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Restaurants & Bars 3

La Moone -- Long Review

bmarea | May 19, 200307:32 PM

I have been a passive chowhounder up to this point, reading but not writing. After searching for a review of La Moone (Pan-Asian spot in the Castro) and finding only brief mention of the place, I decided to add the recent experience of a group of dedicated eaters to the pot. Apologies for the length of this review-- but to sum up the evening, if you try La Moone, go with a friend who has been before (online menu is outdated). It’s a pleasant, relaxed place with good drinks and a number of tasty items on the menu. If you order well it’s possible to walk away pleased, but especially with the mid-range prices, order wrong and you might feel burned.

At 7 o’clock on Saturday night, our group of four had the place to ourselves for half an hour, to admire the décor and enjoy the special cocktail for the evening—a very nice sake sangria, spicy (but not too) with cinnamon and ginger, and sweet (but not too) with crisp diced fuji apples. Efforts made for style cost in comfort, the wide square stools that served as chairs were unwieldy, and the low heavy hibachi tables were so large that conversation required leaning in over the table to hear people on the other side (between the two my posture was shot). Service was pleasant, though some warning on dishes to avoid would’ve been welcomed.

First up were the “Vietnamese style” Kalua pork rice paper rolls, probably my favorite part of the meal. Along with the usual fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, mango, etc. the two large rolls came stuffed plump with flavorful and moist shredded pork. Served alongside was a spicy hoisin sauce and a kind of odd chile/nuoc cham “vinaigrette” that actually went well with the flavors of the pork. I could have easily made a meal on these. Next was the Tombo Tuna Poki, cubes of sashimi in a light sesame/cilantro dressing with shredded daikon and fried wonton wrappers to eat it with. The flavors and the fish were fine, but the fried wontons (which showed up again later with the tacos) were a distraction. Texture junkies I suppose might appreciate the crunch. I forgot my complaints with the arrival of the chicken karaage, hot, light, juicy, just right. My well-traveled friends said it was as good as the latenight hole in the wall places in Tokyo, minus the cigarette smoke. So good that we ordered another round.

The first real let-down was the tasty sounding steamed duck shu mai, which were unpleasantly mushy and strangely tasteless. The shu mai equivalent of bad English sausage. The next let-down was the eggplant, not overcooked but also flavorless, and awkwardly pared with raw diced tomatoes. We did, however, fight over the tender pea sprouts served alongside. These can be ordered separately as a side and this is probably the way to go. We rebounded with the seven-spice spareribs that followed—meaty, tender, and well-seasoned. The rib standards at my table have been set impossibly high by a friend from Georgia who marinates, smokes, and bbqs his ribs over a two day process, so it is significant that La Moone’s scored so well with us on flavor.

Next came the special of the evening, lobster dumplings in a shellfish cream. I didn’t even finish mine—they were overcooked and actually tasted as if they’d been frozen. Again the lobster stuffing had almost no flavor and the dumpling wrappers (which were black—squid ink?) were gummy. The sauce added little.

Mercifully we ended on a good note, distracted again by the Hawaiian style short rib tacos. (Which we had to reorder because they’d been forgotten the first time) The meat was slightly sweet, succulent and tender. My only complaint was the fried wonton wrappers that reemerged here as taco shells. I ate the wonderful meat on its own. Although light, crispy, and obviously fried hot enough, the wrapper itself was so bland that the only flavor it imparted was a hint of grease. They didn’t seem to bother anyone else though.

Dessert, like the meal, was hit and miss. The caramelized banana split was nice, the banana coated with a pleasant caramel crunch, the mango and raspberry sorbets refreshing and flavorful. The rum espresso chocolate cake with the “molten” center disappointed, the confusing jumble of flavors in the cake tasted more like 5-spice and much of it had the mealy consistency of warm paste. The caramelized fuji apples that came on the side were the best part.

Overall, I’d go back to La Moone for the Kalua pork spring rolls and karaage alone, some of the other dishes make a nice diversion, but I’ll stick with the meats and avoid the dumplings.

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