When eating dinner at Mothers for the first time, you may have questions.
Like, why are the drinkers standing at the bar swearing so much without a Bills game on? Are they drunk or just shouting to be heard over the music? Is it always this dark? If you're going to hand-write a specials list, can't you give the task to someone with better handwriting?
The answer, in all those cases, is: That's the way Mothers is. If you don't want to eat under those conditions, regardless of the food, you should probably pick someplace else. (Or do what friends do, and save Mothers for the summer, when you can enjoy its shaded patio as evening falls.)
Mark Supples has earned the steady patronage of a sizable hard-core group of customers in the two decades since he took over the Virginia Place restaurant. The interior, of worn dark wood and a fieldstone walled dining room, seats about 50 and feels like a private club.
Which it almost is, after midnight especially. Supples' dedication to serving a full menu until 3 a.m. has helped cement the loyalty of hungry diners in a city where, after midnight, Mothers is pretty much the only fine dining table in town.
Another major factor is the food, which has consistently ranked among the more interesting, reasonably priced menus in Buffalo. Mothers has a standard menu, with regulars' favorites like scallops with black fettucine ($19.25) and Southwestern shrimp fritters with cilantro and chipotle mayonnaise ($9.95).
But the action is in the specials list, where you find more adventurous choices.
The appetizer specials included fresh bluepoint oysters ($11.75), St. Louis ribs ($11.95), escargot-stuffed mushrooms ($7.95), and a salad of golden beets, Granny Smith apples, bacon, goat cheese, pistachios and white balsamic vinaigrette ($8.95). We chose a special of grilled pesto-marinated shrimp, tomatoes, crisp prosciutto, Kalamata olives, basil oil and balsamic syrup ($10.50), and from the regular appetizers, spaghetti squash with prosciutto, fresh sage and asiago cheese ($8.50) and a mesclun salad "loaded" with portobello mushrooms, roasted beets, frizzled leeks and gorgonzola cheese ($9.50).
Entree specials included sauteed mahi mahi with jerk spices, lime butter sauce and coconut rice ($25.50), and twin 8-ounce loin lamb chops with golden raisins, roasted peppers, roasted garlic and pine nuts with marsala ($29.95).
We chose specials, too. I had the pork shank with posole, scallion rice and pico de gallo; Cat asked for the roast half duck with fresh raspberry sauce, pecan wild rice, roasted carrots and parsnips (both $24.95).
Three pesto shrimp were crisp and herby from their basil infusion, the salad elevated by its ingredients: ripe sliced tomatoes were lush, the greens dotted with crispy proscuitto shards and restrained, aromatic dressing. The mesclun salad pleased with earthy, tender beets, crumbs of funky gorgonzola and mushroom caps topped with more blue cheese. Frizzled leeks added a chewy, toasty element.
The spaghetti squash was cooked delicately, retaining a slight crunch and distinct cheesy character without being sopped in cream. Bacon added smokiness to a comfort food classic.
My pork shank came apart with tugs of the fork, releasing the tender meat into a Mexican-styled broth robust with chile and corn. Mixed with the scallion rice and fresh tomato salsa, it turned into an engaging bowl of do-it-yourself stew.
Cat's roasted duckling had terrific skin, more than halfway to Peking duck crispiness. Served piping hot, the tender meat and bright berry sauce made for engaging forkfuls, especially dotted with whole fresh raspberries, of which there were many. Cat liked the way the berries were "part of the dish, not just a garnish."
We had dessert, chocolate cappucino layer cake and apple spice cake, not made in-house but decent sweets, and just $5.50 each.
You can get an excellent meal here, at an entirely reasonable price. Just don't expect Mothers to stop being Mothers.
Buffalo's after-hours dining favorite ?offers satisfying specials amid hubbub.
8 plates (Out of 10)
WHERE: 33 Virginia Place (882-2989)
HOURS: 5 p.m.-3 a.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $8.25-$11.95; entrees, $15.75-$29.95.
PARKING: On the crowded street. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.