Mystery Diner: Mandrake’s wintertime boutique menu offers culinary treats

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Do you know many Kendall County dining spots that play Daft Punk and serve a solid pot of mussels? It might be a population of one, so here’s to Mandrake Small Plates + Libations in downtown Yorkville becoming a new hip spot this year.

I went to the little cut-in restaurant at the corner of Van Emmon and Bridge streets the Friday before Valentine’s Day to avoid the crowds, and I just loved Mandrake’s relaxed atmosphere. The spot, a rebrand from former Belladonna coffee shop, specializes in a limited, European-style menu with small dishes, per the staff. The menu changes seasonally, with the seafood heavy winter menu launched a few weeks ago.

The interior is painted forest green on the brink of emerald. I found it well-lit with comfortable tables, and appreciated the secluded, back-alley experience of the place.

Mandrake’s brand stresses limited, but I truthfully found the menu very diverse and the culinary detail in each plate striking. A pairing of any plate gives each diner a unique taste, from salmon and risotto to a duck breast and root beets or cheese boards. The drinks menu didn’t disappoint either, with local beers, craft cocktails and a lengthy wine list.

The decision wasn’t easy, but I ultimately ordered the Swedish meatballs and Prince Edward mussels and two generous glasses of pinot noir. I didn’t drive home, and I had an excellent dinner. Absolute kudos to the chef.

The Swedish meatballs were served first, lined up on a piece of brioche bread and soaked with cognac mushroom gravy. The meatballs tasted impeccable, and matched with the fluffy bread, a bit soggy from the sauce, making it all the more delicious. I can’t emphasize that enough. The gravy in this dish is worth the trip alone. The rolled, pickled cucumber added that extra bit of presentation, and its watery taste really helps cleanse the taste buds for the next bite of meatball.

But the mussels were the highlight for me. I once went on a trip to Belgium on the European Union’s dime (which is a separate story). I ate mussels nearly every other meal - they were just that good. But whenever I order mussels in the States, I’m always left a little bit disappointed. The mussels pot at Mandrake was an exception.

They had the right amount of fishy, saltiness that delivers with authentic Belgian mussels. The brioche bread on the side made up for the lack of frites, and was perfect for dipping in the leftover cognac gravy.

The pandemic takeout culture can be hard on a stylish place like Mandrake that relies on the atmosphere as much as the food. Lounge restaurants like this are built for hours of conversation – a new plate coming every half hour – no rush or expectation. But for me, the more spots like this in the western suburbs the better.

So expect to see the mystery diner having a glass of pinot at Mandrake after a long news day some time soon.