(by Corbo Eng)
Stephan Boillon’s popular food truck, El Floridano, is not parked on the street in front of his new restaurant like almost every parked vehicle would be. Rather, it rests next to the building itself on a vacant tract where the patio seating terminates. From across the street, the truck looks as if it were actually on the sidewalk. It’s an arresting sight to be sure that, intentionally or not, reinforces the image of a smaller vessel “docked” at its “mothership.”
Diners, taking the metaphor further and remembering the magnificent sandwiches sold from Boillon’s truck, might expect to see those same sandwiches serving as the restaurant’s mainstays (with the same bold Latin American and Carribean flavors highlighted by a few Asian touches). Indeed, El Floridano’s excellent turkey meatloaf banh mi and the succulent Pan Con Lechon are hard to forget.
While it does not totally abandon the flavors that El Floridano popularized, the menu at Mothership takes a decidedly different turn—one that is a natural expansion and extension of what is possible for a food truck. No longer focusing on serving lunch only and having a fully equipped kitchen at his disposal, Boillon can now extend his skills and creativity; and, he does so with his culinary influences and instincts guiding his steps.
Take, for instance, Mothership’s array of appetizers. They mimic El Floridano’s Latin and Caribbean flourishes and, offering deviations, favor Asian notes. Such things as ceviche with yuzu, mango, and jicama, steamed mussels in lemongrass dashi, reoccuring uses of cotija cheese, and even a soup that features huitlcoche (a kind of Mexican truffle) are all examples.
One selection, dubbed, “mini patties,” offers a suite of miniature Jamaican meat patties (filled with oxtail hash and bone marrow) that is served with mesclun greens and a spicy guava dipping sauce (yes, the same one that elevates the sandwiches at El Floridano). The patties are flaky; the filling is luscious and beefy; and, once dipped into that enticing guava sauce, the resulting finish is sweet, spicy, and utterly engaging.
The main selections, eclectic to be sure, allow Boillon to extend even further and tap into Italian and French culinary influences as well. One instance is the popular soft herb gnocchi and tongue ragout. Unlike the beef tongue that is commonly served in lengua tacos or even in sandwiches, where the flesh may still have a slightly gamey or coarse characteristic, the tongue in this dish has a divine mouthfeel (which is only enhanced even more by a rich, stewy sauce). The tongue, sliced very thinly, is smooth and tender like the best braised brisket and tastes of it as well. The gnocchi, like tiny gem pouches, are skillfully executed and delicious.
Another standout is the slow cooked wild boar, which is served in meaty chunks with grape tomatoes and thick ropes of bucatini pasta. The wild boar, reminiscent of both beef and pork, is savory and tender while the bucatini undulates around the meat in a gentle slather of sauce.
Boillon also dabbles in gourmet pizzas…with the vegetarian fingerling potato pizza being a most noteworthy highlight. Topped with roasted cauliflower, Swiss chard, grape tomatoes, and fontina cheese, the fingerling potato pizza offers a ultra-thin charred crust that tastes earthy and baked rather than burnt. And, although the crisp crust is so prominent, the other ingredients are not lost and state their presence under the pungent supervision of the fontina.
Fish is represented by Louisiana sheepshead, which is seared and served on a bed of sweet and sour lentils. The flesh of the sheepshead is at once dense but also contrastingly flaky. The lentils ooze a tantilizing hint of sweetness and sourness but are otherwise left to exert their own natural flavor.
The bread pudding served here does nothing to dampen the momentum of the main courses. Once poked and prodded, it reveals melted dark chocolate and warm, gushing strawberries inside. Lightly sweet and creamy, it is a great way to end a fabulous meal.
Chef Boillon also just introduced a weekend brunch service, and a wholesale and retail baking operation is still to be inaugurated. Given how impressive it already is, a fully operational Mothership, with all of its parts intact, will be a truly exciting sight to see.
Copyright 2013 (Corbo Eng). All Rights Reserved.
All photos by Corbo Eng.