Dining Out at Moksa
Variety is the spice of life — except when it makes for an inconsistent dining experience.
When Yeo first made her name at New York’s AZ, the fusion of Western kitchen techniques with Asian ingredients and flavors was new. Now it isn’t. By the time Yeo came to Boston to relaunch the French-Asian eatery Banq as Ginger Park, Joanne Chang had already opened her homey Chinese restaurant Myers + Chang around the corner, while Tim Cushman had followed Ken Oringer’s example at Uni by reinventing fusion sushi with house-made sauces and seasonings for his fine-dining spot, O Ya. The strength of Yeo’s dan dan noodles, with their umami-packed Szechuan pork-and-mushroom ragu, helped Ginger Park stand out until it closed in 2010.
More recently, young chefs have started to overlay the latest food fashions onto fusion cuisine. Echoes of the gutsy fare available at David Chang’s New York eatery Momofuku Ssäm Bar can be heard in, of all places, Watertown, where Strip–T’s chef (and Momofuku grad) Tim Maslow has introduced Asian touches (like Japanese eggplant banh mi) as part of a total overhaul of his father’s menu. At East by Northeast in Inman Square, Phillip Tang is adding a local-seasonal element to his Chinese background and French-cuisine training, showcasing a new kind of Asian-influenced, immaculately plated fare.
The bar, then, has been set a lot higher. But Yeo can still lay claim to the territory she originally staked out. She roams freer across Asia than any of those chefs, and tries for a much broader range of street food: dumplings, buns, yakitori-style grilled and skewered bits of meat, noodles, fried rice. And there’s so much to be deeply satisfied by: Twice-cooked green beans ($6) were oily, soft, and flavorful thanks to salted soy beans, garlic, and chili flakes. Irresistible “dancing” shishito peppers ($6) — named for the topping of paper-thin, smoky-flavored bonito flakes that wave at you as they wilt — were flash-fried so the whole peppers were almost luminous, and a green-mango-and-papaya salad with peanuts ($7) was freshened with basil, mint, and cilantro in a sweet-savory caramel-lemongrass dressing.
It’s hard to do everything well, though, especially when you’re up against a host of casual restaurants that specialize in dishes you have on the menu, like, for example, pho ($11), which here was bland, monotone, and surprisingly lacking in salt — or chow fun, broad rice noodles ($14) that should be caramelized from stir-frying but instead were just grease-slicked and pale. Every component of fried rice is supposed to be lightly crisped, but in each version we tried, like the gelatinous oxtail and tongue ($14), the dish was drenched in oil.