4622 Park Boulevard, University Heights
In recent years, Little Italy and North Park have become a dining destination. East Village is trying.
University Heights seems to be the next big area with the addition last year of Park & Rec and the recent opening of Madison to a Park Boulevard lineup that includes Small Bar and El Zarape, among others.
Madison opened about two months ago in a space that previously housed Lei Lounge. The restaurant’s bar is in the front, and dining is in the back in a barn-shaped structure with an open-air feel. Heat lamps are needed at this time of year.
It’s a nice setting, but right now Madison is feeling its way and seems more like a bar with a restaurant than a restaurant with a bar. That’s because the cocktails are the signature items, especially the Umbrella ($9), a refreshing beverage with green chile vodka and cucumber. The drink is cool and refreshing. The Vieux From Above ($9) with rye whiskey, Cynar, and Ancho Reyes chile liqueur is much stronger, making it a good drink for long-term sipping. Both are a reason to return.
Food-wise, Madison has potential, but isn’t a destination dining place yet. The gnocchi with jumbo shrimp, corn, endive, and truffle cream sauce ($18) was decent, but a little heat would have helped. A better bet is the Baby Beet Salad ($12), a decent-sized portion of beets with spinach, asparagus, lentils, burrata cheese, and balsamic drizzle.
The sesame-crusted pork tenderloin with mushrooms and roasted tomatoes ($19) looks great and it is — if you eat everything in the same bite. If you eat your items separately, the pork lacks some seasoning. The same fate befell the Rye Emmentaler ($13), an upscale grilled cheese sandwich. Although it’s served with onion jam, zucchini, and mint as well as a honey bell pepper sauce on the side, it too lacked seasoning.
I was a fan of the gravlax, a citrus and beet-marinated salmon sliced very thin ($11). It had much of the flavor missing on the other items but gave me hope for the day if and when Madison serves a brunch. My wife summed it up best. “I’d come back for the drinks, and I’d be interested to see what they did for brunch.”
I’d be inclined to give it another try if I still lived in University Heights, but to me it’s not worth a drive from anywhere else. Well, maybe for another Umbrella.