Sometimes, when all is said and done, you just want your dinner. After all the fusion this and deconstructed that and pop-up dining and shared plates (sorry, share-concept menus) that, no matter how many of them you order, leave you feeling both hungry and bilious with the resentment about how someone else nicked the last prawn because you said it was all right when really it wasn't: sometimes you just want your dinner and you want someone else to cook it.
That's what they do at Moxie, which has taken over the handsomely repurposed villa that was for so long home to the reliably unreliable Eight . Two (surely the second-most irritating restaurant name in the city after White & Wong's). It's old-fashioned, then, and mostly in a good way. The pastel pink colour scheme is a bit 80s and reminded me that I once had a grey shirt and a pink tie (or maybe the other way round), which I didn't really want reminding of. But they do this really strange thing with the food.
The menu has three parts. The idea is that you order something from each part and they bring the dishes out (waiting for you to finish the first before they bring the second, and so on) and put them on the table in front of you and you eat them.
What is more, they synchronise this operation with such precision that the dishes of anyone you are dining with come at exactly the same time as yours (it wasn't just us; I checked and it was happening on other tables, too).
I think it's probably okay to say, "Oh, that looks nice," to your dining companion and even ask if you can have a taste if you're on close terms. But, in essence, you get to eat what you order, unmolested and alone. You can talk to your dining companions without feeling under the slightest obligation to feed them. I'm picking this could catch on.
Co-owners and chefs Bradman Harris and James Bratton, who led the kitchen team at the upscale catering company Urban Gourmet, begin the menu with fries, which may seem odd until you realise that a) they're intended as drinker-friendly snacks and b) they taste bloody amazing. I ordered some as a side dish with my main course (there weren't any side dishes listed, which is a problem, I think, because there's not much by way of veges on your main-course plate).
Anyway, those fries: they're perfect, crisp-jacketed, with centres as puffy as marshmallow, topped with mayo (they call it aioli, but I'm calling it mayo), on which was dumped a pile of furikake, that Japanese seasoning of fish flakes and seaweed that makes ordinary food extraordinary. We couldn't eat them all but I ate enough, out of professional duty, to report they are as good as it gets.
The food at Moxie is solid and assured in technique, and the mains offer the beef/lamb/pork/fish/pasta choices that a neighbourhood restaurant should. But the whole menu deploys imaginative touches: tuna gets paired with Middle Eastern za'atar; terrine comes with pumpernickel soldiers; pork loin with roasted apricot, not apple.
An entree of salmon infused a menu cliche with new life by doing it escabeche-style, seared and then marinated in vinegar. I'm not sure a puree of eggplant and avocado entirely worked with it - if nothing else, it had the grey-green cast of toxic sludge - and when the waitress said the dish would be warm, I think the word she was looking for was "cold".
Another entree, which paired pork belly with quail and mushroom, was perfect for the nasty evening (last week's rain had just started) and the Professor's main (truffle ravioli with a delicate mushroom consomme) was just wonderful, although it highlighted the need for a pepper grinder on each table.
My own main was less successful: the pork loin had been either smoked or rolled in ash before being roasted, and the smoky taste was so predominant that it should have been mentioned on the menu. It was also roasted well past the point of being juicy.
But they saved the best until last: little doughnuts filled with blue cheese were improbable but sensational: truffle icecream, honey and walnuts completed the best dessert I've eaten this year. It was a superb finish to a good meal at a place that deserves plenty of local custom and, on the Shore, those are hard to find.
Entrees $18-$22; mains $32-$36; desserts $15.