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Moëca Review: Cambridge’s New Seafood Institution

By Asha M. Khurana, Contributing Writer

With parents’ weekend fast approaching, there is one piece of advice that Harvard students may want to follow: If your parents offer to take you out to dinner, ask them to take you to Moëca.

Michael Pagliarini and Pam Ralston opened Moëca in summer of 2022 as a sister restaurant to the ever-popular Giulia, beloved for their upscale, seasonally-changing pasta menu, and the restaurant has attracted the attention of diners and critics alike. This past month, Bon Appétit Magazine included Moëca on their list of the 24 Best New Restaurants of 2023. The ensuing boost in popularity might make it tough to snag a reservation, but any diner will feel right at home at their gorgeous bar seating.

Moëca offers a star-studded selection of small sharing plates along with larger feature dishes. The raw selections were sublime — plump oysters were brilliantly paired with a zesty tomato granita, and the tuna n’duja added funky calabrian chilis to the typical spicy-tuna flavor profile. The waitress’s recommendation was spectacular, a testament to Moëca’s knowledgeable servers: impossibly fresh yellowfin tuna topped with ribbons of cucumber and peanuts for a crunchy yet tender textural experience. In each of these dishes, the delicate nature of raw fish was clearly considered. With the exception of an overly heavy-handed splash of olive oil on the tuna n’duja, the accompanying flavors were gentle enough to let the raw selections shine while still packing a delicious punch.

The scallop dishes were similarly spectacular. A Greek-inspired smoked scallop ‘taramasalata’ evoked the comforting taste of a classic bagel and lox, in an understated yet texturally unique combination of flavors. The Cape Cod scallop, presented beautifully in its shell, was perfectly seared and wonderfully tender. While the caviar garnish was perhaps superfluous, the scallop itself clearly held its own despite the overwhelming number of accoutrements.

Moëca also demonstrated exceptional command over warmer, homier flavor profiles. The corn-forward flavor of the semolina gnocchi married the natural umami of the tomatoes with — another — scallop topping. The chickpea pancake was the unexpected sensation of the night: Pillowy chickpea batter stuffed with tender leeks was fried without remorse, leading to a smoky, oniony flavor that paired perfectly with the intensity of the savory anchovy jam.

Moëca is still coming into its own as a restaurant. The decor certainly feels fresh and hip, with moody lighting and candlelight to boot, but marble tabletops and blank walls lend themselves to an ambiance that can feel a bit too sterile. As the restaurant gets more comfortable with their menu, curating a cozier atmosphere for diners is next on the horizon. Over the coming months, Moëca is bound to become an institution for any occasion. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the food.

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