Dining Out at Moksa
Variety is the spice of life — except when it makes for an inconsistent dining experience.
The new Moksa is in the heart of Central Square, but Patricia Yeo makes vibrant, varied dishes that fill you with the excitement of eating at a street stall in, say, Singapore or Penang. The flavors are bright, kaleidoscopic, and surprising. The sensations range from unexpected blasts of pepper-born spice to the comforting texture of soft, fresh noodles and dumplings. There’s heat, sweet, salt — something for everyone. With its reasonable prices and casual, friendly service, Moksa is aiming for a young crowd, including those who frequent the club space — called Naga — in the rear of the restaurant. There’s a busy bar at the front and pleasant outdoor seating on the side, which, despite the Mass. Ave. noise, is likely to be quieter than the main dining room.
The problem is that with 180 seats — far more than the number at Yeo’s previous restaurant, Ginger Park — and a much larger kitchen staff to supervise, the results are uneven. Very uneven. I didn’t know from one dinner to the next whether duck confit shao bing ($6), a flatbread from northern China that looks like a pressed English muffin, would be tender, slightly rich, crisped along the griddle marks, and filled with melting shreds of spiced duck leg — or stale, under-toasted, and stuffed with dry strings of flavorless meat. During one meal, the ramen with pork belly and half a soft-boiled egg ($14) featured subtly seasoned broth and pleasantly chewy, squiggly noodles. Another time, though, it was just an odd, sourish liquid with clumped-together noodles that resembled a rubber-band softball. One night, edamame pot stickers ($6, no longer on the menu) were a why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-that combination of puréed beans and lots of mint — like a greener, fresher, better-flavored version of spinach ravioli. The next, they were chewy, raw, and gritty. Yeo, an inventive cook when it comes to merging the Asian flavors she knows and loves from her travels and her upbringing in Malaysia, set out to do a bit too much in a big new restaurant with a big staff and a too-big menu.