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Nov 8, 2009 05:39 PM

Hungry Mother good but....

I had dinner at Hungry Mother this evening for the first time. Service was excellent, food was good overall, but it certainly didn't set me to swooning. The only dish that I would call outstanding was the pork loin and pork rib, nicely brined and smoked, tender as can be. The fried catfish was quite good and nicely presented with slaw and dirty rice, but the fish and coating could have used more intense seasoning. A couple of their policies have me scratching my head. Reservation (party of 5) had to be accompanied by a credit card number. No-show or cancellation within 24 hours of reservation time costs you $25 per person. That means if I had called yesterday at 8pm to cancel it would have cost me $125! Also, for a party of 5 they added 18% tip to the bill. I have no beef about the amount - I usually tip 20% - but since when do restaurants add tip for a party of 5? Hungry Mother is deservedly popular, but they're not elBulli or Le Bernardin. They might want to consider lightening up a bit.

Hungry Mother
Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

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  1. I havent' even dined there as yet, but the 2 times we've tried to get in as walk-ins, the vibe has been so uptight and exclusionary, by the staff and other patrons, if you can imagine that, that I'm no longer interested in trying to get in there.

    1. I've seen gratuities added by the house for parties of 5 before, but 6 and up is far more common.

      It's also unusual for a restaurant with entrees topping out at $24 to take reservation deposits. I'm guessing that no-shows have proven to be such a problem that it's hurting them, and that they are taking advantage of a transitory moment of early popularity and strong reviews to do something about it. I don't care for that policy even at pricier restaurants, but it has rarely deterred me from making the reservation anyway. I'd be surprised if they're still doing it a year from now, when the hubbub has died down.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        Yeah, without making an excuse for them, I dislike that policy as well but I can see why they might use it. They are very small, so one big empty table is probably a problem. They are located a bit out-of-the-way and I think folks know that it's fairly impossible to walk in with a group of 4 or 5, so if a big group is a no-show it can be a real problem.

        As for the food, I think it's very good, very fun, and just the right vibe. Is it totally expertly done beyond reproach? Absolutely not. But at the price point, and given how enjoyable I find it, it's definitely good enough to keep me coming back.

        1. re: celeriac

          There's something ingratiating about the whole FoH crew, too, and I think the bartending has improved a lot since it opened.

          1. re: celeriac

            Ten Tables (at least JP location) requires a cc for any reservation made through OpenTable, as does Marco in the North End. I think Celeriac is correct, even though the prices aren't exorbitant at these places, they are small and each table represents a good chunk of their earning power each night. In the case of HM and TT, they aren't in foot traffic-friendly locales and are known to be booked, so walk-ins may not be a sure enough thing to fill in for no-shows. It's not a great policy, but I can see where they're coming from.

            Ten Tables
            5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

            1. re: bostonbroad

              I think this is something that many of the really popular (and good) restaurants are doing. Craigie on Main does it as well --which is interesting as they are much less "out of the way" and my guess is if i was a no-show someone else would jump to take the table.
              It's not a policy I like either, but I understand why they do it.

              Craigie on Main
              853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

        2. I agree with the OP. Personally, I don't regard their prices as a particularly low price point. I would say more upper-middle of the road. Since their food also only seemed upper-middle of the road (except for a $32 steak special which was rather poor), and their attitude was that they were the hottest thing since sliced bread, I'm not one of their repeat customers.

          1. I wonder if that's a new policy. When I was there, we didn't have that pop up with our reservation (but we were only a party of 2). Maybe it's something for larger groups?

            I can't say we found the service or the waitstaff snooty or uptight at all - in fact, we were expecting more "we're too trendy for you" but were quite surprised by how congenial everyone was. My only complaint is that the small space makes for very small tables, and we felt a little squished in our space (not a good idea for winter, when heavy winter coats are needed), but the meal and service for us was fabulous.

            1. Called up on a recent Friday at 4:45 to see if they had any space for 2 - just had a cancellation (assume it's true) and we were there by 5:10 - they have a nice little deal where if you arrive before six, they will purchase your movie tickets from the nearby Kendall Square cinema at the special price of $6/tic, adding it to the bill and presenting them at your table upon arrival. They also validate parking in the garage for $5 for four hours. So not sure how that jives with their other policies and other folks' take on the attitude. As for front of the house, I think it was Elon and Rachel were both there (and I think with their newborns at the bar?) - so can't be too stuffy if the kids are hanging out.

              Anyway, server was very knowledgeable and perfectly polite - even came jetting across the room to note that our table was a little wobbly and offered to fix it. Elon also was checking in with everyone - so I don't know - I think the service is just fine. Maybe I got them on a good night....

              2 Replies
              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                my O.P. raised questions about the cancellation and service charge policies, not the service. The service was excellent. The food was good, but I question whether it deserves the spectacular buzz that it has been getting.

                1. re: FoonFan

                  Yeah, I was more responding to a couple of the other comments after your post. I think the food has a synergy that is missing from Craigie, for example. While I like both, I feel like there is a certain imagination at HM, while CoM is more big flavors done well. Case in point - we had a cauliflower side at HM, which was cooked in brown butter, capers and gremolata, the addition of which worked really well to brighten the other flavors. Another example - had the seafood pan boil (I think that's the name) and it features a generous helping of hominy - now I know you might get corn on the cob with your traditional clambake, but the hominy was a heavier, stronger corn flavor and it really worked to pull the dish together for me, in taste and texture. I haven't read all the press - and have been to HM three times - and each time I come away feeling like the meal always tastes better than the sum of its parts, as opposed to excellent cooking of each part at other fine places I enjoy. Then again, maybe I am drinking the Kool-Aid...