How do the flavors of Mexico and France mingle? What does that cocktail party look like, taste like and sound like? We’re about to find out, in the form of Madrina, the latest restaurant from Misery Loves Company. Opening Friday in the Shops of Highland Park in the former Nosh Euro Bistro space, Madrina features the culinary handiwork of chef Julio Peraza with a bar program designed by James Beard nominee Michael Martensen. Pastry chef Gregory Barber provides sweet endings.
Mexico and France had a baby and named him Madrina. Is that basically the story? What is the inspiration for Madrina? The name? Concept? Menu?
Martensen: This is an easy question with a long answer. Inspiration comes from many things, whether it was something we have eaten, drank or experienced in a different way, such as a certain look or feel. [Misery Love Company's Sal Jafar II] and Jeremy Hargrove are from Dallas but have both lived either in Chicago or LA. I have lived on both the East and West Coasts, so between the three of us, we’ve had different experiences and perspectives of what French Mex can be. Really, we find ourselves able to work with two genres of food that are classic, and at the same time venture into a new genre of food by fusing the two. This is very common in restaurants around the world – not just with these specific types of food. That said, there is a box per se, but it is yet to be built of something that makes sense.
The name “Madrina” was discussed for weeks, if not months. We went back and forth between two other names, and ended up settling on Madrina. The meaning of “Madrina” is "God Mother," but a deeper translation of a god parent is when friends become family. That is who we are as a group. We want friends to become family and feel “at home” at Madrina. Every aspect of the restaurant, such as the food, drink and service, match this philosophy.
Menu design and ingredients are the fun part of this business. The French and Mexican cuisines have the deepest roots in the culinary world. Working with chef Julio has been a treat. We feel he’s completely come into his own working on the concept for Madrina. Mixing French technique into Mexican ingredients is bold yet clean, and that is exactly what we are aiming to do. Dishes like a potato tamal, steamed in banana leaf and served with creme fraiche and caviar. I am particularly fond of the pancetta-wrapped frog-leg taco that will be served in individual portions at the bar. The torta is also an incredible dish and features crispy head cheese and pomme frites. That is the beauty of this fusion. As for beverages, the two cultures are rich in distillation. It’s is so fun to taste spirts native to those cultures, from brandy to armagnac, and cognac to agaves from tequila, mezcal and even Texas sotol.
Peraza: The inspiration for Madrina's menu is to refine Mexican and French cuisine in a way that is innovative, fun and unexpected – while utilizing the classic techniques from both cultures.
How do your personal styles and backgrounds mingle?
Maretensen: First off, as a group we work cohesively together. We each “stay in our lane” so to speak, and trust each other. Of course there is some crossover, but we all have the same common goal and that driving passion of providing a unmatched experience to our guests. Chef Peraza is thoughtful and adaptable. Execution is the most important aspect of any restaurant. It’s easy to come up with an incredible idea, but if that doesn't translate to the glass or plate, then what is the point? Together, we pride ourselves on being able to flawlessly execute every single time. Chef Peraza and I both feel very strongly about this – as does the entire Misery Loves Company group.
Peraza: Michael and I both have a passion for hospitality and using the highest quality ingredients. We are also very team-oriented and truly love helping develop young chefs and bartenders, and seeing them grow.
There’s so dang much Tex-Mex, Mexican, tacos, Latin fusion and otherwise confusing combinations on the Dallas cuisine scene these days. How do you plan to stand out and grab some palates (and diners' dollars?)
Martensen: Mexican cuisine in Dallas and the United States as a whole, is certainly plentiful due to Mexico being our neighbor. With Madrina, it’s not about necessarily standing out, but offering an experience completely different to what Dallas has become accustomed to. For example, rather than serving tortilla chips and salsa once you sit, we will bring out house-made tortillas and fresh butter. French technique is not typically common in Mexican cooking, though the two have crossed paths in the past, so you do see beautiful Mexican pastries similar to the Vietnamese. Impeccable sourcing has also become just as important as execution. Our goats are raised outside of Austin and fish is being flown in daily from both coasts. An understanding of and desire to source great products is not a typical practice in Tex-Mex restaurants. We believe that service, food, drink and atmosphere will cater to all people and fill the void that currently exists in the Mexican cuisine category.
Peraza: I don't really compare Madrina with other Mexican and Latin fusion restaurants out there. We are bringing something entirely new to the Dallas culinary scene, with the marriage of two food cultures with an incredibly rich history.
Understood. So let's talk food. What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
Michael: I don’t know that I can pick one dish as my favorite. The menu is concise. Not overdone or underdone. We have a great gateway dish for all the lovers of Tex-Mex, the duck confit enfriolada. The torta and frog-leg taco are a must-try for all guests. Currently, we are dry aging our cabrito for taco de chivo and the lechon, which is suckling pig cooked "Barbe a Queue," the French technique of cooking head to tail. This will allow us to offer different cuts of the pig and serve it family style.
As for the beverage side, we are offering beverages that are not necessarily far outside the box, but again, well executed. Working with ingredients that are not commonly consumed in Dallas, like brandy and mezcal. We do have our own brandy coming from California that is privately labeled for Madrina and will be mixing up a fantastic old fashioned. As for the Mexican-inspired portion of the drink menu, one of the fun cocktails we’ll be offering is an after dinner drink called the carajillo, which is Licor 43 and a shot of espresso over ice – something very popular throughout Mexico City.
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Julio: I’d have to say my favorite dish on the menu is the tacos de cabrito, because we break down a whole baby goat (which we source from a local farmer just outside of Austin). This dish displays techniques and ingredients from both traditions. It will be braised with red wine, wrapped in maguey leaves, and rubbed with Mexican and French aromatic spices such as dried thyme, lavender and achiote.
What do you most want Dallasites to know about Madrina before their first visit?
Michael: Nothing to say other than form your own opinion and don't come dressed as a mummy (ha ha)!
Julio: I would ask that everyone simply be ready to come open-minded, to let the menus speak for themselves, and to relax and enjoy their dining experience with us.
Madrina will be opening Friday for dinner, with lunch service forthcoming, at 4212 Oak Lawn Ave.