Ciao, Mexico!

The D'Amicos give their high-style treatment to a new cuisine.

What sent Richard and Larry D’Amico to Mexico to develop their latest venture? Partly, it was Saul Chavez, a talented Mexican immigrant who was sous chef at the D’Amicos’ Campiello restaurant in Uptown; D’Amico & Partners Executive Chef Jay Sparks wanted to put his talents to greater use.

 

Partly, it was a sense that the D’Amico team had pretty much mastered a whole spectrum of Italian dining experiences with their high-end D’Amico Cucina in downtown Minneapolis, the mid-priced Campiello, and a number of D’Amico & Sons take-out and café operations. (And let’s not forget the popular Café & Bar Lurcat and a catering operation that’s arguably the best in the Twin Cities.) A logical next step would be to expand those businesses. (In fact, the D’Amicos have opened several Florida units for the snowbirds.) But restless CEO Richard D’Amico didn’t have it in his make-up to roll out a cookie-cutter national chain.

A tasting trip to Mexico City convinced the executive team that they’d have a worthy new challenge in packaging the vibrancy and complexity of another great world cuisine. The result is Masa (1070 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-338-6272, www.masa-restaurant.com), a restaurant that is hip, lively, well-priced, and impressively authentic.

Among Head Chef Chavez’s stand-out homespun specialties are a smoky chowder of corn, roasted poblano peppers, and shrimp; the tasty Puerco Veracruzana, a marinated pork shoulder roasted in a banana leaf; and fresh fish broiled with an ancho and piquin chili glaze. But there’s an abundance of great choices. The $2.50 tacos are superior to those served at many local taquerias. The freshly made guacamole is served with impeccably crisp chips. The coconut flan is impossibly smooth. There’s also a great line-up of beers and inventive margaritas.