The team behind Martina, the four-star Argentine-Italian restaurant in Linden Hills, have gone Tex-Mex.
Tex-Oaxacan to be exact. Colita, which opens Tuesday, Oct. 16, is bringing the cuisine of this southern Mexican state to the Armatage neighborhood of south Minneapolis.
Chef Daniel del Prado, formerly of Minneapolis’s Bar La Grassa and Burch Steak and Pizza Bar, follows up his acclaimed Martina with his latest venture in a former service station on the corner of 54th St. and Penn Av.
On the (entirely gluten-free) menu are moles and raw seafood; creamy corn elote and whole blue prawns; and tortillas, painstakingly made to order from imported Oaxacan heirloom corn ground by hand with stones. One section of the menu is devoted to smoked meats, a nod to del Prado’s first plan for this to be a barbecue restaurant. Del Prado’s vision is for diners to order a variety of dishes and share.
Along with Jose Alarcon’s recently opened Centro and Popol Vuh in northeast Minneapolis, and Ann Kim’s plans to open a taqueria in the former Lucia’s space in Uptown Minneapolis, Colita is part of a wave of Mexican eateries opening in the Twin Cities.
“You have to cook food that you like to eat,” del Prado said in an interview Friday at a media preview of the new restaurant. “I didn’t want to do the traditional, what people think of as Mexican food. I wanted to play with that. I needed a focus, and that’s where Oaxaca came in. And then it was like, where do I come into the menu?”
Buenos Aires-born del Prado sprinkled the menu with influences of his own Italian heritage, like in a layered tostada blanketed in cheese and dusted with cracked black pepper, cacio e pepe style.
“I’m not afraid of using burrata on the menu. Or cacio e pepe,” he said. “I want to be respectful to Mexican cuisine. But also have me on the menu.”
Behind a circular bar that juts into the windowed dining room, Marco Zappia is crafting cocktails that all have a fermented element.
“It’s a new paintbrush I’m working with,” Zappia said. “There’s a tang. Not umami, but when you think of a botanical, it changes when you ferment it. There’s a really cool complexity to it.”
Displayed in front of a living wall are glass vats in which he ferments the drink ingredients, some traditional and others rarer in Minnesota. A Negroni mixes mezcal with fermented Campari and an otherwise straightforward Old Fashioned is made with fermented water, sugar and bitters (made more stunning with an ice cube etched with a meat tenderizer). Served in a dried hollow gourd, the pink Trevino highlights pulque, a spiced liqueur made from agave nectar. Another drink, Five Suns, utilizes the yeast in Minnesota birch bark. The Naked Dani is an Instagram-worthy showstopper; the tequila-based cocktail is topped with “salt air,” or foam, with a little yellow rubber ducky afloat.
The emphasis on ferments is not only new to the Twin Cities. Zappia believes Colita to be the only bar program integrating ferments to this extent. Anywhere.
“Using fermentation in a really accessible way, that would be my goal here,” he said.
With Martina going strong and Colita opening, del Prado is already thinking about his next venture. “I love Wisconsin,” he said. “I love going to a dive bar in Wisconsin. So we might have something to do with that. Not a dive bar, but a supper club, but super well done with good ingredients. Maybe.”
5400 Penn Av. S., Minneapolis