Mama Lion: A (Dimly Lit, Poorly Shot) Pictorial Essay

Not even a week in operation, this new “supper club” comes to us courtesy of owner Robert Kim and Chef/Partner Michael Hung (Jardiniere, La Folie, Faith & Flower, Viviane).

You will not find street parking unless you come very late (it is open until 2 am), because it is on the corner of 6th and Western. Valet parking is $7.

At the door, a large, undecorated, and frankly intimidating thing, you may be stopped for your ID if you do not have any grey hairs. You will also be informed that there is a dress code, but when pressed for details, they will find themselves unable to articulate exactly what this dress code in. They just wanted to “let you know”, because you are wearing a t-shirt and jeans. (Maybe the jacket and work badge help. Who knows?)

The inside is a pleasant enough space, with the bar taking center stage, though it is difficult to make out the fine details through the darkness. The music is inappropriately modern. You were expecting jazz, and find (trashy) pop instead.

Coming in at 7:45 on Friday night, there is plenty of space to sit at the bar (and several open tables as well), though the place is far from empty. Unfortunately, given that I was dining solo (and driving), I had to pass on sampling their cocktail menu. In truth, scanning it, nothing jumped out at me as particularly interesting except the prices (which are a little lower than the new $14-16 “standard”… suspicious). It would be a tall feat for them to best Here’s Looking at You (one block away) for that angle, in any case.

Now, the food:

Santa Barbara Uni Tostaditas
Avocado, Grapefruit Salsa, Crème Fraîche

Paging @PorkyBelly: indifferent Uni alert! These were OK, really - the uni had no real off notes, but the flavor was so muted in comparison to the mini tostadas and toppings that it would have been hard to tell even if it did. I would pass on these, unless you receive a much stronger report on them later.

Pan Fried Mary’s Chicken Schnitzel
Salad of Brassicas & Greens, Whole Grain Mustard Jus

Now this is what I’m talking about. When I first saw Chicken Schnitzel on the menu, it was the last thing on my mind to order. But then I realized that I’d eaten something similar to every other main yesterday at Officine BRERA (and what a fantastic meal that was - it has gone from strength to strength). It would also be a fantastic opportunity for the chef to display his mastery of the fundamentals - Chicken Schnitzel is, in concept a very simple dish, but deceptively difficult to execute well.

The salad on top was fresh and bright - hard to go wrong with good produce, a nice vinegary dressing, and some pickled onions. The broccolini I couldn’t judge - I’ve always despised broccoli and all its relatives.

The schnitzel (2 decently-sized pieces) was very good - well fried, with a properly thin crust, but still tender and juicy on the inside. The mustard jus needed more kick, but apart from that, an excellent dish. Not a patch on my grandmother’s otbivnaya (Ukranian dish - flat pounded chicken breast, salt, pepper, lightly floured, dipped in mixed egg, fried on butter) - but very little ever approaches that.

I would absolutely order this again.

Sweet Cream Panna Cotta
Strawberry Gelee, Candied Ginger, Gingerbread Crumble

Missing from the description was the shaved ginger ice on top and the actual strawberry slices surrounding it. Thankfully the strawberries here were better than those I had at the Apple Pan a few weeks ago.

The best thing I can say about this dish is that each individual component was very good. Unfortunately, ginger ice, candied ginger, and gingerbread were far too overwhelming when taken in concert with the other elements - the strawberries were not sweet enough for contrast, the strawberry gelee not assertive enough, and the panna cotta itself was simply drowned out. Less would have been more, here.

En fin: the fundamentals are here. If the kitchen can raise the consistency and quality of the dishes to match the Schnitzel, I can see this place sticking around for the long haul. That said, they do have some work to do - this is not a forgiving market (or location) for inconsistent fare, with a very strong competitor in HLAY within walking distance.


dying to know if theres any trashy pop thats appropriately modern.

i, for one, hate it when i want to nosh to cecil taylor and adrian rollini records and they put me off my french fried lobster with something else.

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Wasn’t there a Mama Lion at that approximate location around 30 years ago?

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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose?

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