To understand how much Branch 27 has changed since bringing on chef John Manion, consider the white beans. What was, in April 2009, a starchy, bland accompaniment to an underseasoned, unappetizing lamb shank is now, in January 2010, a perfectly cooked, gently seasoned base for an essential winter dish: a cast-iron pot of cassoulet. (Which, considering the portion of tender lamb meatballs, crazy hunks of pork belly and duck confit snuggled beneath a crisped bread-crumb blanket is so large, should be called a cassoulet for two.) Manion, who recently came off a yearlong stint at Goose Island Brewpub, has taken what used to be a broad (and in my experience, inconsistent) menu and chucked it for something that’s much more specific, personal and interesting. Yes, there’s still a burger, but it’s merely a good-enough burger. Because while there are plenty of places in this city to get a truly great burger, there are far fewer serving rad renditions of cassoulet, deep-fried chicken livers and braised rabbit legs countered with spright pickled carrots. And fewer still where an aggressively acidic grilled-radicchio salad gets topped off with a truly wild amount of dill. This is pretense-free food that the Mado set can appreciate. But while the target audience may have narrowed, one thing hasn’t significantly changed: The space is as nice as always. Although something about it feels even nicer, now that it’s got the food it deserves. 1371 W Chicago Ave (312-850-2700). El: Blue to Chicago. Bus: 9, 56, 66. Dinner. Average main course: $18.