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?
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.
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.
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