Gluten Free in Chicago: La Madia
You're at an Italian restaurant that prides itself on house-made dough. So what's a gluten free diner to do? You definitely can't order a pizza, one of those glorious cheese-drenched, wood-fired pies blanketed in tomato sauce and topped with torn basil. Thankfully, La Madia's gluten free menu provides equal opportunity enjoyment, even without the crust.
Start with the Nichols Farm heirloom beet salad ($10), which features a generous portion of overlapping yellow and purple sliced beet sprinkled with slivered almonds, balsamic dressed watercress, and goat cheese crumbles. Yes, beet salads are ubiquitous (right along with small plates and artisanal cocktails), but instead of bite-sized beet wedges and a lonely strand of greens, La Madia's version is a hearty plate of sizable beet slivers, the tart edge offset by creamy goat cheese with farm fresh pedigree. The almonds add a pleasing crunch and the hint of salt keeps bland at bay.
While it's hard not to eyeball with envy the pizzas on every other table, my attention was easily diverted by the seared diver scallops ($28). The dish typically arrives atop a pea puree with a summer black truffle salad, but lactose intolerant diners are served a vegan vegetable risotto instead. It was an inspired pairing and a generous portion, starting with five plump scallops lightly seared and salted. The risotto, studded with zucchini slices and mushrooms, provided a flavorful counterpart. Aggressively sprinkled parsley added unnecessary greenery to the dish, but a minor complaint with such well-cooked scallops and risotto.
When it comes to saving the best for last, La Madia exceeded expectations with a dessert that defies its gluten free label. The chocolate polenta cake ($8) arrives in a miniature cast iron bowl, generously doused in powdered sugar and emitting the chocolate aroma of Willy Wonka's factory. Give a slight nudge of your spoon and the cake yields, offering a molten center of goodness. The flavor flirts with bittersweet and practically demands a frosty glass of milk. Even if you slowly savor it, somehow the warm from the oven permeates until the very last bite. While most gluten free sweets lack appealing texture, La Madia's cake manages to be moist, rich and irresistible.
By the time the meal ended, so had my pizza envy. La Madia's gluten free menu is good enough to forget what you can't have and focus solely on the delicious dishes you can.