Apr 12, 2009

hungry mother

if only every long, draining week ended like this one did. back in the semi-palmy days, mission exploration society used to meet mondays for dinner and conversation. we met for the first time in a year last night. halsey showed up from virginia on a smith-related boondoggle and drank hot beverages in the dining room for a couple of hours, then we walked over to hungry mother, which ami, tw, and diana have all recommended in the strongest terms. hammer joined us after the sun set and was served two fine glasses of grain-free, leaven-free wine, and a pity plate of toasted matzo with cinnamon sugar. last night's dinner at hungry mother has joined my very short list of perfect and nearly perfect meals.

country ham with small biscuits and red pepper jelly. the ham was so thin it was transparent, and the biscuits were small, warm, crisp, and tender.

braised beef tongue on a toasted slice of french bread, with gruyere and (the menu claims) dijon. savoury and velvety with collagen in the same manner as jackson fillmore's veal ragu, creamy from the gruyere, and with a hit of horseradish pungency from the dijon.

boudin balls with remoulade and cress. good boudin, but not spectacular. the remoulade though, a totally different story: i'd eat that on its own.

mussels with tasso ham and a barbeque broth (made with barbecue?). the mussels were purportedly wild-harvested from maine. marvelous: steamed to plumpness and no further. ham and shellfish is a combination that'll never go out of style.

gnocchi with mushrooms, pea tendrils, and shavings of parmesan. this was stunningly good, but in a completely humble way. this was the food manifestation of sprezzatura, the art that conceals art. i inhaled the entire bowl with immoderate rapidity.

cornmeal fried catfish with stewed pigeon peas, rice, chorizo. another dish full of powerful flavours and textures, joined by historical context so as to be completely unremarkable but somehow elevated here to their apotheosis. (if you hunger for more history about the variants of beans and rice, together with the social history of chronic undernutrition from pigeon pea protease inhibitors, consult john thorne's superb volume serious pig, p 288)

caramel chocolate tart with toasted benne seeds that came with a large glass of cold milk as the drink pairing. caramel and chocolate are unchallenging flavours for eaters since they are so easy to love (the best dessert i have ever had anywhere was at quince, a peach-leaf infused semifreddo with mulberry granita that had a flavour and texture so evanescent and difficult to place that everyone at the table fell involuntarily silent). even so, the tart was superbly executed and, in a strange way, one of the two most satisfying things about eating at hungry mother was seeing the tall glass of cold milk listed as a drink pairing in the dessert menu.

banana pudding. mild and filled with chunks of banana.
ami the drink snob praises the bartenders here and justifiably—we got some magnificent, simple drinks. halsey had a very subtle (and quite beautiful) vodka-based drink flavoured with grenadine (housemade) and rosemary water (in a martini glass, #42). i opted to submit to the whim of the bartender (#99), indicating only my preference for something herbaceous and citrusy. they came back with a martini glass filled with a cloudy and frosty plymouth gin-based marvel flavoured with lemon juice, yellow chartreuse, honey syrup, maraschino, and (the grace note) fennel-infused gin. drink #99 was the second thing that was most satisfying about hungry mother.

i have groused before about the absence of good espresso drinks in this city. confidence buoyed by the stellar meal now behind us, i ordered a latte. needless to say, the after-dinner caffeinated beverage was the sole blot on the experience, perhaps to prevent the universe from being snuffed out by an angry god on account of dining perfection. when george howell roasts coffee of stunning quality a mere 40 minutes away from cambridge, is it too much to ask for a well-made espresso drink, with properly microfoamed milk poured with care and art? is it fair that san francisco, a postage-stamp-sized city with far too many hills and the slowest public transit system on the continent, boasts not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR artisanal roasteries staffed with fixie-riding hipsters who will pour you a work of art in espresso and steamed milk with lip-biting concentration? is it any wonder that i've given up coffee since moving back to massachusetts?

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