Restaurant Week 2011 - La Madia

My final foray into the Restaurant Week offerings was inspired by a conversation I had with my coworker and lunch companion, Jessica, in which we were discussing the chicken and grape pizza I made with Justin last month. She mentioned her love for the talegio and grape pizza at La Madia, a restaurant not terribly far from the museum, and highly recommended the place if I were looking for a new pizza spot.

Generally speaking, my Chicago roots run deep, and I am fairly loyal to my beloved deep-dish pizza. The only other pie to win a place in my heart is that of Dewey's, an Ohio chain with a presence in St. Louis, which I learned to love when I was going to college there. Otherwise, I tend to stay away from the thin crust stuff. However, after Jessica's recommendation, I happened to walk past La Madia when I was out at the Snow Days Festival with Lauren and Justin, and realized just how conveniently located it is. Given the location and the good word of mouth, it certainly seemed worth checking out.

Since Restaurant Week lunches are a bit of a tradition for me and Lauren, I thought La Madia would make a good choice, since many of the participating locations are only available for dinner. We ended up having a tremendous feast of a meal, both in quantity and in its quality. If the purpose of Restaurant Week is to win new local clients for Chicago eateries, then I think our trip to La Madia might have been the most successful of my outings this week, as it is likely to be the only place I'll being dining at again in the future.

Ambiance - The interior at La Madia was crisp, modern, and bright with natural light, even though it was an overcast day. I'm not sure how it would look at night, for dinner, but I didn't get the sense that this would be the best location for a romantic or otherwise intimate meal. The pizza oven was surrounded by an open work area, where customers seated at a low bar can watch the pizzaioli preparing the food, and where participants in monthly Italian cooking classes are seated as well. Really, my only complaint in regard to the atmosphere was the fact that they had two unisex bathrooms, instead of devoting one stall to men and one to women. I hate unisex bathrooms; I have never seen one that wasn't gross. Women shouldn't have to sit where men with poor aim have stood. End of story.

Service - Our server was a little gruff and grumpy, but that didn't stop him from zealously refilling our drinks, and answering our questions about the menu in well-informed manner. It was a much more pleasant experience than Mercat a la Planxa, but the service lacked the warmth I felt at LM.

Food - Although it was far from the fanciest food I tasted during this year's Restaurant Week, the dishes I had at La Madia might have been my favorite. I know I won't be returning to the previous two restaurants, due to their expensive menus, but La Madia's fare is somewhat more reasonably-priced, and their portion sizes are quite generous. I think two people could easily dine on one appetizer and one pizza, thereby saving money. Also, their lunch menu is even more affordable than their dinner menu, which is also a nice perk. I will definitely be returning. Here's what I thought of the dishes I sampled:
  • Pizza Fondue - This rift on standard pizzeria bread sticks was good. A very simple concept -- pillowy soft bread and a marinara dipping sauce, but elevated to a sublime level by quality components. It was big enough to feed at least two people, and I would have been happy having it just as a meal unto itself, but I was glad to have it on my table. I'm already thinking about when I'll get to have it again, and it's no small accomplishment to be sold on a repeat visit by the strength of an appetizer alone. I'd recommend La Madia, solely based on the strength of this appetizer alone.
  • Sausage and Pepperoni Pizzas - Technically, the sausage pizza was mine, and the pepperoni belonged to Lauren, but a mix-up in the kitchen caused our leftovers to be mislabeled, and I took home her pizza instead of mine, so I feel qualified to speak about both. After the huge first course, I could only manage half of my pizza, which, again, easily could have fed two. The pizzas were Neapolitan-style, meaning they were stretched thin and baked in a wood-burning oven to create a charred, crispy crust. I'm not such a big fan of the charred crust (I don't ever like my food to taste burnt, which is part of the reason why I tend to avoid grilled foods), so for me, the virtues of the pizzas lay in their ingredients. The sausage on my pizza was tasty, with a good fennel presence, but there wasn't much to make the pie special or memorable. Lauren's pepperoni selection was much more interesting, as it was topped with a drizzle of truffle oil that added a musky, earthy overtone to the dish that was unique and compelling. Next time, I will probably try one of their white pies, or even a pasta entree or calzone, but the pizza was far from disappointing.
  • Blood Orange Ice in Prosecco - After all those calories, and the chocolate pot de crème last night, I felt like I ought to have a lighter dessert, so I opted for this Italian ice, as I love blood oranges. Coupled with the prosecco (sparkling wines and champagnes are about the only forms of wine I can handle), it made for an effervescent, refreshing capstone to the meal.

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