A few years ago in San Francisco, my husband and I experienced a multi-course tasting menu for the first time. I absolutely loved having no idea what would be served and enjoyed the chef’s artistic and delicious creations. Ever since that magical meal, I’ve wanted to do this again, but for whatever reason, we haven’t until my birthday last month. One of my most trusted foodie friends recommended Lengua Madre, a small restaurant in the Lower Garden District. We went with our best friends and had the absolute pleasure of eating a five-course tasting menu inspired by Mexican cuisine and pulled off by a truly talented chef, Ana Castro, who is on Food and Wine’s List of Best New Chefs in 2022. Now, don’t think of your go-to favorites like rice, beans, and enchiladas. The meal is, in Chef Castro’s words, a nod to her grandmother with a modern, elevated style. We also partook in the wine pairing with each course which elevated the menu as a whole.
Part of the charm of Lengua Madre is the setting. It’s in an unmarked building, and at first, we were unsure if we were in the right place. This intriguing mystique continues as guests enter the long neon-pink hallway that serves as the entrance to the restaurant. When we were seated in the small dining room, our view was of the open kitchen where the staff stood ready and waiting to begin our meal. The vibe is relaxed and yet still holds a special feel. There is no menu at Lengua Madre, and you are not told what you’ll be eating. To me, that’s the best part! They are able to accommodate certain food allergies if told ahead of time when you make the reservation. Make sure to check the website, however, because there are some allergens that they cannot remove from the meal. One of our friends is gluten-free, and they were able to modify her dessert; nothing else had gluten in it.
As mentioned, we chose to do the wine pairing, which that was an excellent decision. When each course was presented, the waiter told us the details of the plate and presented the wine. I loved the variety of wines we enjoyed: a natural red, a white wine, a sparkling wine, another red, and a dessert wine. We also got their cinnamon-infused coffee with our dessert, which was the perfect accompaniment.
The chef, who we got to meet at the end of the meal, is originally from Mexico, and her menus are Mexican inspired while also pulling from the seafood culture of Louisiana. As much as I’d love to describe the fascinating combinations and incredible flavors, I don’t want to spoil the joy of being surprised by the menu. Know that there is seafood in a couple of dishes and a strong presence of house-made masa—think homemade tortillas and dumplings. My favorite course was the third, which featured crab in a creamy broth. The flavors in each dish were vibrant and rich, and the portions were perfect for tasting without feeling overly stuffed at the end. In addition to the five courses, we enjoyed a “gift from the kitchen” to start and a pallet-cleansing sorbet before dessert. Overall, the food challenged my taste buds, and everything was truly delicious.
Not only does Lengua Madre provide an incredible dining experience, but it is also apparently an excellent work environment as well, something that is unfortunately often lacking in the restaurant world. Chef Ana Castro deeply values working in a collaborative way with her team, going against the typical restaurant kitchen hierarchy, and seeks to cultivate an uplifting workspace. We loved getting to interact briefly with Chef Castro during our meal. We absolutely cannot wait to go back, especially as the menu changes seasonally. Hats off to Chef Ana Castro for creating a phenomenal culinary experience and inviting adventurous eaters to join her passion for food.