Part of the fun of the Conservatory is the bait-and-switch of eating modern, gutsy food—in Madison Park.
In this swish small village by the lake, you’ve got your burgers, your pub grub and your multi-multimillion-dollar estates, and that’s how it’s been for decades. But now, ever since chefs Cormac Mahoney and Zoi Antonitsas and bar maven Maggie Savarino moved in, you’ve also got your lamb tongue with sauce gribiche, and it’s tender beyond belief, the pickles and capers doing their work against the rich, silken meat. It’s the best dish I tasted in two visits to the conservatory, which opened in the reimagined Sostanza space in December.
Say goodbye to salmon-colored stucco and pasta puttanesca, and say hello to dim lighting, exposed beams and deeply satisfying farro with dates ($19), a dish so easy to pass by—the proverbial bone thrown to vegetarians—but so delicious. Especially good (and a warm nod to the many diners still mourning the red-sauce Italian classics at the late Sostanza): a deceptively simple, lovely gnocchi alla romana ($13), made with lightly smoked tomatoes, utterly tender disks made with semolina flour, and the subtle addition of marjoram, that dusty distant cousin to oregano. Not everything’s perfect: I found the Dungeness crab deviled eggs ($7.50) added up to less than the sum of their parts; a parched brandade was a sad, sad thing to try to spread on toast; and all the desserts but one—a fine-crumbed, tasty almond cake ($7.50)—were a little lackluster.
But service is great, the wine list is smart, and the cocktails benefit from Savarino’s tinkering and infusing. Note: As a rule, I dine anonymously for my reviews. However, I was unable to do so in this instance as I was familiar with Maggie Savarino prior to my dinners here and was spotted on both visits.
Brunch Sat.–Sun., dinner Tue.–Sat. Madison Park, 1927 43rd Ave. E; 206.324.9701; madisonparkconservatory.com $$$