Restaurant's menu changes with city market's ingredients

June 23, 2008 9:29:31 AM PDT
The words "local" and "seasonal" are used quite a bit on menus these days, but few restaurateurs go so far as to make them mandatory.ABC7 Chicago food reporter Steve Dolinsky says one new restaurant does not have a choice. Its menu is a giant chalkboard, which changes almost daily.

It's every chef's dream: cook dishes based solely on whatever you find at the local farmer's markets. Nothing's frozen, and nothing is delivered from a semi-trailer.

That's more likely to occur in California, where the growing season is longer. But one Chicago area couple is making a go of it, hoping the embed the words "local" and "seasonal" into every plate.

Allie and Rob Levitt are like a lot of chefs, spending as much time at the twice-weekly Green City Market as possible. But unlike their peers, they take a more fluid approach to menu planning.

""We don't really plan our menu based on 'I hope they have spinach'. If we show up and he has it, then we get it," said Rob Levitt of Mado, a new restaurant in Bucktown.

So when the chefs see onions at the Nichols Farm stand, or a mound of rhubarb from Seedling Farm, you can bet that within a day, those items will show up at their restaurant.

Levitt will saute young, green garlic, then transfer it to a food processor, along with fennel seeds and spring onions. The resulting marinade is spread generously over a side of pork, which is then rolled and roasted.

Meanwhile, whole chickens begin turning on a rotisserie, and Levitt is busy unveiling his handiwork from the day before: a house-cured 'charcuteri' board of assorted meats and salumis with toasted crostini.

Antipasti changes almost daily: from a bright shrimp salad, to simply-dressed Nelson carrots topped with a 'gribiche' of hard-boiled eggs, mayo and herbs.

"What we've always wanted to do was establish good relationships with farmers and go to the market two, three times a week and get the best of what's available right now and make really simple food," Levitt said.

Hence, the ever-changing giant chalkboard, reflecting highlights such as grilled trout set in a pool of green sorrel puree, topped with almonds, or a pea shoot-covered half-chicken, flecked with pistachios.

Allie Levitt's desserts reflect a similar philosophy.

"Desserts with a lot of components are based in old French technique and take a lot of skill, but I think once you get all those basics down, it's fun to strip it back," she said.

A cooked rhubarb 'fool' is layered parfait-style with fresh whipped cream and served with a few homemade cookies, while a vanilla 'blancmange,' or cooked pudding, arrives with notes of fresh grapefruit and a sweet marmalade.

"You have to be more careful because when there's not a lot going on, on the plate, everything has to be perfect because there's not a lot of busy-ness; there's nothing to hide if you mess it up," Levitt said.

Even in the two weeks since ABC7 Chicago visited Mado, things have changed, including the addition of an English pea bruschetta. And for dessert, a "gateau basque," featuring local strawberries.

Reservations are recommended.

Mado

1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.

773-342-2340


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