All Words: Philip Chevalier All Photos: Shauna Alexander
The Mothership occupies hallowed ground in Northwest, D.C., sharing a location with the memory of former neighborhood touchstone Brown’s Caribbean Bakery. “For the people in the neighborhood, man, that place was a staple,” Mothership owner/head chef Stephan Boillon imparted to me last Wednesday night as I spoke with him, fully sated and very well saturated, in the wake of his five course ode to wild boar – an event he aptly named “Feast of the Beast.”
Several repurposed badges of honor from the well-remembered Jamaican style bakery populate Boillon’s recently opened Georgia Ave. restaurant, lending themselves both aesthetically and nostalgically to its family-style interior. Over the heads of the dinner guests, secured to the ceiling and supporting a series of dangling light fixtures, the dining room’s chandelier has been constructed with the building’s old plexiglass panels, once used to provide a barrier between the employees at Browns Bakery and the potentially dangerous city outside – now serving to illuminate the interior, as well as the history, of this humbly outfitted semi fine dining establishment.
And that’s only the beginning of the story that the furnishings begin to tell inside this newly renovated space: Around the third installment of the five course meal, it was revealed to my fellow dinner guests and I that we had been seated around what used to be the baker’s table from Browns. The other dinner guests and I sat around its massive, wooden sides, eating the conversation starters being placed in front of us, getting to know the people we were eating with. The bakery’s old back door, re-lacquered and fitted with four appendages of its very own, works now as a table seating smaller dine/drink-in groups most nights of the week, like the baby brother of the massive baker’s table. The list of repurposed wares goes on – enough to call it a thematic aspect of the restaurant’s understated but welcoming decor.
“Feast of the Beast” was something like an interactive culinary exhibit, through which Boillon was able to take his small, attentive audience to places, both expected and not, in the ever-widening world of pork. By the end of this write-up, you will surely not be surprised to have seen a succulent piece of tenderloin wrapped in bacon, served alongside a bespeckled mashed potato-like substance. The pork-infused Panna Cotta dessert, on the other hand, might not be the first to come to mind should you find yourself involved, hypothetically or otherwise, in any sort of “Family Feud” -style “Survey Says”: scenarios having to do with plated renditions of wild boar.
The evening was personally planned by Boillon and executed, with what appeared to be relative ease, with the help of his front and back house staff — many of whom were recruited or simply showed up to put in work from within a couple blocks of the restaurant, among which a lucky few are being personally trained by Boillon in the kitchen.
Did we mention there’s a really great outdoor patio area right outside? It’s also the home of Boillon’s food truck, El Floridano, serving delicious pork sandwiches that I have eaten at least 5 of in the past two months.
Each dish showcased an inspired employment of the central, untamed ingredient, and each one was served with a paired drink of its own — over the course of the night, those who opted for paired drinks (which, obviously or not, includes myself) found themselves sipping on three specialty cocktails, one French wine, and a La Sacorrada rosemary honey Spanish beer over the meal’s duration. It might be worth noting here, just in case that strikes you as a lot to be drinking under the cover of words like “casual” or “light” over the course of three hours, that the entire table’s worth of guests was feeling quite loquacious by the evening’s end.
The drinks – intensely deliberated projects even apart from their relation to the dishes they were paired with – were each carefully chosen and delicately implemented by resident barman Patrick Slagle. Boillon and Slagle, taking the chance to get creative (even risky?) with their designs, played what tasted like an eclectic mix of world music by way of their respective culinary instruments, delivering a succession of dynamic flavor combinations to an impressed table of dinner guests over three immensely fun hours at a bar/restaurant I’m sure all of us will be back to.
Time to re-live the feast.
Before I go into the menu, I’d like you to meet Jules. A fellow guest at the Mothership last Wednesday. Jules is British. But he’s not just, like, slightly British: Centuries worth of living at the center of a world empire have sculpted Jules and his countrymen into natural connoisseurs about literally everything. If you think I’m being sarcastic, think again. Their knowledge of fine things is obvious, and presents itself in the form of an accent that is simply more pure, more true to the words and what they mean, than our bastardized drawl. Below, I have done my best to replicate not only Jules’ statements where he made them, but also the thoroughly British way in which he delivered those statements. It should be noted, prior to you making any accusations about my poor attempt at transferring a British accent into the written version of the English language, that Jules was at one point asked if he was Australian.
Passed Hors D’Oeuvres began at 7: Steamed Belly Buns, Mini BLTs, Madjool Dates stuffed with Bacon & Echo Mountain Blue
Pre-dinner beverage at the bar: Champagne Cocktail
Jules’ Consensus: [speaking to Slagle regarding the champagne cocktail, which Jules had not yet decided to imbide] ”I’m surry ta jeuhk ye ‘raound, Pat – I don’t usyally go fa this soht of drenk, bet I just troyd meh friend’s ova heah, n’ eet’s bloddy brilliant. Wewh done, mate – wewh bloddy done!”
It should be noted here that Jules had chosen not to sign up initially for the paired drink option of the meal, but after sampling the goods promptly shelled out the necessary coin ($50) to partake in the rest of what Slagle had planned, drink-wise, for the night.
First Course: Boar Tartare with Uni, Avocado, Micro Basil & Lemon Chili Oil. With a very distinct kick provided by the lemon chile oil, the boar tartare had a lightness to it that was well suited for the post-appetizer appetizer section of the night’s servings.
Paired Beverage: Sakuzu Old Fashioned. Slagle makes his Old Fashioned’s pre-prohibition style, meaning less focussed on the fruit (a burned orange peel worked nicely) and more centered on the behavior of the alcohol in the glass. This one was made with Saki, which I hadn’t seen before, but I approve of.
Jules’ Consensus:”The tahtahh was amazing.”
Second Course: Maple & Miso Roasted Belly with House Maca Pickle. A nice crispness on the outside of this one, pretty much candy in meat form – and I do not mean to imply any sort of overbearing sweetness.
Paired Beverage: La Sacorrada Rosemary Honey Ale – Spain
Jules’ Consensus: Jules’ mouth was too filled with delicious pork belly to offer up any startlingly British commentary during this period of the evening.
Third Course: Bacon Wrapped Tenderloin with Celeriac Puree & Buerre Rouge. You knew this was coming. We told you it was coming. It was slammin’.
Paired Beverage: Brunswick Sledgehammer. Cutting through the top layer of wine into the iced rum mixture beneath resulted in a highly palatable mixture of different textured and flavored spirits. I was impressed and downed this one quicker than the rest.
Jules’ Consensus: [swirling his layered beverage beneath his nose for maximum British effect] “Oi’ve nevah quoite had a shiraz that did thah trick fe may, but I quoite loike thees one heah.”
Fourth Course: Ras El Hanout Rubbed Rack with Wheat Berry, Date & Almond Stuffed Tomato
Paired Beverage: Paul Mas – GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre Blend) – France
Jules’ Consensus: Thes one’s swate! Love the rub. [there’s no British way I can think of to transcribe “rub”, but note that this word leaned heavily on a consonant I am unfamiliar with]
Dessert: Bacon Salted Dulce de Leche Panna Cotta with Smoked Mango Coulis. People definitely seemed to be enjoying this, but if I’m being totally honest, the texture was displeasing to me. Knowing that it was still pork I was eating at this point was also a little bit of a mental hurdle I had to get over, but as I looked around, people seemed to be enjoying theirs. I might not be mature enough or something.
Paired Beverage: Tamarind Punch – a definite spicy kick to this one; many at the table were saying this was their favorite drink of the night.
Jules’ Consensus: “Surry, mite. Oy’ve ‘ad abeut oll th’ alcohol oy c’n mustah feh t’noight. Cheahs!”