Lengua Madre offers a 5 course tasting menu of traditional Mexican cuisine as seen through the eyes of Chef Ana Castro’s grandmother’s kitchen. This is now combined with her experiences from living in Denmark and now New Orleans. Open about one year, the menu changes seasonally at the small dark place. Outside there is a pink glow in the windows and little signage.The neon glow coats the entrance hallway, but the dining room has more subdued orange hues. Music is in the background, the small bare wood tables sit on large linoleum-like tiles and overhead is a dark ceiling. They offer 5 oz. pours for wine pairings but also have some bottles. In one corner of the room is the open kitchen which is well-viewed by the 6 stools by the counter framing it. Service was friendly and efficient and the tasting was well paced with smallish portions. We chose to drink a sparkler with the meal and a copy of the menu is presented with the bill.
Caldito shrimp lime chile starts the tasting. It was basically a shrimp broth with chile and aromatics. Beside was a lime wedge which was to be squeezed in to enhance the flavors. This was supposed to ready your palate for dinner and help you digest it. It was strongly flavored and tasted just like the smell you get when you boil the shells making shrimp stock.
Tuna was topped with ‘Chiltipin’, radish, kombu and citrus. I’m assuming the menu meant ‘chiltepin’ which is a berry like chile pepper. These were dehydrated and reconstituted with Japanese kombu. Thin slices of radish, citrus juice and satsuma bits covered the strips of raw fish. This one had some sweetness, from the satsuma, but basically mild flavors. The radish provided a bit of crunch and it did have a nice aftertaste, however I’d call it good not great.
A Pellizcada was topped with crab, coffee, cabbage and cacao nibs. Pellizcada are a masa cake with a lip around the edge that can be eaten alone or topped with various things and is always fried. This one made with blue corn masa and topped with crab meat, cabbage and a coffee flavored aioli. It was like a little tart with a wonderful crispness to the edges of the crust and a lovely corn essence. The crab was in tiny shreds and so the cabbage dominated the flavor. Regardless it was really fun to eat, so thumbs up here.
Tamal was filled with parsnip, Tête de Moine, and black truffle. Tamal is generally the singular form of tamale and this was a tasty rendition. The center of the moist corn was sweet parsnip and the black truffle was grated on top. The Tête de Moine is generally a raw cow’s milk hard cheese but the server described this one as from an Alpine sheep. Either way the corn flavor and texture were wonderful. The truffle was not a distinct flavor but added to the overall mix for a great end result.
Short rib was plated with chintextle, turnip, and quelites. The Chintextle (chili paste from Oaxaca) was mixed with garlic and other flavorings and was the darker paste on the plate. The green one was made with the Quelites, which are wild edible plants. The darker one added some spiciness to the really tender meat whereas the green one added a bit of richness. Alongside were a couple 3.5 inch corn tortillas that you could use to wrap the meat in or eat with it. The tortillas were tender and wonderful and I wish I would’ve had a couple more of them. This flavorful course marked the end of the savory courses.
Satsuma sorbet and tajin were the transition or palate cleansing course. Tajin is a Mexican product that is a condiment of chili, lime and salt. It was an excellent thing to combine with the sweet sorbet. This one had tons of lovely flavor.
Chile de Onze, chocolate and tonka bean were combined for dessert. The chili from Oaxaca was candied and filled with chocolate and served beside a pile of orange whipped cream topped with tonka bean. This was the spiciest dish of the night which took me by surprise – everything before had been mild. In addition, it was served with a spoon which didn’t successfully cut the pepper’s skin. It was a fun idea and I was glad to finally have something spicy but this one really didn’t work for me.