Even before Mother Restaurant opened for business on K Street nine months ago, it was getting plenty of buzz. The pop-up dinners at Old Ironsides were intended for owner/chef Michael Thiemann to field-test some ideas and dishes. It was also a chance to maybe show off Sacramento’s bounty and his acumen for understanding it and expressing it. The initial suprise was that he decided to open a vegetarian restaurant even though he was an avowed omnivore and had plans to open a larger, meat-centric sister restaurant called Empress.
By the second or third pop-up event, there were long lines and lots of raves. I was so impressed that I suggested Thiemann and company were on the verge of a game-changing concept. When the restaurant actually opened, it only got better. My approach to the full restaurant review months later turned out to be very unusual: I ate 100 unique dishes over 10 visits.
Now Mother is getting attention on a national level. A May appearance by Thiemann and executive chef Matt Masera on a podcast in May hosted by TV personality and chef/restaurateur Tyler Florence led to a call to produce articles in Giada Weekly, a popular digital magazine from celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis. One of the articles shows how to prepare meals with summer fruits and vegetables and includes a photo of a delicious farrow, peaches and burrata dish many Sacramento foodies know well.
Thiemann and Masera have stayed busy. They’ve done several local events, including TBD Fest. They recently went to Southern California for the high-profile Indie Chefs Challenge. Empress is expected to open in the basement of the Crest Theatre in a matter of months.
While the Sacramento Visitors & Convention Bureau has worked hard to brand Sacramento as the “Farm to Fork Capital,” it shouldn’t stop there. Chefs and restaurateurs can do their part to increase the area’s standing as a culinary center on the rise. Patrick Mulvaney and the staff at Mulvaney’s B&L cooked at the James Beard House in New York. The year before, Taste Restaurant in Plymouth did the same. Adam Pechal of Crawdad’s (formerly of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en) and Billy Ngo of Kru have gotten national exposure on major TV food shows.
Getting out there and mixing it up beyond Sacramento is a good thing. It helps spread the word. It provides inspiration and incentive. And more subtly, perhaps, it bolsters the confidence of consumers here who sometimes felt Sacramento was stuck in the culinary doldrums.
“I like Sacramento,” said Thiemann, who grew up in Rancho Cordova and first made a name for himself as an indie rock drummer. “This kind of thing happened in Portland and Austin. All of the sudden, there are these restaurants and chefs that are bad-ass. They’re secondary cities, but people started recognizing them on a national level.”
Referring to building a reputation beyond Sacramento, Thiemann added, “It’s important in a lot of different ways. For Sacramento, ... I see a lot of people trying really hard. A lot of good things come from being humble, being likable and being honest about it.”
Apart from its cooking, Mother has had several novel ideas that distinguish it from others. It has hosted periodic beer events on Monday nights featuring a selection of craft beers and Mexican food; since it is closed Monday nights, it has a concept called “Other,” in which the restaurant space is offered to others to hold pop-up dining events.
And today at 5:30 p.m. is the launch of a hotly anticipated event called “86’d.” Two top chefs square off in a cooking throwdown, with the winner advancing to another night. Admission is $10 and includes food, with beer extra. Mother is at 1023 K St., Sacramento.
Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.