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May 9, 2012 12:21 PM

Moksa - Tender, Spicy, Meaty

I finally got a chance to try this "pan-Asia fusion" place and was pleasantly surprised. My DC and I traditionally have awful luck in restaurants; our presence together somehow seems to stir up the cosmos such that nearly every restaurant meal we've had together has been memorably bad. Not this time! Oddly, Moksa seems to get a fair amount of mediocre reviews in Yelp. Maybe that's the key.

Moksa is nestled away on Mass Ave in Central Square next to the theater. It's a sparsely decorated industrial-looking space, but it doesn't really feel cold the way a lot of modern places do. There's a club in the back.

We ordered various items and split them. The menu is in the form of small plates.

-Beef tongue on a stick. Delightful! This has become my #2 beef tongue preparation, with #1 being the beef tongue listed on the Toraya specials menu. Tender and juicy slabs, the tongue has a cumin-y flavor, and is served atop a drizzle of horseradish sauce.

-Silk Road Meatballs. Lamby, spicy, minty, meatbally-goodness.

-Uiygur Lamb. Definitely a "Must-get" dish. A cereal bowl full of tender chunks of lamb, with such a delightfully spicy (but not too hot) underlying cumin burn, stir fried with veggies and "gnocchi", which were actually the oval discs of rice cake (duk). The duk missed the mark, however, as it was overboiled and gummy. We ended up leaving a big bowl of gummy duk, with most of the meat plucked out with our chopsticks.

-Shao Bing with Red Cooked Pork. Red cooked pork is one of my all-time favorite dishes; this version came in the form of a McGriddle-looking sandwich, panini-pressed complete with slotted grill marks. It was excellent. It had a strong star-anise flavor but it wasn't greasy and adipose like many RCP preparations.

The table next to us reported that they tried many of the grilled skewer items, and reported that the duck breast was their favorite. I'll have to try that, because I certainly will be going back to this place.

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  1. Thanks for the review. Appropriate that you and DC should find an end to your dining suffering there. How do the dishes compare with the local Asian (non-fusion) versions?

    1. how would you respond to the negative globe review today? I'm asking because I trust you more!

      5 Replies
      1. re: Madrid

        Devra First's review in the Globe today pretty much tells the story of my two trips to Moksa. Seasoning is way off in most dishes we tried. The Berkshire pork dumplings we had were so salty the dish was inedible. Ditto the miso shortrib. The green papaya salad was wilty - as though made the day before - and flavorless. The ramen and pork belly - dull! dull! dull! - how do you screw up pork belly?!?!?! I felt about Moksa the exact same way I did after having two consecutive meals at Ginger Park - held up and robbed, first and foremost, unsatisfied, and worn out by the egregiously poor service. Someone used the Charlie Brown/Lucy/Football analogy on another post - this is how I feel about Moksa.

        1. re: Small Plates

          I'm in agreement with you and First. Really poor value.

          I'm a bit surprised by all the love for the lamb dish. First and Slim both raved. Prav's description is what I encountered - good meat but just a ton of gummy, stuck-together noodles. The noodles ruined it, but they should be the core of the dish. I ate it and thought "really? really?" Maybe it's been much better on other trips. but I can't even imagine the dish we had ever being great if prepared better than we received.

          My biggest complaints are the service and the space (at least that dark middle room with the spotlights), both of which are pretty terrible. Our waiter joked about how the kitchen staff was icing each other with Smirnoff Ice, so maybe that explains inconsistent and bad dishes.

        2. re: Madrid

          I was a Ginger Park fan, and had four very impressive meals at Moksa in researching my Stuff review. I didn't run across any of the duds or consistency issues talked about in Devra's review or here. Loved the bao small plates, though I probably wouldn't get the "roti" again. I'm still planning to get back for that Uyigur lamb dish, which I absolutely loved. Did not get to try the ramen, though I plan to. I don't love the dining room, but the patio and bar are very pleasant. It may be one of those cocktail programs where you'd better get the bar manager or stick to beer and sake, but I've always managed to be served by Noon, who is undeniably talented. It didn't get me as excited as Thai North, but I quite liked it.

          1. re: Madrid

            I would echo what Slim said. Have been twice, both times sitting at the bar and served by Noon. The wok fried bok choy is the one of the best vegetable dishes I've eaten in the last couple of years. Noon suggested the crab rangoon of all things, and they were fabulous. Tons of real crab meat, with a nice little kick of heat. I'd tend to agree that the ramen with pork belly was moderately undewhelming. That being said, we left our last visit thinking it was one of the best meals we've had in quite some time. I tend to pretty much agree with Devra's reviews, but this Moksa one surprised me quite a bit.

            1. re: mkfisher

              Agree with MK and MC, I've been there twice and was surprised by the Globe review. I enjoyed both times. Some dishes I thought were really great; others were just solid. Agree on cocktails as well. Not a transcendent destination, but definitely a very good restaurant that I'm glad is out there.

          2. Totally underwhelming experience last Saturday - pretty empty at 7p yet we were denied a table and sat at bar. The concrete floor throughout and spartan, harsh lighting are not appealing for a spot with upscale menu ambitions. The comedy club operation in the rear is weird and gives a really cheesy feel to the whole place.

            Noon was there but we had a different, much less experienced but nice enough bartender serving us. We had just come from Brick and Mortar so the bar was admittedly high on drinks, but the menu seems creative and original, and they are definitely premium priced, so high expectations seem reasonable. The special watermelon margarita cocktail was a total mistake - it just didn't taste good. It takes more finesse than they have to pull off habanero vinegar in a cocktail....we stopped the cocktail orders at that point. No one asked if we liked it and it didn't seem worth the effort to complain given the front door treatment / snub we received.

            The food was virtually all oversalted in an extreme way, almost to the point of inedible and leaving us with a hazy, semi-nauseous feeling as the meal ended. The sauce with the otherwise tasty crab rangoon was too mustardy and overwhelming to the generous crab contents. The lauded lamb dish was gloppy and salty with little tiny bits of salty lamb and the aforementioned gummy noodles. The peppers with bonito flakes were clever and the tastiest option of the night but extremely oily. The Berkshire dumplings were too salty and otherwise flavorless.

            It's hard to imagine returning with so many other inviting, more friendly options at lower and similar price points nearby,. Chef Yeo was in the house but apparently not closely monitoring service or seasoning that night. Quite a disappointment. We'll give it some time and keep an eye out for positive posts in the future. Also, there were more empty dining tables when we left than when we arrived - why was it we couldn't be seated, again???

            10 Replies
            1. re: rlh

              wow, i can't remember when i last read so many opposite reviews of a restaurant, and by CHs i admire. whew.
              It seems that the only way to understand what is going on to cause this much variation in food experiences- is to be a fly (hopefully not,though) on the wall in the kitchen. WHO is preparing and expediting this food? The restnt industry is known for being tough on chefs, exhausting and high-stress; their 'health' often suffering as a result. This is what I keep coming back to, as I contemplate possible causes for the inconsistency. Other than that, new, under-trained and undersupervised kitchen staff is another possible scenario...

              I'm dyin' to try it but i am going to wait. (and I'm doing the same thing with Habanero's in Waltham, though i did go there once.)

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                I can't speak to the kitchen staff, but some of the waiters and the bartenders besides Noon all seem quite inexperienced. The other bartenders constantly consult Noon on how to make a drink. I can't imagine what the cocktail program looks like when she's not there. Some of the waiters are also pretty confused. As an example, someon ordered a "Harpoon UFO" and the waitress went over to Noon all confused because she thought "Harpoon" and "UFO" were two mutually exclusive beers. Noon had to explain to her that Harpoon makes a beer called UFO.

                1. re: mkfisher

                  ah, the young and inexperienced waitstaff, without whom we would prob have far fewer restaurants!

                  1. re: mkfisher

                    One would think that anyone who has spent any amount of time in local bars (and presumably that accounts for the majority of local servers) would have known that. Odd.

                  2. re: opinionatedchef

                    I read this Improper Bostonian's review in my dentist's waiting room yesterday.


                    The reviewer not only provided dish by dish slams, but also attempted to explain why. I don't come across food critics like this often, and will look into him/her further.

                    "Moksa claims to serve Asian street food: a fire-hazard style of cuisine prepared with makeshift grills, steaming stockpots or precariously perched woks. From these humble beginnings, plates of marinated meats, bowls of handmade noodles and skewers of indescribable deliciousness emerge. There’s no fuss over presentation, no hand-wringing over beverage pairings and, in many cases, no utensils. The focus is on taste and value. But street food is deceptively simple. There’s a reason most vendors in Southeast Asia sell only one thing, and it’s not just for efficiency’s sake. Specialization yields transcendence, the definition of the Sanskrit word “moksha,” after which Yeo’s restaurant is named. Unfortunately, Moksa aims to do a lot without doing any one thing consistently well."

                    This is a good example of how "authentic" ethnic food can get trashed.

                    1. re: eatntell

                      I found his review to be the most honest and helpful summary of the restaurant. It's inconsistent from dish to dish and visit to visit.

                      I was surprised about his love for the drinks, though. I'm not sure if Noon ever made ones I've had, but none were that good and seemed out of balance, which is common when bartenders don't care to actually measure ingredients. The experience with the food and drinks has made me wonder why Noon and Yeo get a ton of praise. If they are that good, they'd be training their staff to execute their menus at a high level.

                      1. re: DoubleMan

                        I have never met or heard anyone who has known Patricia Yeo, and CH does not condone discussions of a food person's health, but I really wish she would get back her game, the game that brought her fame- that is. I just hate it when an admired chef goes downhill, and esp. a female chef. The world of sexual equality needs all the great consistently successful female chefs possible. If she is a healthy person, then I'm guessing the major problem is bad luck with investors and owners, in which case, I wish she would jump ship, take a step down from Head Honcho, and work her way back to the success of which she is capable.

                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          Her 3rd Boston gig, perhaps she just can't deliver the goods. Was she EVER that good a chef.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            I just haven't seen it. Maybe when she is cooking herself the food is incredible, but when others try to execute the menu, it is all over the place. And that is a sign of a bad chef.

                      2. re: eatntell

                        I really wanted to try this place, until two of my friends that i trust (one a food professional) told me (completely independent of each other) that they had both had appallingly bad meals with atrocious, inattentive service. that was enough to put me off even wanting to go at all.

                  3. I think we just have opposite luck -- if everyone likes a place we get a bad meal. If it seems "meh" then we like it. That's okay, there are plenty more meh places than great so our odds are better.

                    I really liked Moksa. Noon came and chatted for a bit and said they are pleased with the turnout so far. I will return to try one of her cocktails, but I had wine that night. The lamb in the duk was delicious. The neighbor table also strongly recommended the edamame dumplings so I'll try those next time.

                    Really quite pleasantly surprised. Pix below.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: yumyum

                      Glad you liked it, yumyum! Caution: I'd say the edamame dumplings were the one dish I found really boring, too bland. I think I also preferred the shishitos without the bonito flakes.


                      1. re: yumyum

                        Were the noodles overcooked in the version you had? The picture makes them look a bit they are sticky and sticking together.

                        Dave MP

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          Yumyum was my dining companion.

                      2. I was there the other day. I had vegetable dumplings, which were bland and didn't taste that much different than frozen, except for the delicate wrapper. Also the beef shin with hand pulled noodles. The beef was a little tough. Thinly sliced cucumbers added a nice crunch.

                        It was fine, but I wasn't that excited about it.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Pia

                          I and a friend also ate at Moksa and tried a wide variety of dishes as well as the pho and ramen. We were very underwhelmed to say the least.