Sacramento, CA 95814
Since it opened in January, much has been written about Mother. Critics have swooned or pooh-poohed the hype, but no one is spelling doom. The fact is that Mother is a well-crafted comfort-food mecca.
Chef-owner Michael Thiemann, a local chef who formerly helmed Ella Dining Room & Bar and worked briefly with Tyler Florence’s restaurant group in the Bay Area, has nailed the details here.
He and his partners started testing food concepts with pop-up dinners at Old Ironsides last year. They also picked a well-trafficked spot on K Street for their permanent location—a spot with a reliable lunch crowd.
At lunchtime, diners order from a menu board at the counter and then find a seat. Runners quickly bring the food. At dinner, there are printed menus and table-side service for a more relaxing vibe.
The open kitchen is busy but not hectic, and the waiters are confident and well-trained. But the best part is food. It’s delicious, challenging and satisfying.
It’s no secret that Mother is a vegetarian-vegan restaurant, but don’t expect tired sunflower-seed burgers and grilled portobello mushrooms. This is not just a place that replaces the meat in a meal. Instead, Mother celebrates an endless array of fresh vegetables and grains. Diners are practically guaranteed to see something on the menu that they’ve never tried before—but will be glad they did.
Ever taste sea beans? I hadn’t, but I enjoyed their tender freshness in several dishes. How about freekeh? That crunchy toasted grain was a revelation of texture on the kale salad. And don’t miss the vanilla-pine kombucha from local producer Zeal. It’s flat-out fantastic.
The best deal is the “10 for $50” sampler that’s available at dinner. Here, a party of two or more can sample eight different dishes of the chef’s choice, plus two desserts. Our variety included velvety grits topped with molasses butter; pan-seared mushrooms with frisée; a huarache (masa flatbread) topped with black-eyed peas, creamy buffalo cheese and chili slices; and surprisingly flavorful collard greens with not a trace of bacon (practically ubiquitous elsewhere). Some early season asparagus was expertly prepared with a hint of spice and a squeeze of lemon.
A bowl of blistered shishito peppers was a bit heavy on the salt, as were the seared mushrooms, but the other dishes were so layered with flavor that we didn’t long for the umami that meat usually adds.
Dessert included the now-legendary brown butter and sea salt cookies that some have described as “cracktastic.” Do yourself a favor and get some. Cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles plated prettily with bits of fruit and edible oxalis blossoms offered a bittersweet end to the meal.
Lunchtime is a quicker affair, but the food is no less refined. My husband, raised in New Orleans, declared the chicken-fried mushroom po’boy one of the best he’s had outside of NOLA. The battered and fried mushrooms pair perfectly with pickles and house-made hot sauce on a hearty roll.
The chile verde comprises chunky potatoes, pinto beans and hominy for a “meaty” texture. Try it topped with a soft-poached egg and stir the yolk into the zingy chile sauce. Slices of radishes add a spirited bite to the flavor.
Kale has been done almost to death, but Mother’s version is a take on the Waldorf salad that makes eating your greens easy. Lots of golden raisins, celery, walnuts and cleverly presented balls of apple with a bit of skin attached join dilled yogurt, baby kale, and that freekeh garnish we loved.
Mother has managed to find a perfect blend of different, yet familiar in its version of a vegetarian restaurant. A bit of Southern influence makes it even more impressive, as that cuisine is usually heavy on the meat.
As I learned in a business class recently, you don’t sell a product, you sell an experience. Mother is a fun experience.