Wednesday, June 02, 2010

that is one hungry mother ....

The last night in Cambridge was with my dear, dear friend Sam at Hungry Mother. Sam has lived with me a few times in the past, and is an up-and-coming young home cook and learning about drinks and food, too -- let's say a burgeoning foodie of sorts. He had gone to this restaurant recently and loved it so much he said we had to go when in town -- it's Southern comfort food done with an incredibly refined sensibiilty, and in Boston that's even rarer than it is here -- and so we checked it out.

And hoo boy, was Sam right.

Sam told me beforehand that their cocktails were fantastic, so I was looking forward to it. They number the drinks instead of naming them, but that reflects an overarching element of humor and (somehow inoffensive) cleverness to the menu (food as well as drinks; more on this to come). After the weekend I'd had -- and seeing that they recommended it as a pairing on the dessert menu -- I ordered a Sazerac ($9), which was slightly less fantastic than what I had at Temple Bar, but still made spot-on and quite delicious. Sam had the No. 43, Old Overholt Rye, 10 yr Ferreira Tawny Port, maple syrup, bitters ($9.50), but he vastly preferred the No. 2, Maker's Mark, sorghum syrup, Luxardo Amaretto, boiled peanut ($9), which Jim started with. It was perfectly balanced and possessed a great depth of flavor that was, truly, awesome.

The drinks menu also includes the No. 99, Bartender's Choice ($10). This is essentially the speakeasy element; you get as vague or as specific as you like, and the bar sends you something. Jim asked for "smoky, I like whiskey, with some citrus" and got a drink comprising mezcal, green chartreuse, Rittenhouse rye, and orange curacao -- and it was exactly what he asked for and more. The only downside is that the time it took made our second round arrive in the middle of our entrees ... but honestly, it was worth the wait.

We started with the "To Tide You Over..." order of Spicy Pimiento Cheese ($4), which was an amuse just the right size for three people. Perfectly spreadable, with a kick, it was a traditionally Southern presentation and absolutely went with the first cocktails. Next we shared the Local Lettuces, cucumbers, radishes, cherry tomatoes, mint, cornbread croutons ($9) and the Pork Plate ($10), which that night was housemade bratwurst cooked in beer, served with homemade stone-ground mustard and a beer shot. All the pork items are made in-house and they are amazing; if you did nothing but eat the pork products (guanciale, ham, bacon) I think you would walk out incredibly happy.

For our main courses, I had the Carolina Rainbow Trout, hakurei turnips & greens, sea island peas, bacon ($24). It was outstanding, with the accompaniments absolutely spot-on to add all the flavor elements (the bitter greens, the umami long-cooked peas, and the salty, crispy bacon). The fish was so perfectly cooked that I didn't want to share it, but the Veal Blanquette, carrots, potatoes, toasted bread ($23) was also so delicious that I had to keep trading bites for pieces of wonderfully tender veal in an incredibly flavorful gravy. The Cornmeal Catfish dirty rice, mustard brown butter, chow chow ($18) arrived masterfully done, crispy and flaky and seasoned with an assured hand to avoid the trap of under-flavored or over-salted fish that so often happens with catfish, in my experience.

Amazingly, we had room to try dessert. I only tasted my own, the Rhubarb Cobbler, black pepper ice cream ($8), but the reason I didn't try the others is because mine was so good -- not overly sweet, which I dislike, but allowing the pure tart rhubarb to shine through, with a traditional cobbler topping and the mild spice hit of the black pepper ice cream -- that I refused to share. I have it on good authority that the other desserts are quite good, although one of the cakes erred on the side of a bit dry, for which the housemade mint ice cream more than compensated, and the Taza Chocolate Sundae, sorghum marshmallow, black walnuts, cherry on top ($8) was raised to an ethereal level by the bruléed sorghum marshmallow ... heavenly.

This was the big blowout dinner, the "I haven't seen you in ages and we are going to tear. it. up." night on the town. We ended up back at Sam's place playing board games and drinking Kraken on the rocks after our multi-hour feast in a space that really feels like you're in the house of someone who just wants to feed you well: whitewashed brick walls, wooden floors and rustic tables, a staff who clearly cares what's going on, a kitchen bent on putting out incredible food (even on a Sunday night, which after reunion and Commencement weekend couldn't have been the biggest or most important night for them). I honestly wanted to go sit at the bar for the next three hours and just find out everything about this group, this place, that is doing what no one was doing in Cambridge when I left (except maybe Tony Maws, and funnily enough his new space is right around the corner). I am so impressed with this place .... I can't wait to go back.

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