Recently opened in Central Square, a contemporary Izakaya brought to you by Chef Patricia Yeo, Moksa, serves Japanese small plates for lunch, dinner, late night and weekend dim sum brunch, with a strong focus on the cocktail program, run by bar manager Noon Inthasuan. Located at 450 Mass Ave with a small unassuming exterior consisting of a black awning shaded by leafy trees meets a shiny industrial doorway, the interior beholds a sprawling concrete floored space.
The bar and cocktail lounge (where we were seated) is illuminated by red and green LED lights while an eye catching white origami fixture parades overhead. Zebra-wood table tops adorned with Asian tea tins holding chopsticks add character. The dining room in stark contrast is darker and more intimate, almost cavernous with rich black ceilings and slanted walls to match the tables, but it still retains a causal vibe.
Sunday afternoon marked my first visit to Moksa for their dim sum brunch, as part of a comped (read: completely free) Boston Brunchers outing with popular Seattle based blogger turned author Michael Natkin. At this event we received signed copies of his vegetarian cookbook, Herbivoracious, (published by local agency Harvard Common Press) and had a chance to chat with Michael about everything from signing a book deal (out of the blue, the folks at HCP contacted him!), to his whirlwind US tour (he's been to San Fran, LA and Austin, and after Boston was onto Providence and NYC), to family life (he has two young children who are also vegetarian and love to cook). As the conversation flowed among our intimate group, so did the shareable pan-Asian plates, where everything from dumplings and noodles to pancakes and pho elicited praise. Dim Sum was not without boozy breakfast drinks made table-side and a number of Chef Yeo's daily dessert creations.
The Miso Eggplant Bao ($8) had a notch up on the Char Siew Bao ($8), the clam shaped buns irresistibly fluffy and slightly sweet in both instances, but the eggplant, soft and steeped in miso flavor was unbelievably good. The Char Siew, which is Cantonese style BBQ Pork marinated in a honey hoisin sauce was a little chewy and on the dry side, I craved slightly more tender, slightly juicier pork.
The Tea Smoked Duck ($6) was another standout, elegantly prepared and sliced to a pristine thinness, the smokey flavors were matched with a well dressed cucumber and carrot slaw. There was tender Vegetable Dumplings ($5), fantastic Edamame Potstickers ($8), and both the Five Spiced Chicken Spring Rolls ($6) and Five Vegetable Spring Roll ($6) with accompanying dipping sauces were comforting, crispy bites.
Perhaps the most intriguing item for their unusually chewy and overall astonishing texture were the Silver Pin Noodles ($14). Surprised to learn these are vegan, the bowl comes brimming with tofu, mushrooms and snap peas. We happily slurped a bowl of Vietnamese Beef & Rice Noodle Egg Pho ($14) though I wish it brought more heat, and dug into the Kim Chee and Shrimp Pancake ($8), that actually did thanks t0 the addition of thick, spicy siraccha sauce.
I'm noticing a trend where more and more chefs lately opt out of printing a dessert menu and leave this course to spontaneity. Chef Yeo's creativity excels in the sweet treats department, much to our surprise and delight. Homemade daily, the ice creams are a revelation, particularly the pistachio where the flavor of the nut is clean and authentic, while the traditional green tea is lovely, too. However, a five spice ice cream sundae is the best of the bunch, I wanted that entire bowl to myself and I don't doubt everyone else felt the same. I was content to share a plate of strawberry rhubarb meets lemon jello cake (yes, apparently, there is lemon jello infused into that cake) and an amazing plate of hot churros adorning a thick cinnamon sugar cloak with chocolate dipping sauce.
I had a wonderful time getting to know Michael, and as a result, was thrilled to dive into his cookbook, where his personality, well written and enticing recipes and vibrant photos fill the pages. As you well know, I'm not a vegetarian, but his recipes (I can't wait to share what I've made!!) still translate as flavorful, hearty, and adventurous. Since I'm on a constant hunt to spice up my weeknight chicken or pork staples, these recipes actually got me excited about forgetting the meat all together. While I don't plan on becoming a vegetarian, Herbivoracious has truly inspired a change of pace in my kitchen.
Additionally, I find Moksa to be a welcome addition to Central Square's dining scene. Yeo's concept is well executed start to finish, it brings flavorful food and an overall fun experience!