Tucked into the darker, backside of River Oaks District, the asylum awaits. Once inside, you need a minute to prepare yourself. The velvet curtain opens, and it hits you: the lunatics have taken over. And you go MAD.
MAD is a delicious mix of over the top décor and food. Cinnabar dominates one side of the room; a cool neon blue the other. In between, red, white, black, and silver (and a pre-EDM club soundtrack) create a 1970s disco ambiance. Patrons surrender completely.
At MAD — named for the Madrid airport code — the food is just as dramatic. There are a few traditional Spanish dishes sprinkled throughout the menu, but most items are 21st-century riffs on classic tapas. There’s lots of frothing and liquefying and chemistry going on here. Most of it’s wonderful.
Piquillo pepper sorbet, which topped a delightful Tuna Tartar, brought a savory, spicy and sweet exuberance to one of our four starters. Immaculately fresh tuna is mixed with Kalamata olives and shallot for a memorable palate cleanser.
A bowl of Olivas Manzanilla could not have been simpler. The olives — unbrined and unpitted — had a clean, herbal intensity.
I found Mad ‘n Beef, a beef Bolognese served with noodles formed from the gelatin of an Iberico ham, a bit bland. The texture was great, but I’d have welcomed just a little more spice. MAD isn’t the place to play it safe.
And they certainly didn’t with Croquetas de Txipiron. These baby squid croquettes were coffee black and had the texture of grounds to match. Not a bad thing at all; topped with generous swirls of nutmeg aioli, they looked like candy truffles. I loved these little flavor bombs.
We found a lightly bodied Pinot Noir to enjoy with everything. I’m not sure a heavier wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, would be as good a match for these dishes.
A shared entrée came to us in the form of Pato, a paella-like dish with duck leg confit and bok choy. It was magnificent, with duck fat oozing into the rice beneath. The rice, incidentally, was scorched on the bottom, as is traditional in Spain. It only makes everything taste better, trust me!
I didn’t know beans could be so luxurious as Garbanzos Pinotxo. With herbs, sausage, and pine nuts, we scarfed them down just as we ravaged the paella.
Desserts are an adventure at MAD. The more experimental one of us chose Cocomber, a cucumber-based dessert with coconut, apple, and vanilla shortbread. Let’s just say I was thankful for my MAD Apple Tart. The apple compote was sinfully sweet, and vanilla Breton, ice cream, and gold chocolate mousse elevated the decadence.
One final ode to disco. Before leaving, I experienced MAD’s often-photographed restroom area. Floor to ceiling mirrors and neon may give you vertigo, but it’s all part of the fun. Words alone cannot begin to describe MAD’s unique allure. You’ve got to go to the asylum yourself!
4444 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77027