Restaurant Crew Stirs in Mexican, French Flavors

“I’ve gone down to Oaxaca and slept in the dirt and spent time with the maestros.”
–Michael Martensen

When most diners think of fusion cuisine, French and Mexican is probably not the first combination that comes to mind. But that’s the latest idea from the Misery Loves Co. crew of Proof and Pantry fame.

The foursome — Michael Martensen, Jeremy Hargrove, Kyle McClelland, and Sal Jafar — were going for that element of surprise when concepting Madrina, a new restaurant coming to The Shops of Highland Park this summer.

on the menu

  • Hay-smoked foie gras with plantains
  • Steak tartare with pickled papayas
  • Okra-bell pepper ratatouille with masa crepe

“Obviously you see a lot of Mexican restaurants, so we wanted to take something people are familiar with and comfortable with as a gateway cuisine but find a way to our version of it,” said Jafar, who attended St. Mark’s and SMU.

Nosh Euro Bistro previously filled the spot, but once the transformation is complete, it will be home to a blend of different cultures.

“It’s very understated Mexican elegance-slash-French elegance,” Hargrove said.

Dinner will be served for the first month, but the quartet plans to release a lunch and/or brunch menu later. So far, they’re perfecting standard types of items, from shared plates to entrees, but how chef McClelland crafts those selections is a work of art.

“We don’t want to have five great things out of a 30-item menu, we want to have 20 amazing things out of a 20-item menu,” Martensen said.

Madrina will also be spirit-friendly, to honor its dual roots.

“Right now, our entire wine-by-the-glass program is all French,” Martensen said. “On the liquor side of things, with the mescals and tequilas … everything that is back there is back there for a reason. It’s not because a brand says it’s the best tequila. I’ve gone down to Oaxaca and slept in the dirt and spent time with the maestros.”

French liqueurs such as cognac and Armagnac will be offered as well.

In addition, Madrina will host chef’s tastings with McClelland to get an inside peek at certain dishes.

“Taking these two cultures and bringing them together is something like it used to be like,” said McClelland, who was trained at the French Culinary Institute. “You can see it in the baking, and you can see it in a lot of different aspects of the food. People perceive French food as heavy, and making it lighter gives people a new aspect.”

As for the name, “madrina” means godmother in Spanish, nodding to the restaurant’s roots and inspiration.

“It’s all about the familial dining — having friends that you dine with and break bread with — they become family,” Hargrove said. “Madrina is godmother, and it’s making your friends family. That’s how we want to dine; that’s how we want to live. We’re making it a lifestyle.”

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