On Taking My Mother to Mother

Pass the sea salt

Pass the sea salt

Have you heard? A new restaurant opened up on K Street. It’s vegetarian. It’s hip. It’s different. It’s the toast of the town. And I can say that because toast is vegetarian.

It’s called Mother. And if you don’t read the local print journalists, then you might not know that Mother is the best restaurant to open in the area since a tired woman first roasted a bluegill trout on the banks of the American River after first coming over the land bridge about 12,000 years ago. Seriously. If you think I’m kidding, read this. Or this.

People I know are going batshit about this place. I expect this of the vegetarian and vegan community in town, with their Jehovah’s-Witness-level zealotry and their incessantly low reviews on Yelp of restaurants that don’t cater to their self-imposed dietary restrictions. But straight up eaters are singing this joint’s praises. So, you go. Right?

Which table would you like second, ma'am?

Which table would you like second, ma’am?

To make this a memorable experience, I took my mother there for lunch. And if you think I’m a tough critic, you haven’t met Mama-Eats. She gives no quarter for bad service, less than perfect food, or tables by the bathroom. You are guaranteed three things during any meal with Mama-Eats: 1. The rejection of the first table offered until a better one can be procured, 2. The replacement of at least one piece of cutlery due to improper washing, and 3. The returning of at least one dish to the kitchen for improper doneness and/or temperature. These are the rules you play by when Mama-Eats is in the house.

Given the playing field, the meal at Mother with my mother went quite well. She accepted the first of the of the tables offered, wisely seeing that none of the tables at Mother are what anyone would refer to as comfy. Silverware was accepted as offered. Only one dish had to be returned (quite rightly) due to temperature: a lukewarm plate of eggplant gumbo that had good flavor and beautifully roasted okra, yet was served at California roll temperature.

It’s a casual, order-at-the counter kind of place and for once, FOR GADDAMNED ONCE, the patrons conducted themselves properly, waiting to first order before vulturing in on a table. Thank you fellow patrons. I will return to Mother just because people seem to understand this rule. And, the place is popular enough that the laid-back staff could actually enforce this rule with a little uncomfortable peer pressure unlike the petrified tree squirrels that work at Selland’s who refuse the tell off the East Sac ladies who save a table for six with one jacket while their whole garden club stands in a 30-minute line for chicken and mashed potatoes.

So, to start with, Mother had properly behaved diners going for it. But how was the food, you ask? Fun. Unexceptional. A bit uneven.

Perhaps it was because I was expecting greatness on an unknown level. Perhaps it was due to expectations that couldn’t possibly live up to reality. Perhaps it was because the most widely read food writer in town said, “It is not his way to taunt or intimidate, but (Chef) Thiemann and his staff should be making every chef in town either frightened or inspired.”

So yeah, I’m not sure I ate at the same place.

The food can be very nice. A couple of dishes were lovely. A couple were boring but showed decent kitchen skills. A couple showed major flaws.

The best of the bunch was the beet salad, which paired raw (or perhaps par boiled for 3 seconds) shaved beets with roasted beets, then piled them together with watercress, quinoa, and a lovely yogurt dressing. Mama-Eats said she’d return just for that salad, this is the highest praise she gives. It’s a big deal.

Brussels sprouts, meet your worst nightmare

Brussels sprouts, meet your worst nightmare

The biggest disappointment was the roasted brussels and dates, which could have been amazing save for the 5-gallon bucket of roadway salt that had apparently been dumped on them.

The fried mushroom po’ boy could also have been a superstar. The mushrooms were meaty, dense, flavorful and perfectly fried. The rest of the sandwich was duller than a ten year old butter knife left out in the mulching bin for a few seasons. Okay, that’s too harsh, the pickles were tasty.

The aforementioned gumbo had some nice elements, such as smoked eggplant and roasted okra, but the low temperature and remaining uninspiring flavors didn’t quite make the thing sing. Lastly for dessert, a couple of butter cookies were pleasant enough, buttery and, well, buttery.

To the credit of Mother’s staff, once the issue of the gumbo had been brought to their attention, they dealt with it quickly and professionally, offering apologies and bringing the plate back steaming hot in just minutes. All members of the staff and kitchen seem like lovely people and they did their job well.

This is what comes up when you google "food hat"

This is what comes up when you google “food hat”

But I’m not so sure this is the culinary experience on which Sacramento should be hanging its hat. It’s nice to have a good, quality, well-priced vegetarian restaurant Downtown. It’s nice to have a local chef, Michael Thiemann, make a name for himself out there in the world of fine dining, then come back home to cook satisfying, hip food. It’s nice to have good restaurants open up along the much maligned but slowly evolving K Street.

Nevertheless, I get a sneaking suspicion that Mother’s notoriety hangs on a peg of good cooking hung on a plaster wall of artifice. I won’t judge too harshly as they’re still getting their sea-legs, but if the consistency isn’t top-rate within a couple of months, I worry that this might not be the hallelujah chorus some think it is.

Mother- 1023 K St, 594-9812

About sac-eats

Sac-Eats has the most complex palate in the world since that Mikey kid from the Life cereal commercials died. You can trust him. He cannot be bought and he takes requests.

7 Responses to On Taking My Mother to Mother

  1. Guido says:

    Why would you review a place based upon one experience? That’s straight out of Yelp, unfair to any business and frankly amature.

  2. sac-eats says:

    Guido, the two pieces referenced above (Bee and SNR) only visited once as well, and they’re from paid writers from the two most read physical papers in town. Neither, however, is a standard review, but the Bee is pretty close.
    Also, this is not a formal review in the sense of strict critique, more of a “first impressions” kind of piece, which is, though similar, not the same as a formal review.
    And you are correct to say that this is “frankly amature [sic],” if you define amateur as working at a pursuit without pay but for the love of it.
    This is not, however, unfair. For let’s face it, how many first impressions does a restaurant get to make on customers? Typically one. It is, therefore, quite fair to judge a restaurant on a single visit. Almost every writer I know, save for BAR at the Bee, can only afford the money and time to visit restaurants once before they put fingertips to keyboard.

    Quoting a thoughtful Slate.com piece:
    ““Restaurateurs, chefs, and line cooks will tell you that the quality of the food served can vary by time of day, freshness of ingredients, whether a kitchen is fully staffed or not, how many diners are currently being served, and a dozen other factors,” Sietsema writes. “A place that usually deserves three stars can have a one-star day, and vice versa.” This is true—but it’s true whether a critic visits a restaurant once or three times. One critic’s review is never going to be an objective qualitative judgment; it’s just the summary of a series of impressions.”

  3. becky grunewald says:

    I tried not to review a place on one visit for SNR, but sometimes because of deadlines I had to. For MidMo I did it all the time. As long as you try to review a variety of dishes I agree that a restaurant should be good on any one visit – you only have one chance with some customers. Usually if I liked a place I was ok with one visit and if I didn’t I would try to go more than once because I don’t enjoy giving bad reviews and hoped they would redeem themselves.

  4. Dane Henas says:

    “Nevertheless, I get a sneaking suspicion that Mother’s notoriety hangs on a peg of good cooking hung on a plaster wall of artifice”… what a pretentious statement. A professional restaurant critic would give a new place a second visit if the first visit doesn’t live up to the hype. You are not on deadline and the prices at Mother are reasonable enough that it’s not fair to whine about not having BAR’s expense account. Your “first impression” is as half cooked as you accuse the gumbo to be. Snark is right…

  5. sac-eats says:

    Dane, methinks thou dost protest too much. I don’t think you’d have the same opinion of my “process” had I gushed poetic about how great Mother was, in agreement with what is obviously your opinion. In other words, you don’t give a tinker’s damn about journalistic integrity, you just don’t like it when people disagree with you.

    And don’t try to deny it. I’ve only seen one comment from you but I’ve already made up my mind. (that, my friend, is snark)

  6. Justin Lehr says:

    Dane- would you like a dry, bland, milk toast reviewer or do you want someone who injects some wit and levity, some personality if you will, into their reviews? (note: I have not tried milk toast and am not commenting on the lack of flavor in said dish, rather simply using a colloquialism)
    IMHO Sac-eats achieves what many critics (be it film, food or literary) attempt to achieve; he has a voice. I find his reviews to be refreshingly humorous and poignant, like that one summer blockbuster I always intended to make. I think you should visit this blog at least 100 times and consume at least 4 dozen articles before you provide the rest of us with your first impressions and subsequent critique. (see what I did there?)

  7. cogmeyer says:

    Simple rule for Sacramento blogger restaurant reviews. If you make your lady parts a significant element of your review, than a single visit is okay. If you don’t have lady parts, then please visit twice.