In the X-Men comics, the character Mystique is both wily and resourceful. She can clone into any mutant she touches but will operate with greatly reduced powers. That doesn't seem to stop her from terrorizing others.
Daniel del Prado's restaurants hardly induce dread, but the speed at which he opens restaurants may. In the span of about a year, he opened three restaurants and two bar concepts, in addition to the four-ish he already owns. Another will open next year.
Comparing Macanda, which del Prado opened in July with business partner Aaron Switz, to a Marvel franchise isn't far-fetched when you think of the endless spinoffs and prequels, many of which can feel joyless and fatigued. When del Prado's first restaurant, Martina, opened five years ago, he gently pushed Minnesotans to inventive, accessible fare not seen before in the Twin Cities, like potato churros, chef-y empanadas, and a clever beef tongue bruschetta riffing on vitello tonnato, in transportive environs in the right neighborhood. The cooking was serious.
But with several more openings and creativity fraying, del Prado's ideas are starting to feel incestuous. For its alleged vision — the literary magical realism of the fictional village in Gabriel Garcia Márquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and a phantom paean to Latin America — not much of Macanda feels novel. Instead, it relies too heavily on the best practices of its predecessors, but without the fanfare. The most obvious reference is his three-year-old Colita.
"Our tortillas are way better," joked a server there on a recent visit, which is funny until the joke is on you. The tortillas are made in house at both locations, but the ones at Colita are thicker and hold their own; at Macanda, they are lukewarm, limp and fragile.
That may be why the shrimp tacos there feel familiar, though not endearingly. They are less crisp, less lively — with the kind of spice that persists like Hot Cheetos. I fished through the slaw only to find scant pieces of shrimp within. And while the mushroom tacos are satisfying enough, the Fresno chiles are cut with the finesse of a middle-schooler in shop class.
You'll find hamachi aguachile with Fresno jam at both places but learn that the one at Colita tastes more alive, while the one at Macanda, dotted with cubes of charred pineapple, over-cures in its marinade.
You'll notice that there are scallops, too, a stunner with grill marks as wide as tire tracks, an appealing wedge of butternut squash by its side, and black barley cooked until it holds a fregola-like chew. But the scallops are rubbery.
And you'll find comfort knowing the guacamole and chips are also on the menu but discover they are a little off: brittle and stale chips, with a sludge-like guacamole that doubles as a salt quarry.
The two-ish Martina references don't fare much better. An octopus dish from recent memory, a beautiful curl of succulent mollusk, is reduced to an ashen corpse, along with about half of our potatoes. The kitchen must have found beauty in its darkness; I didn't. The pork chop suffers the same fate. It arrives floating in a murky suspension of meat jus and a passion fruit gel so sweet and spicy that scooping more of the carrot purée to counter the heat won't help because it tastes of nothing but butter, grit and despair. And where it almost always is pink and succulent at Martina, the pork here is taut enough to fashion a miniature trampoline. It's also $44.
Rosalia, del Prado's other terrific restaurant, has a cameo. The salmon tiradito is one of the prettiest dishes on the menu at both places. At Rosalia, the leche de tigre was buoyant and sweet, teasing with spice. At Macanda, it tastes blandly sour, without the promised burnt onion and pepita. Fishy, too.
Yes, there are original dishes. Exercise caution — most need help with balance. One, the corn panzanella, was pleasant but lacked the creaminess you'd expect from a corn dish. The cauliflower tinga tacos were a tad sweet; the short-rib tacos, buried in an otherwise lilting salsa morita, were gristly and tough on both occasions; and the beef in carne asada tacos, while tender, had an off-putting tartness.
You'll be more sated by the grilled salmon swimming in a bright tomatillo vinaigrette — potent enough to counterpoint the fat, yet sweet enough to drink. While the skin of the salmon is adequately crisp, the meat is dry. "The chef cooks it to medium," our server tells us, with the tone of Minnesota Nice aggression.
You may be tempted by more homespun classics, and there's nothing wrong with safe retreads. Not at these prices, though. Chicken enchiladas ($28) are a crude revelation. How do they stay so dry in what appears to be a hangover mush of tortilla, tomatoes and cream? It warranted a return to the kitchen — my first of only three this year — only to be challenged by our server. "You're halfway through, bro."
There isn't much else to get excited about. Not the roasted beets ($17), which are simply beets and avocado with a basic vinaigrette cleverly marketed as "citrus vin," reminiscent of a cafeteria salad bar. Nor queso, which may come from Oaxaca and be mixed with "housemade chorizo," but eats no more alluringly than warm Velveeta.
Alas, there are bright spots — mostly when things are lubed with fatty embellishments, like mayo. This may be why the crisp fish tacos are worth the reorder despite not having much of the promised bacon or basil. And why I remember those chicken tacos, where the pieces are juicy, the jalapeños are present but don't joust, and the carrot-habañero mayo is nuanced. I won't forget the crab tostadas, either: a benedict in the genius form of a crispy taco, crowned with a textbook sunny egg. I ate it quickly, not minding the yolk and rémoulade running down my chin.
If only the long rib were still on the menu. I think about it as longingly as I do the state of my crypto investments. The kitchen slowly braises it till meltingly soft, finishes it with a char from the woodfire grill, then suspends it in a deep bowl of rich, dark mole. The rib is sized like a drumstick that King Kong would brandish before eating it with gusto, as the four of us did recently.
Change may be afoot, several months in. A recent side, the chochoyotes, was as sodden as stones from a fish tank, and it was culled. A few others switched hands. What remains true: Macanda can be a charming place to dine, befitting its Wayzata neighborhood. The year-round patio, large (and apt) enough to unload the rowdy contents of three corporate party buses, may not be as appealing this time of year, when the diet of Minnetonka Lake breeze and stiff martinis loses its magic, but the Southwestern West Elm-esque décor turns heads. By the entrance, a procession of millennial-looking cactuses promises good things to come even if they don't, and an adjoining Tokyo-inspired hi-fi bar helps dull that disappointment. There is enough here to salvage.
Still, the cracks in del Prado's empire are showing. Josefina, the neighboring restaurant, remains one of my favorite Italian places in town, but the sauces during a month-old visit were less dialed in. The booth at Cardamom, the year-old restaurant at the Walker Art Center, was recently manned by a teenager sporting college sweats, and a third of the dishes were unavailable. Only his older restaurants, Colita, Rosalia and Martina, continue to thrill.
Our servers may know more than they let on. During our third visit, one of them looked up from his pad, concerned. "I think that's enough," he said, referring to the amount of food ordered. He was wrong about our appetite, probably right about everything else. The eyes never lie.
Location: 294 Grove Lane E., Suite 150, Wayzata, 952-679-1222, macandawayzata.com
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 4-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4 p.m.-midnight, Sun. 4-10 p.m. (The kitchen closes earlier.)
Prices: $12-$16 for botanas, or small plates; $16-$19 for soft tacos; $27-$32 for crispy tostadas; $28-$68 for large plates. Note that options and prices continue to fluctuate.
Beverage program: A well-manicured list of craft cocktails, beer and wine. The Spa Water (gin, aquavit, cucumber and mint) is especially popular.
Worth noting: Fans of vinyl records will want to take in the adjoining HiFi, which has a rotating roster of DJs. And if you're missing lake views, even in winter, the patio is heated, enclosed and available year-round.
What the stars mean:
⋆⋆⋆ Highly recommended
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.