Thursday, June 20, 2024

The “Unicorn Oysters” at the new Moëca in Neighborhood 9. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Quietly, Moëca, the sister eatery to Giulia around the corner, has opened on Shepard Street in the locale that was formerly Luce and Chez Henri. The dark, cozy interior echoes Paul O’Connell’s long-standing French-Cuban bistro and the Venetian seaside its cuisine is fashioned after. It’s a worthy entry – something new, something upscale but not too pricy, and with an inviting ambiance. 

The menu is tapas in skew and fishy in the very best way. The food is prepared immaculately, as are the drinks. On the raw menu there’s classic yellowfin, stripped bass and tautog – a fish that could give monkfish a race in an ugly contest. The oysters are not your usual shuck-and-serve with vinaigrette and cocktail sauce; these “Unicorn Oysters” came adorned with a crown of diced rhubarb and marinated in lime for a clean, fresh and easy down. Among the small plates, the signature offering is the green crab custard (“moëca” refers to a crab), a little pot of savory creamy delights: corn, crab and shiitake with a coconut infusion. Others touted as worth exploring were the crispy squash blossoms with smoked fish (not something I would normally gravitate toward, but so universally lauded that it’s on my try-next list); crispy, grilled squid; and the Sardinian Ravioli of salt cod and caramelized tomato. Main plates includes a rib-eye, swordfish and grilled lubina (European bass). I checked out the Maine Lobster Spaghetti with roe butter, fermented chili and shiso, a Japanese herb used in several dishes. Natch, since this from Giulia’s Michael Pagliarini, the pasta was fresh and perfectly cooked, just south of al dente, with plenty of succulent lobster. The sauce was something of light fra diavolo, for a rewarding symphony of tastes and textures. I didn’t have dessert but I am told pastry chef Renae Connolly is something of an ice cream wizard – I mean, lime “froyo” with roasted strawberry syrup and toasted coconut among the gelati offerings?

Moëca’s Maine Lobster Spaghetti. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If there’s one problem with Moëca, it’s that you’ll want to try every thing on the menu. There are also daily specials; I had the bluefish pâté on crostini, a good start to a dining experience that may – dare I say it – supersede Giulia. Pagliarini took something of a knock when his second venture, Benedetto, unceremoniously closed mid-pandemic at The Charles Hotel. This third act is a clear labor of love, a winner and an ideal addition to a neighborhood that lost so much during the pandemic (Newtowne Grille, Luce, Mix-it and Temple Bar). 

Moëca (1 Shepard St., Neighborhood 9)

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.