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24 Catt. 2: In re Mothership

2013 October 16

JEREMY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Cart. CATTLEYA, J., wrote a dissenting opinion.

Once upon a time, there was a mobile gastronomic enterprise named El Floridano. I liked it very much, as did my sister. See In re El Floridano, 2 Catt. 2 (2011). I sampled its pulled pork and mango-based sauce — two things I traditionally eschew — and was blown away. That takes some doing. El Floridano was a really superb truck.

But, in the words of the inimitable Nelly Furtado, all good things come to an end. And so El Floridano went away and became something else entirely. It became a brick and mortar. One called Mothership. (Not to be confused with Dr. Funkenstein’s vehicle of supergroovalisticprosifunkstication.) It is located in a place called Park View, an overlooked stretch of Georgia Avenue south of Petworth, which, judging by the restaurant’s mason jar water glasses, is a neighborhood on the verge of a hipster breakdown. The whole enterprise frankly reeks of facial hair and horn-rimmed glasses. But, then again, aren’t we all just a little hipster? And who am I to talk?

One fine, particularly comfortable late summer evening, my clerk and I met my sister and her clerk for oral argument at one of Mothership’s sidewalk picnic tables. Spotify (complete with ads for Spotify) streamed from a speaker suspended above us. We ordered drinks — an acceptable Negroni for me, a decent and rather bitter pear-based concoction for my clerk, and beers for my sister and her clerk — and perused the menu.

The menu itself is a messy hodgepodge of influences. My sister and I tend to agree on very little. But one thing we have shared during our time together on the bench is a healthy suspicion for fusion — a sometimes unfortunate remnant of the 90s (like Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn) which we find too often to be merely code for confusion (again, like Torn). See, e.g., In re Sâuçá, 4 Catt. 3 (2011); In re Seoul Food, 3 Catt. 1 (2011); In re TaKorean, 1 Catt. 4 (2011).

I suppose El Floridano was also fusion, what with its Cuban offerings and its banh mi, but I never made it beyond the delicious Pan con Lechon, and, I don’t know, the truck’s menu felt somewhat more cohesive. Mothership’s menu features Old American, New American, pan-New Southern, Cuban and Puerto Rican, pan-Latin, Italian, and Asian influences without offering any clear vision of what it all means. The influences were not so much fused but peddled separately without complementing one another. Imagine a food court (Taco Bell, Panda Express, Sbarro, KFC) but as a single business, with a waiter, with a liquor license, and with the unmistakable Deliverance-style banjo thumping of one Mr. Marcus Mumford. To be fair, the tableware wasn’t a food court’s Styrofoam. No, it was plastic.

Oxtail & Bone Marrow Patty

Oxtail & Bone Marrow Patty

We opted for three starters:

  • Oxtail and bone marrow patty with spicy guava sauce, mesclun greens, and cotija cheese ($8)
  • Steamed buns with shaved beef tongue, pickled green mango, and papaya ($7)*
  • Lemongrass dashi steamed PEI mussels with tomatoes and shallots ($10)*

and three main courses:

  • Slow-cooked wild boar bucatini with shallots, grape tomatoes, clipped herbs, and butter ($20)*
  • Lower Potomac blue cat fish with creamy asiago grits and tasso gravy ($14)*
  • Cuban pizza with roast pork, Edwards Virginia ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard béchamel ($16)

and, for dessert, a chocolate mousse with shortbread cookie ($6)*.

(* These dishes were ordered as part of a restaurant-week special but are available on the ordinary menu at the prices listed above.)

Wild Boar Bucatini

Wild Boar Bucatini

Oxtail and Bone Marrow Patty. Yelp reviews led us to expect several smallish empanadillas. Instead, we received a decently sized patty. The crust was good – golden, buttery, flaky, exactly what one expects from a good crust. The oxtail itself was palatable but ended up overpowered by the excellent crust. The bone marrow was undetectable.

Steamed Buns with Shaved Beef Tongue. The steam buns were of this variety rather than this variety. They were good. Even better was the shaved beef tongue itself, which was tender, flavorful, and texturally luxurious.

Steamed Mussels. The mussels were fine but bland. Nothing much to write about. Inoffensive, palatable, but not particularly recommended or discouraged.

Wild Boar Bucatini. This was one of the best dishes we sampled. That said, it was a pretty mediocre dish. The flavors were well developed enough, and the bucatini were well prepared, but I think I could have whipped this dish up at home (if boar were ever on my shopping list). The dish even looked like something I might whip up at home.

Blue Cat Fish

Blue Cat Fish

Blue Cat Fish. This was, hands down, the worst dish we sampled. The fish tasted, well, fishy. (Fishy fish does not taste good, for some reason, in the same way that beefy beef or ducky duck might taste delicious.) My mother always told me not to order catfish because it’s a bottom-feeder. I never really heeded her warning because lobster and shrimp are also bottom feeders and yet are perfectly delectable. But Mothership’s catfish tasted exactly like one would expect a bottom eater to taste. As for the grits, I have a high bar for them. In this case, they were bland and not nearly as well prepared as I might have liked. The advertised tasso was undetectable.

Cuban Pizza. The Cuban pizza is, in theory, a classic Cuban sandwich reimagined as a pizza. Cf. In re A’ Lo Cubano, 22 Catt. 3 (2013). Really, the Cuban pizza was poorly named. It did not read as a pizza at all, but rather as something more like a mediocre flatbread with scattered pig bits, Swiss cheese, and pickle. The mustard béchamel was not a sauce in the manner usually employed by a pizza. There was a hint of mustard across the flatbread, but little more than a hint.

Chocolate Mousse. The chocolate mousse was chalky, oddly lumpy, and tasted less of chocolate and more of a heavy pour of triple sec. Imagine a badly-executed milk chocolate orange ball. The orange-flavor wasn’t advertised on the menu, and neither my sister and I nor our clerks were expecting such a sharp tang of citrus. The unexpected shock was offputting. As for the shortbread cookie, it was not shortbread. In fact, it tasted more like pound cake. Again, not as advertised, and the shock was unwelcome.

In the end, there were promising notes (the steamed buns with shaved beef tongue, the shell of the oxtail and bone marrow patty); there were mediocre notes which, with a bit of tinkering, could be better dishes (steamed mussels, oxtail and bone marrow patty, wild boar bucatini); and there were poor notes (Cuban pizza) and very poor notes (blue cat fish, chocolate mousse). Mothership’s menu is marred by fusion confusion, while its food preparation is marked by deep inconsistency. With a bit of careful ordering, Mothership could, perhaps, provide a passable meal. But having to be that careful about what you order at a restaurant takes most of the fun out of restaurant dining. Mothership feels like it’s trying too hard to be the hipster bar and grille of Park View and not trying hard enough with its food. That’s a shame. El Floridano was a gem.

I’m sure my sister will question how it is I was able to find jurisdiction to review a restaurant from the owner of a now-defunct food truck. For the reasons put forth in my dissenting opinion in In re Pupatella, 8 Catt. 4 (2012), I find again that there is no temporal restriction on our jurisdictional test. As for the “sibling relationship” between El Floridano and Mothership, I find the test of In re Shanghai Lounge, 23 Catt. 3 (2013) to be satisfied.

For these reasons, this case is

REMANDED to Mothership for revision.

CATTLEYA, J., dissenting.

My brother was right to guess that I would question the finding of jurisdiction in this case.  When we granted cartiorari to Mothership, and indeed when we dined at Mothership, the owner had not yet officially closed the El Floridano food truck. Thus, at that time, the Cart had jurisdiction to review Mothership based on its relationship with a concurrently operating food truck. See SUNdeVICH v. SUNdeVICH, 22 Catt. 1 (2013); In re Shanghai Lounge, 23 Catt. 3 (2013). But when El Floridano closed its window while our review was still pending, the Cart lost its power to release an opinion on Mothership. See In re Pupatella, 8 Catt. 4 (2012).

We must abide by the limits of the jurisdiction granted to us in the Judiciary Act of 2011 (Cartiorari Act). If we continue to follow my brother’s expansive vision of jurisdiction, this respected tribunal soon will be reviewing restaurants with owners who like food trucks and restaurants which include food truck owners as their regular customers—and then this tribunal will be respected no more.

Although I shared my brother’s disappointment with Mothership’s dishes, this Cart has no authority to review them. The grant of cartiorari should be dismissed as improvidently granted.

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