We spent Drinksgiving safely off the street, savoring one skimpily poured but generously imagined cocktail each as we gave thanks for a new restaurant so pretty (interior of pristine white accented solely — dramatically — by fringed plants), so personable (wait staff that did everything but spoon feed us to assure our comfort) and so offbeat in its menu (“Hey, honey, I’m in the mood for the blowfish. You wanna go with the octopus and bone marrow?”) that you’re doomed to be put on a waitlist for a reservation.
It’s Martina, the seafood-focused kitchen of Argentine-born chef Daniel del Prado, formerly of Burch Steak. It livens the Linden Hills location recently vacated by Upton 43 — and, in fact, improves it with an expanded bar.
Guests are welcomed with slices of sourdough and a pair of addictive cheese puffs before they glance at the list of apps. That’s where those blowfish make their appearance: tiny, white-fleshed fish (watch for bones) encased in a crisp frying batter. Nab them by their tails and dip them into the Tabasco-powered sauce beside them, along with remoulade and vibrant celery-root slaw. Remoulade (I love it!) makes an encore with the fried oysters lolling atop thick slices of brioche. Small but tasty, they star among the hot apps ($9–$16), which also include scallops, mussels, calamari and beef tongue.
Among the cold starters ($12–$15), we bypassed the tempting seafood to savor what turned out to be the best dish of the evening: a wondrous salad heaped with charred Brussels sprout bits and tossed with salt-kissed pancetta, with creamy chèvre for contrast and frizzly frisée in a savory mustard vinaigrette — the kitchen’s most popular starter, confided our server, and rightly so.
Next come “Plates,” which translates to, mostly, pasta (most $12–$19). Our gnocchi were heavenly: perfectly textured marbles lapped (albeit too generously) in a super-sweet sauce driven by carrots and enhanced with fresh oregano and parm.
Listed in “From the Grill” (mostly $16–$27) you’ll find chicken in chimichurri, pork chops and steaks. But again seafood reigns, as in Spanish mackerel, tiger prawns, swordfish puttanesca and our choice (somebody’s gotta do it), the octopus and bone marrow combo.
What you read is what you get, and that’s fine: inches of sweet, nicely chewy grilled octopus straight-up, accompanied by a length of bone and that cute little spoon you’re supposed to use to scoop out its innards (excuse me: the creamy, illicitly delicious marrow). Tomato jam, tiny potatoes and a flourish of herbs are all it takes to complete the plate. And our dinner.
Sure, you’re welcome to add a veg ($4–$8) or dessert ($8): flan, galette, panqueque and the usual flourless chocolate, here dressed up with dulce de leche. Next time!
Lights are romantically low, making it nigh impossible to read the teeny-type menu and wine list (they promise to improve this) and, because you always ask, yes: It’s noisy, too.
4312 Upton Ave. S.