Letter From New Orleans: Forked Tongue

I hate hype, especially when it comes to restaurants. A friend generously gave Dr. A and me a gift certificate to Lengua Madre as an anniversary present. Thanks, Jean.

It’s an expensive eatery that opened to rave reviews in the local media. The reviews were so effusive that I should have smelled hype, but I’m inclined to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt. Like all Greek Americans, I have restauranteurs in the family.

I’ve never done a restaurant review at First Draft before; let alone a takedown. But this was one of the worst culinary experiences of my life and the best way to process my disgust was to write about it.

If Lengua Madre were a person, it would be a hipster douchebag. It’s pretentious, precious, and gimmicky. Did I say that it was expensive? We only paid for 1/3 of our meal and I still feel ripped off. I woke up the morning after feeling like this:

My first impression was not good. Lengua Madre is located in a renovated dive bar. You can still see its name, The Shamrock Tavern. That’s the only lettering on the building. Lengua Madre is too cool to have a sign. It took us a few minutes to figure out where the entrance was. We followed the lavender light. It was like being in a David Lynch movie.

Is there anything that screams hipster douchebag more than no sign? Like the food, it’s pretentious and precious. It sends the signal that only the super cool should enter the premises. Get a sign, y’all.

Before I shred the pretentious tasting menu, I should accentuate the positive: the service and cocktails were good. The staff was even willing to listen to my comments about the food, which were politer than I’m feeling at this moment. The food was also plated well, which is perfect for a place that emphasizes style over substance.

Lengua Madre provided several palate cleansers. Here’s mine:

With all due respect to Our Mac, Harold Arlen, and Johnny Mercer, that’s the last time I’ll accentuate the positive in this post. It’s also impossible for me to be Mr. In Between. It was that bad.

I’m one of those silly people who thinks that everything that’s served at a restaurant should be edible. This was the first course:

I assumed that some of the stuff surrounding the vessels were edible, so I asked for utensils. I was told that the shrimp broth was the only consumable item on the plate. The first server may have explained that, but Lengua Madre is loud, loud, loud; another sign of hipster douchebaggery in my experience.

As to the broth itself, Dr. A and I each had one-word reactions. She called it muddy. I called it sour.

We both posed this question after escaping from hipster douchebag land: How can you screw up shrimp broth? I guess our palates are insufficiently cool.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the five-course tasting menu. I only liked two of the five courses, but the portion size was pitiful even for a hot summer evening.

There was one particularly bad dish: Charred okra and shishito. The okra was slimy, not charred. And I say that as someone who likes okra when it’s cooked right. This was not. The shishito peppers *were* charred to the point that they tasted like salty sticks or maybe it was burnt oregano. That continued the theme of inedible items on a plate. I agree with Chef Tom Colicchio who thinks that everything on a plate should be edible, not just there for appearances. Ugh, just ugh.

I was politely candid with our servers about the meal’s failings. As we paid the bill, I told our lead server that the portions were so miniscule that I was still hungry. They did nothing to try and make that right. In fact, both Dr. A and I snacked within an hour of returning home. I have never snacked that close to a restaurant meal.

The bill contained one more gimmick: a “server wellness” charge. It’s a euphemism for a service charge. In this difficult restaurant economy, I have no objection to a service charge, but I object to euphemisms. Call it what it is.

Lengua Madre means Mother Tongue in Spanish. It’s supposed to be an authentic home-cooking inspired Mexican restaurant. Instead, it’s precious and pretentious. Everything but the service is gimmicky. That’s why the post title is Forked Tongue. It’s all hype. I hate hype.

We ate at Lengua Madre last Friday, but I sat on this review for a week. A bad and overpriced meal is nothing compared to coup plots, abortion bans, and an out-of-control Supreme Court. I would, however, be speaking with a forked tongue if I didn’t post about this supremely bad experience.

When I review something, I typically issue a report card. Let’s accentuate the positive first: I give Lengua Madre 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B for service.

As to the food I give Lengua Madre 2 stars and a letter grade of C-. Two good dishes do not rescue a bad meal.

Repeat after me: I have never left a restaurant hungry before.

The last word goes to Jenny Lewis:


7 thoughts on “Letter From New Orleans: Forked Tongue

  1. Agree that anything on the plate, except for containers and servingware, should be edible. Anything else is a waste.

  2. Sorry you guys had that experience. How can you screw up shrimp broth and okra? The first thing that came to mind when looking at the presentation of the shrimp broth is whatever was on the plate around the dishes looked like acorns off the ground. Yeah, this place won’t last, thankfully.

    1. Dr. A heard from a friend who got food poisoning after eating there. I didn’t have enough food to be poisoned. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. I ate at Lengua Madre in Fall 2021 and loved it. We had great food. Small portions, sure, but itโ€™s a tasting menu. Every course was wonderful. The dining room was not noisy and very pleasant, small but not at all crowded. The neon lit entryway and no sign outside were a bit bothersome but did not detract significantly from our experience.

      1. I know what a tasting menus is. I’ve had tasting menus before and didn’t leave hungry. Our meal was more expensive than dinner at some of the best restaurants in town. Glad you liked it but I won’t be returning.

  3. There was something that looked like rice. If it’s not edible, don’t serve it.

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