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Review

Madre's offers high-quality modern Mexican cuisine

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There’s not much that’s cheesy at Madre’s Mexican Kitchen.

It’s a comment that draws a laugh from Jerry Murillo, one of the owners of this newly opened restaurant.

“Yeah, one of the things we wanted to do was move away from the traditional Tex-Mex approach,” he said. “We wanted the flavor of our food to come from the ingredients we use and the way we prepare them, instead of just covering everything in cheese sauce.”

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More than 20 ingredients go into making Madre's mole sauce, here served with grilled chicken.

Madre’s is located in the building that formerly housed the original Mahogany Prime Steakhouse. The space has been lightened up considerably, to give it a more open feel, but not even a cheeky bit of neon spelling out “Te Amo Tequila” can quite dispel the lingering upscale aura of the place.

Fortunately, the food at Madre’s Mexican Kitchen more than lives up to its surroundings. Familiar menu items have been given some distinctive twists that elevate them above the norm one usually encounters at places with the word “Mexican” in their name. And Madre’s offers some dishes that one rarely, if ever, encounters locally.

“We spent about two years developing this concept,” Murillo said. “We’ve traveled all over Mexico, and we wanted to offer dishes that are unique to the various states and regions of Mexico — an elevated version of modern Mexican cuisine.”

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The brisket enchiladas is on the menu at Madre’s Mexican Kitchen.

During a recent lunch service, four of my colleagues joined me to sample as much of the menu as we could in as decorous a manner as possible.

My choice was the cochinita pibil ($18), a Yucatan specialty of slow-braised pork that’s been marinated in citrus juice and achiote, and wrapped in banana leaves. The traditional method is to braise the meat in a pit in the ground filled with live coals, but although this methodology is not feasible in a south Tulsa business area, the result was wonderfully tender, with a hint of acidity from orange juice used to marinate it.

It came topped with slices of pickled red onion, black beans and a scoop of white rice (it was also supposed to be served with corn tortillas and a habanero salsa, but I didn’t realize their absence until I was nearly finished).

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The interior at Madre’s Mexican Kitchen, 6823 S. Yale Ave.

One of the best dishes ordered was the enchiladas poblanas ($13.50) and the enchiladas verdes ($13). The enchiladas poblanas were filled with roasted chicken and poblano peppers in corn tortillas that were made in-house, and topped with a rich mole sauce of incredible depth and complexity of flavor.

The enchiladas verdes, also filled with chicken, had a creamy sauce made with serrano chiles that balanced the heat with a citrusy tang that was addictive.

What most restaurants call “fajitas” are listed on Madre’s menu as “parradillas,” and the shrimp version ($17) came with a good portion of nicely grilled shrimp, a generous amount of red and green bell peppers and onions, a healthy scoop of fresh-tasting guacamole and — much to the delight of the person who ordered it — enough tortillas to contain it all.

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Owner Jerry Murillo (from left), executive chef Sergio Villar and owner Juan Oropeza stand inside the tequila room at Madre’s Mexican Kitchen.

The one dish that was something of a disappointment was the black salmon ($18). Perhaps we were expecting something close to the sort of highly seasoned, hard-seared coating of blackened fish; what was served was roasted salmon fillet with a spotty char and not a lot of seasoning. On the other hand, the roasted Brussels sprouts that came with it were excellent — these small, pearl onion-sized sprouts were tender and flavorful with none of the sulfurous quality larger examples can have.

We were able to sample a wider range of foods during the photo shoot, including the pork belly chicharrones ($9.75,) which are slices of braised-then-fried pork belly topped with a tomatillo sauce that were wickedly tasty; the tacos cameron ($16), with juicy shrimp in a chile-lime butter and chipotle salsa; the pastel de chocolate ($9), a dense, rich chocolate cake topped with a large scoop of ice cream and served with a Kahlua-flavored sauce; and the mole ($18), which here was slices of grilled chicken topped with that wonderful mole sauce.

“There’s about 20 ingredients that go into our mole,” said Sergio Villar, the restaurant’s executive chef. “Personally, I like to eat it with plain white rice. You can taste the generations in that sauce.”

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Madre’s Mexican Kitchen, 6823 S. Yale Ave.

Villar, a native of Chihuahua, became interested in cooking when his mother would take him with her when she went to work at a local restaurant.

“I would watch her in the kitchen, and after a while I figured out that one could make a career out of being a cook,” he said. “I started out as a busboy and dishwasher, and worked my way.”

Villar said he had previously worked with a number of corporation restaurants; he turned down an executive chef position with P.F. Chang’s in order to go to work at Madre’s.

There was another consideration; the restaurant’s owners, Murillo and Juan Oropezo, are his uncles. But the quality of the food, and the inventiveness of his approach, makes it obvious that Villar more than earned his position.

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Pastel de chocolate is a dense, rich chocolate cake served with a Kahlua-infused sauce.

Murillo said the restaurant focuses on seasonal ingredients as much as possible, and making everything in-house.

“We also make our own margarita mix each day, and our cocktails are made fresh,” Murillo said. “We make our own tortillas, all our sauces, we get the best seasonal vegetables we can. In fact, the only thing we have in cans here is the IPA beer at the bar.”

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Pork Belly Chicharrones are one of many offerings at Madre's Mexican Kitchen.

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From left, El Papichulo, White Peach Margarita, Cantarito, and Martini de Mazapan are among the drink choices at Madre’s Mexican Kitchen.


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