Monday, May 28, 2012

Dining Out: Moksa

For months I have been hearing about the opening of chef Patricia Yeo's new restaurant, Moksa. The buzz started in the fall with reports that the chef, formerly of Ginger Park and Om, was planning a personal venture in Cambridge. Bit by bit, the details came to light - the place would be in Central Square, the menu would feature Asian food served tapas style, and finally, it would open in March.

After weeks of anticipation, I finally made a reservation to try Moksa with two friends. We took the T from Park Street to Central Square and popped out at the Mass Ave and Prospect St intersection. Moksa is just two blocks away, right next to one of my favorite dance spots, the Phoenix Landing.

Before we even set foot in the restaurant I knew I would love it. Not only did they have a chalkboard sign out front (my favorite type of decor), but it was sporting a hot pink drink!

The door to Moksa is branded with the restaurant's logo. On the other side of the door is a bar area that feels more like a night club than a restaurant.

 I love the green back lighting and the cloud inspired light fixture.

The hostess took us to our table in the main dining room. That space has black walls, wooden tables and chairs and pops of red and orange from the place settings.

I love the tin of chopsticks on every table. 

The dining room pumps dance and techno music. Think Robyn, La Roux, Madonna (circa the "Ray of Light" era), Lady Gaga and David Guetta.

After we settled in to our booth our waiter appeared to offers us cocktail menus. The menu is centered around the Chinese signs of the zodiac - the dragon, the rat, the pig - you get the drift.

In addition to a cocktail for every sign, there were also scorpion bowls for sharing. This is my kind of place!

After much deliberation we selected cocktails and eagerly awaited their arrival.

We went with the silver peony, the peking sailor (the pink drink advertised on the chalkboard) and the shanti shanti.

The silver peony, which was sake, cucumber and lavender, tasted like baby powder. I was really not a fan. The peking sailor, which was gin, elderflower and cucumber, tasted much like a Pimm's cup, which I think might have been because of the cucumber. The shanti shanti was champagne and grapefruit with a sugar rim, which was the perfect summer time drink.

Next we shifted our concentration to the food menu. Moksa's menu is designed for sharing, which means you can try a handful of different things without feeling like a piggy. Between the three of us we ordered eight dishes.

The first dish to arrive was the crab rangoon. The girls said the outside was crunchy while the inside was stuffed with a hearty amount of crab meat. Though crab rangoon is normally known (and loved) for it's cream cheese, the girls said they barely tasted any cream cheese, they only tasted the bold flavor of crab. 

The crab rangoon came with a side of apricot mustard which they both agreed with an odd combination, but a winning one. The hint of fruit was subtle, but the grainy texture of the mustard added a nice additional level of texture and flavor to the dish.

The second plate to arrive was the Vietnamese summer rolls. This brightly colored appetizer had some height! The vegetables were crisp and snapped when you bit into them.

The vegetable dumplings arrived next and these were the stand outs of the night. These dumplings were heavenly! They were served piping hot, packed with veggies and swimming in a salty, soy sauce. If you visit Moksa, this must be the first thing you order. Seriously.

For one of our heartier dishes, we chose the 20 vegetable fried rice. I am not sure which 20 vegetables made it into the dish, but it tasted super fresh. Sometimes fried rice has that day old, congealed taste, but this dish was excellent. I had to stop myself from shoveling the whole bowl into my mouth.

While we put a dent into the fried rice, the tofu roti arrived. I was completely underwhelmed by this dish. Despite being advertised as chili lime, the tofu had zero taste. The corn tortilla the tofu was sitting on lacked that taco-like crunch, leaving the dish completely flat.

Our last dinner dish was the silver pin noodles. The noodles had tofu and mixed vegetables and had a serious kick to them. If you can't handle the heat, don't order this one!

You would think after all those plates we'd stop, but I had seen on a friend's blog (read her Moksa review here) that the restaurant offers green tea ice cream, which I was dying to try, so when our waiter asked if we'd like to hear the dessert specials for the evening I said, "yes!"

We did decide to order the green tea ice cream, but also opted for the sweet potato beignets.

The ice cream arrived and it was a brilliant, Ninja Turtle green. I had high hopes for this frozen delicacy, but every bite tasted like having green tea leaves in your mouth. Instead of ice cream with a hint of green tea, it tasted like a frozen cup of green tea that had been steeped for too long. Bust!

The sweet potato beignets were actually donuts. They looked like and tasted like sugar covered donuts. They came with a dulce de leche dipping sauce and a chocolate dipping sauce. I liked the dessert, but I don't need to order it again.

Overall, I found Moksa to be confusing. Does it want to be an Asian restaurant or a night club? How can it have dishes that are incredible as well as dishes that taste like nothing? Why was our waiter attentive for the first hour and then he vanished? I was actually comforted to learn that the Boston Globe's food critic, Devra First, had the same opinion, writing, "I want Moksa to pull itself together. I want food that is hot, sour, sweet, and salty all at once, that makes my taste buds do the wave. I believe Yeo can achieve this. But it’s getting harder to keep the faith."

When we were leaving the restaurant I noticed that Moksa actually has an outdoor patio! I'm not sure why I didn't notice this when we walked in, but that was a pleasant discovery.

The moral of the story is: don't waste your time ordering the whole menu at Moksa. Go for a late night out with friends where you drink, nosh on dumplings and bob your head to Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend."

4 comments:

  1. I had dim sum brunch here. I think I'm just not a fan of dim sum overall. There are a few dishes that they don't offer at brunch that I wanted to try, like the fried rice and the summer rolls. The desserts were pretty great though.

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  2. oh bummer you got a not great batch of green tea ice cream! (They make it daily so I am told...)

    Those vegetable dumplings really are awesome.

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  3. I've heard mixed reviews about Moksa... Glad to read your honest review.

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