In many east Asian cultures, the craters and seas of the moon are interpreted as the image of a rabbit. Origin stories of this lunar leporid generally involve a theme of community, respect and self-sacrifice. These allegorical traditions are the inspiration behind a once-a-month dinner served at the Moon Rabbit Cafe, a pay-what-you-can community effort staffed by volunteers at the Reno Buddhist Center.
Dining is done family-style, with long tables of about 12 seats each and a total capacity of 80. We waited for roughly 30 minutes to be seated, and the staff tell me they served a record crowd of over 200 that evening. The aromas coming from the dining room were so enticing we didn’t mind the wait a bit, and the volunteer staff did a bang-up job keeping things friendly and feeling unrushed, all while moving folks through at a decent pace.
Each month a different theme is chosen, often with a guest chef creating the menu. April’s theme was “Ooh La La Paris in the Spring,” featuring some classic French dishes, each with a little twist showcasing the chef’s creativity. First course was a canapé plate of crostini with toasted gruyere, a jam of caramelized onion and rosemary, garnished with fresh chives and chive blossoms. The appearance and flavor was akin to a deconstructed French onion soup, with a nice touch of garden freshness.
There were two entrées to choose from—one vegan, one not—both served with an arugula salad dressed in lemon and fennel seed vinaigrette. By itself, the salad was a star on the plate, the peppery flavor of arugula pairing perfectly with the seasoned, slightly tart dressing. Layered ratatouille filled the vegan role, with green zucchini, yellow squash and roma tomatoes. A thick, pureed sauce made from the vegetable ends, eggplant, red bell pepper, onion, lemon, rosemary, and oil perfectly bound it all together. Definitely one of the most flavorful squash-based dishes I’ve been served.
As if that wasn’t enough, the chef’s take on coq au vin started with chicken thighs marinated in pinot noir, seared in bacon fat, then braised in a blend of wine and housemade veggie stock. Combined with roasted red potatoes and turnips—and carrots sauteed in butter and cardamom—the resulting flavor profile was very well developed, subtle and delicious.
Beverages included ice water, tea, coffee and a spritzer that appeared to be a blend of Concord grape juice and seltzer water. The spritzer didn’t really work for me—reminding me of kiddie coolers my parents used to order for us tykes—but the coffee was quite good, very robust and a perfect pairing with dessert. Provided by a local bakery, dessert was a delicate little lemon and raspberry tartlet served a la mode. It featured a nice balance of tart and sweet, with a single whole raspberry right in the center. A perfect end to a great meal.
I found the pay-what-you-can concept a refreshing idea, allowing folks from all walks of life to enjoy a great meal together. Both while waiting to be seated and during the meal, it was hard not to connect and chat with perfect strangers enjoying the meal and the community vibe together. The next dinner is on May 21, although the theme and chef are yet to be announced. The chef who prepared our delicious meal turns out to be a semi-amateur with a passion for cooking, and Moon Rabbit Cafe is seeking new chefs to create future dinners.