. Credit an early-morning trip to a farmers’ market for the delicious watercress/radish/mint salad. Rob also makes a fresh nightly pasta, available in appetizer and entrée portions: Hooray for the ramp-filled ravioli finished with more ramps and pecorino.

From the short entrée list, wood grilling enhances both the whole rainbow trout dressed with walnuts, coriander, and marjoram and the beefy hanger steak served with Gorgonzola polenta. The best entrée, rotisserie porchetta, is inspired by the Italian way of stuffing a whole pig with fennel fronds and cooking it over an open fire. Mado’s rotisserie isn’t big enough for the whole hog, so Rob wraps thick pork belly around pork loin with a layer of fennel, rosemary, and garlic and gives that the rotisserie treatment. The result is wonderful—juicy, full-flavored, tender pork, served with Spanish salsa verde and fresh arugula. Get it with a side of creamy polenta or rosemary-roasted potatoes and you’ll be happy.

Mado is BYO for now, but it serves cups of rich Metropolis organic coffee, the perfect accompaniment for Allie’s softly satisfying shortbread cookies. Or enjoy coffee in your dessert: Her dates, cooked in coffee-and-cardamom sauce, are sprinkled with walnuts and served atop buffalo ricotta. Either way, the Levitts make political correctness taste great.

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