The latest project from former Burch Steak chef Danny del Prado has a new home: the old Upton 43 space in Linden Hills (4312 Upton Av. S.).

Martina, an Argentinian/Italian seafood restaurant meant to celebrate del Prado’s heritage and upbringing, is expected to open next month.

Originally, the eatery was slated to land at 54th Street and Penn Avenue, with a second del Prado project, a barbecue restaurant, aimed at debuting in the North Loop. But after necessary upgrades to the North Loop space made an opening notably more expensive and Upton 43 announced it was moving locations, del Prado jumped on board in the Linden Hills space. Diamond, the barbecue shop, will now instead open in the 54th and Penn area, in a former gas station.

At Martina, patrons can expect a blend of Argentinian cuisine — inspired by his upbringing in Argentina and his father’s cultural background — and that of Southern Italy, from where his mother hails. 

“My father was always grilling outside on some weird construction, sometimes using train wheels as grates,” del Prado said. “And my mother loved to cook also. This concept is really about combining those things, and about my parents and my heritage.”

The wood-fired grill that Upton 43 chef Erick Harcey operated — the same variety that del Prado last cooked on at Burch — will again be put to good use, for meats and seafoods. 

The menu will consist of a lot of small plates (beef tongue with sardine mayo and blood sausage) and chilled appetizers (goat tartar, raw oysters) along with pastas (lobster with roasted Fresno sauce), vegetable side dishes and seafood plates such as cockles in white wine and chili flakes, grilled octopus with bone marrow and blowfish tails — a dish del Prado explains as a combination between chicken wings and frog legs. Most items will be under $20, del Prado said, but there will be some more expensive options such as a whole lobster and a shareable bone-in New York steak.

Another nod to his heritage? A cheap ($5, perhaps) bowl of gnocchi on the 29th of the every month. The gnocchi will honor of an Argentinian tradition that came about because it was an inexpensive plate to have in the days before the first of the month, when people got paid. Usually, del Prado said, it is served with grappa.

Del Prado brought on Sam Miller — who last worked at Burch and Brewer’s Table — to act as executive chef, a title del Prado wants to be clear about since he himself plans to go back and forth between Martina and Diamond. Joe Rolle, a pasta-making specialist and the chef at the former Il Foro downtown Minneapolis, will be the chef de cuisine.

Besides an extensive wine list that del Prado describes as “funky,” off-the-beaten path and focusing on small producers, Martina will also have Linden Hills’ first liquor license. Marco Zappia, formerly of Bittercube, has been tabbed to run the cocktail program. 

The space should be markedly distinct as well — they’ve removed Upton 43’s signature booths and are putting in a larger, marble-topped bar.

“We want to be a different place so I didn’t want it to look anything like Upton 43,” del Prado said. “Everything is coming together really well.”

As for Diamond, del Prado plans for an early December or post-holidays opening. And he’s got some tricks up his sleeve there, too.

“If you think that [Martina’s] concept is weird, then this [Diamond’s] is just bananas,” he said.

Think Miami Vice-style decor and Tex-Mex flavors with unlikely ingredients — such as oysters, escargot and beef tartare. 

Two smokers del Prado acquired from Texas will handle the smoked meats. And don’t expect a big vat of potato salad here — del Prado plans to make all sides to order, taking inspiration from his journeys through Texas in which he found the BBQ accompaniments to be a significant drop-off from the main attraction. 

“I’m going to make sides you really want to eat,” he said. “It won’t be an afterthought.”

There’s no liquor license here, but Diamond will have wine and beer along with a significant sparkling wine selection. There will be about 90 seats in the 2,500-square-foot space, a notable boost from the smaller North Loop space originally planned. Del Prado expects to do a big takeout operation as well.

(Photo by Leila Navidi/Star Tribune) 

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