Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hungry Mother

After recovering from late night brisket making, I went with Anna on our first trip to Barry Maiden's highly regarded Hungry Mother (named after a Virginia park ) in Kendall Square. Prime time reservations, even on a weekday, are hard to come by without a week or so of notice, but they do offer a deal with nearby Kendall Square Cinema for 6 dollar movie tickets if you eat before 6pm. Not that having a hundred dollar dinner for two (with drinks) for a couple bucks off of your tickets is a sound strategy for saving money, but I guess it's something. The truly nice part is that they run across the street to get the tickets for you, and your server will help get you out the door in time to make the show. We had a 5 o'clock reservation (when they open)and plans for a 6:15 show... while we didn't get outside until 6:20 ish, the proximity of the theater meant we were sitting down as the last preview was ending... perfect (though I think Anna would argue that since we skipped dessert to make the movie that it was far from ideal - so you may want to allot more on the order of two hours for a leisurely paced meal).

As you might expect from a restaurant that Maiden describes as "French in technique... New England in seasonality... all with a Southern spin," there aren't a whole lot of vegetarian options... pork fat is predictably big here. (Note: If I was a vegan I wouldn't even bother... while if you call ahead they might be able to do something, there was little besides snacks or sides that could be easily vegan-ized) On the current menu, there is mixed lettuces as a first course and a butterbean and hominy stew (pancetta omitted) main course... but that's it... though a fishatarian would be in much better shape (two fish based main courses).

The real excitement of the meal was that the Chef had a special due to the fact that he just got a whole pig in on Sunday. I'm doing this from memory, but if I recall correctly it was: pork belly confit (pork fat cooked in pork fat!?) on a bed of black eyed peas topped with a bacon consommé with a pickled radish garnish. It was awesome... and Chef Maiden actually came out and served it to me (I didn't recognize him, but could easily tell he was important)... possibly it was because I was the first person to order it that week (they're closed on Monday and our meal was on a Wednesday) and he wanted to see how it was recieved, but if so, that's a terrible tragedy. People need to order this. I mainly know about consommé from how endlessly Michael Ruhlman goes on about it in his books (especially The Making of a Chef)... certainly I've never made it at home... but I do know (by reputation) that it's basically the perfect soup - the essence of the meat extracted and purified. I would have to say that was borne out by my experience with Maiden's bacon consommé... which was intense, and delightfully rich with flavor... certainly the essence of smoked pork, and it worked so well with those perfectly cooked black eyed peas. The confit of pork belly was seared on top and nicely crisped, but was mouth meltingly tender below. Unbelievable. Like I said: awesome.

While the catfish I ordered, along with Anna's hominy stew were also superb... it going to be the pork belly confit that I'll be thinking of from here on out.

The service was similarly spectacular, and based on the quality of the food, I'd almost rate Hungry Mother a bargain. It's hard to call a meal that's going to be around $50 a person or more a "great deal", but based on what I'm used to paying for that kind of quality of experience... it really is. These are the kind of meals that even a skilled home cook can't really replicate at home, and well worth the modest cost.

Oh, and if you've never had them before: order the boiled peanuts. They are a unique experience, and so take a little getting used to for non Southerners, but they are also delicious.

photo by flickr user thebristolkid used under a Creative Commons license