Most of the Enchilada

New D'Amico Mexican restaurant Masa is casual and likable, and mixes a damn good margarita. Isn't that good enough?

I found that most of Masa's more ambitious, chef-driven sorts of things fell flat. The sea bass broiled with chile ancho-piquin salsa ($23.50) was overcooked, and tasted acrid, like stale achiote. The chicken mole ($15.50) tasted like all the other ones in town, which is to say it lacked a real robust, deep and rich nut and chocolate depth, and offered merely a bittersweet disappointment. The worst, though, was the puerco veracruzana ($17.50), roast pork shoulder served cooked in a banana leaf. It was greasy, chewy, and miserable, when it could have had the big joys of concentrated carnitas, or the gelatinous mystery of plantain-leaf steaming.

It's enough to drive a girl to drink. Which is the most fun you can have at Masa, as their margaritas are excellent. They're made exactly the way they should be, with fresh lime juice and, mostly, a run of good silver tequilas. Their lowest priced one, the Americana ($5.50), made with Sauza silver, makes most of the other margaritas in town taste like spoiled sugar water. The pricier ones, like the Mayan Margarita ($8.50), or Mezcal Margarita ($8), go past good to downright absorbing, made as they are with liqueurs with evocative, unusual perfumes. I actually think these may be the best margaritas in Minnesota, edging ahead of my longtime favorites, the ones at Bar Abilene, because of their sticking to the traditional form, in lowball glasses, with the tequila playing a more aggressive role.

In fact, all of the beverages are strong. Masa has the best wine list for a Mexican restaurant in town, which is saying nothing. But the $23 Torrontes from St. Lucas is indeed an ideal chips-and-tacos wine, and if someone's insane enough to want a $128 Chateauneuf-du-Pape with their churros, they now have that option.

Lovely 'Rita: Masa's drinks are universal winners
Jana Freiband
Lovely 'Rita: Masa's drinks are universal winners

Speaking of which, the short but sweet, literally, dessert menu at Masa is utterly likable: The coconut flan ($5) is as sweet and rich as it should be, and has a nice, subtle, nutty coconut shadow of flavor. The tres leches cake needs some work, as it tastes merely like a sponge of condensed milk; but the churros ($5), those long, star-shaped donuts, are hot and crisp, and come with a good hot-chocolate sauce for dipping. Hot churros and a great Margarita--doesn't that sound like the making of an excellent happy hour?

Well, it isn't, because, sadly, the bar at Masa remains the same little one that was there when the space was home to that Marshall Field's cafe. Which is too bad, because if the place were more of a bar we'd really have something, a worthy destination to add to the bar-crawl of the Local to Brit's and back again. When I was there one Saturday night, groups of young, boisterous, happy drinkers kept pushing their way into the bar, looking around at the grownups with their plates of $7.50 guacamole and sides of radishes, and turning tail into the night. They'll be back in the daytime, I told myself. After all, there will come a time when the generation raised on Chipotle is going to want to take it a step further, and when they do, Masa will be right there for them.

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