Thursday, May 9, 2024


I'm not quite sure how Madre flew under my radar for as long as it did. Granted, it's only been open for about a year, but my recent dining experience there absolutely stunned me. It's nestled in the newly developed Smoky Hollow area of downtown Raleigh, just blocks away from bustling Glenwood Avenue. The space gives off sexy vibes, with its dark slate color palette, dimly lit semi-circle bar and candelabra that drips with wax. It feels like a restaurant for a big city. It feels like high fashion. Yet it feels accessible. Did I mention how delicious the food is?

Let's back up and revisit the bar - a perfect place to start your night while waiting on your table. My sweetie opted for the Mezcal Marg, combining the smoky Tequila with classic Lime and Agave flavors, while I sipped the Mazzocco Cab. I appreciated the ample wine list but would try the Noche Rosa next time (Honeysuckle Vodka, Plum, Vanilla and White Port!)

Service is prompt and thorough, yet casual. I didn't feel rushed at all. Tapas-style dishes are meant to be shared, and were delivered in a timely fashion, though I was surprised when our order of Scallops arrived first out of everything we ordered - I get it, scallops cook quickly, but I would have preferred starting with perhaps the Roasted Cauliflower instead. The scallops though, were phenomenal - they had a salty, crispy crust and rested on a bed of incredibly soft Curry Chickpeas, and drizzled with Harissa Crema and Chili Oil. 3 scallops come in an order, and I would have liked the option to add a 4th.

If Cauliflower could be described as sexy, it's because Madre was behind it. Roasted to perfection, topped with a Chevre Cheese crumble, and lounging in a pool of addictive Green Goddess sauce - this is a dream preparation for the humble veg. I showed a lot of restraint not eating the green goddess sauce with a spoon. Major ranch vibes.

Pulpo (Octopus) shines here, with Sweet Potato Cream and Roasted Garlic Aioli. The sweetness from the sweet potato was a nice contrast to the smoky char of the octopus, which wasn't too chewy either. Butternut Squash Risotto is rich and smooth, and loaded with Parmesan. It's topped with tender Mushrooms for some slight texture. My sweetie commented that it was the best restaurant risotto he's ever had.

I absolutely loved the Calabrian Chicken, which to my surprise, were 3 large drumettes. Super fun and whimsical to eat. They're dunked in Hot Honey and served with a Pepper Aioli for dipping, and maintained a nice crunch, even with all the sauces. Delicious. You can never go wrong with Burrata, but I wasn't crazy about the Za'atar Tapenade served with it. That specific seasoning combined with the salinity of the olives took away from the subtle flavor of the cheese.

Madre's Salchipapas (their rendition of potatoes) was as surprising as the cauliflower dish: it highlighted a very humble ingredient and totally knocked my socks off. These crispy potatoes seem as if they were fried in duck fat, and are perfectly salty and crispy. I actually couldn't find the promised Chorizo (not that the dish needed it) but I loved the housemade Dijonaise (and would have loved ketchup even more). 

The dessert menu is limited, but the Gianduja was a lovely way to end the meal. It's an Italian-style fudge that's perfectly creamy, not too chocolately, with just a hint of Hazelnut and Sea Salt. That sprinkling of salt really set this dessert off. 

I can't wait to go back to Madre and finish off their menu. It will be hard to resist re-ordering many of the dishes we tried last time, but with so many tempting options, I know we'll manage.