Masa migrates modern Mexican to Mercato

KELLY MERRITT/Special to the Daily news
The bar at Masa, the new gourmet Mexican restaurant at Mercato, is a see and be seen environment as people wait for tables and sample a variety of tequilas, margaritas and tasty nonalcoholic drinks.

KELLY MERRITT/Special to the Daily news The bar at Masa, the new gourmet Mexican restaurant at Mercato, is a see and be seen environment as people wait for tables and sample a variety of tequilas, margaritas and tasty nonalcoholic drinks.

— Contemporary Mexican cuisine is nothing new. In cities such as Charlotte and New York City, for example, haute gourmet Mexican restaurants have long been popular dining destinations. But in Naples, Masa is the first generation of trendy, fine Mexican dining. Masa is named for the traditional dough used in concocting corn tortillas.

Cocktails — especially margaritas — are a staple indulgence at Mexican restaurants, and Masa is no exception. The bar at Masa is already a see-and-be-seen locale as people wait for tables and sample a variety of tequilas, margaritas and nonalcoholic drinks. Of particular note is the savory-sweet limeade, the next best thing to a margarita for designated drivers or anyone who wants to enjoy a flavorful, nonalcoholic cocktail.

Executive chef Michael Mueller is enthusiastic about his new endeavor, which is part of the D'Amico family of restaurants. Mueller developed the menu with the company's executive chef Jay Sparks and head chef Saul Chavez after much research.

Masa is run right, too, by restaurant manager Heinz Horvath, whose Las Vegas background makes him the perfect person to communicate this elevated version of Mexican cuisine to diners, along with general manager Irena Wigley.

It's worth noting the team held many practice dinners with picky eaters before opening to the public.

There is some kick to most of Masa's dishes — so if you don't like spicy, leave these dishes to those of us who would be more than happy to acquire your jalapeño relleno de chorizo con queso. That would be the roasted jalapeño pepper stuffed with chorizo, apples and Chihuahua cheese, served with guajillo and black bean purée ($9.50).

Masa

Where: Mercato, 9123 Strada Place, North Naples

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to midnight Friday and Saturday

Cost: $6-12 starters; $9.75-$15.50 lunch entrees and $12-$33 dinner entrees

Information: 239-598-0887 or www.masa-restaurant.com

For diners who insist on ordering fried calamari at every meal, take a leap of faith and try something different. Masa's grilled calamari is served over black rice with fresh salsa ($12). For sharing, the queso fundido ($11) is a yummy combination of melted Chihuahua and Havarti cheeses with mixed mushrooms, onion, tomato, serrano and Dos Equis Amber served with warm tortillas.

The mango salad ($9.50) is prepared with jicama, radish, romaine hearts and queso fresco and while refreshing, still comes with a kick. It's a treat to have something so sweet and spicy in the same bite.

In Masa's trio of tacos ($16.50) you get a choice of flank steak, fish, pork — either marinated in adobo sauce or roasted — or grilled chicken. Masa's fried baja fish taco prepared with cabbage slaw, pickled onion and habanero, is definitely one of the best fish tacos in Naples. The slaw is a big part of this savory equation, and is absolutely bursting with flavor.

Most of us who adore Mexican food go crazy for tamales. Masa's grilled chicken tamale is steamed in a banana leaf with chard, Chihuahua cheese and red molito sauce and served with cilantro rice and black beans ($17). The pork tamales are $16.

Low fat, high flavor defines the snapper a la veracruzana ($29) at Masa, prepared with tomato, olive, caper, garlic and Serrano. Other notable entrees include the sautéed Florida Gulf shrimp ($22) with roasted tomato-Morita salsa and grilled pork tenderloin ($22) with ancho, guajillo salsa and roasted corn with plantains.

On the dessert menu, the flan de coco is garnished with little strips of toasted coconut atop the coconut flan. Masa also offers scrumptious crepes with dark chocolate, goat's milk caramel and candied pecans. Its pastel de tres leches — three milk cake — and the warm fritters with Oaxacan chocolate sauce are both divine ($7.50 each). Ice cream or sorbet is served with Mexican cookies ($6.50).

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