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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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First Sixteen opens in an unfinished skyscraper; now TOPAZ goes the hard-hat route in the middle of Burr Ridge Village Center, an unfinished shopping and residential complex. I half expected to see diners packing tool belts and downing Polish sausages and beer. Hardly. The crew at this smart space looks like the suburban bourgeoisie ready to snap up the luxury condos going up next door and then hit the Kohler Waters Spa across the street for a massage.

Branko Palikuca, the owner of Amber in Westmont, has an instant hit on his hands with Topaz—no big shock once you find out that Giuseppe Scurato, the mastermind behind Boka’s early success, is in the kitchen. He skillfully blends Spanish, French, and Italian, avoiding the slippery slope of hodgepodge flavors, to deliver sleek contemporary American with international flourishes.

Scurato makes his spicy Med intentions clear from the outset. A thick appetizer crab cake gets a bold dose of Spanish piquillo pepper coulis and garlic chips. The combo of frog legs and gribiche (a sauce of mashed hard-boiled-egg yolks, capers, herbs, and chopped egg whites) couldn’t be more Gallic. And smoked sable carpaccio shines amid grapefruit segments and macerated lemon, garnished with red onion and tangy Sicilian capers.

Entrées come on equally strong—and fast. Service is almost too efficient, with scant pause between courses. Maybe the kitchen figures you are eager to dig into your seared day-boat scallops in lemon-cream sauce with a dynamite ragoût of organic spring onions and crumbled Spanish chorizo. The second time I ordered it, I certainly was. I predict the most popular entrée will be the succulent pan-roasted New Zealand rack of lamb with rosemary sauce. The robust flavor, nudged along with multicolored orzo with niçoise olives, baby zucchini, and fiddlehead ferns, goes beautifully with a peppery 2005 Australian Rosemount Show Reserve Shiraz ($36).

Hands down, the best dessert is the rosebud shortcake (rose petals are mixed into the shortcake batter) with flamed Cognac strawberries and mascarpone whipped cream. I was less enthused by the light but gooey tiramisù, so soupy the pastry component had dissolved. All in all, desserts lag behind savory courses.

Topaz feels like a downtown Chicago restaurant. True to its name, the high-ceilinged space is illuminated in warm golden hues, from the wine cases separating two dining areas to the beautiful wood pillars and a glassed-in exhibition kitchen. But hints abound that you’re not in River North: for example, the proliferation of children early in the evening or the lively party of four senior couples who held hands and prayed together between their cocktails and food. If such a scene occurred in the city, the chef would just assume they were praying to him.

 

THE SKINNY

MADO 1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2340 Tip Some coveted entrées sell out early, so order quickly if you spot a must-have. (I missed crispy braised lamb belly with preserved lemon.) Hours Breakfast, lunch, dinner Tuesday-Sunday Tab (without wine, tax, or tip) $25 to $30

TOPAZ 780 Village Center Dr., Burr Ridge; 630-654-1616 Tip Burr Ridge Village Center is a maze of shopping streets. Once you’re inside the matrix, call for directions. Hours Lunch Monday-Saturday; dinner nightly Tab (without wine, tax, or tip) $40 to $50

Photography: Kendall Karmanian

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