Through a glass, darkly
Moxie2028 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Talking to people in Sacramento, I’ve sometimes felt like the restaurant-going public divides into two unequal groups: those who love Moxie with a cultish passion and those who’ve never been. Tucked away on H Street off Midtown’s beaten track, the place has a little-restaurant-that-could feel about it, with plenty of hearty, relatively simple food on offer. Most of it, however, isn’t on the short menu. There’s a lengthy list of specials reeled off by the server, such as lamb tenderloin, short ribs, Chilean sea bass, pork tenderloin and much more. SN&R has visited Moxie before, but times (and owners) have changed, so a second look seemed in order.
The restaurant’s vibe is homey with an edge, and with a welcoming air that makes it easy to see why the place inspires fierce loyalties. That’s about all that’s easy to see in the barely lit space, though. The tables sport those weird little lamps that have a mysterious power of casting no actual light. Lots of mirrors do little to increase the glow, but they do contribute to a peculiar ’80s feel to the décor, as do what appeared to be marbled walls. All I can say is that I hope nobody expects this review to comment on the color of the food.
The service has an affably abrasive feel that fits well with the restaurant’s name. And, in a town increasingly packed with big and splashy restaurant ventures that seem to wish they were in San Francisco, it’s refreshingly free of any snobbery. A request from an apparent regular at a table near ours for bigger wineglasses for their red (Moxie serves its wines in those hotel-style one-size-fits-all glasses) met with the bantering reply, “Hey, you’re lucky you didn’t get it in a jelly jar,” provoking laughter and bonhomie all round. Seriously, though, those glasses aren’t doing any favors for the appealing and reasonably priced wine list, from which everything is available by the glass.
Offering all the wines by the glass reflects the same kind of flexible, eager-to-please quality that Moxie applies to its menu. The bottom of the menu notes: “At Moxie you get what you want. If it’s in the building (or close by) we will prepare it.” I’ve heard tales of the chef running out to the grocery store, but I wasn’t inclined to test that out. Instead, we contented ourselves with a couple of selections from the printed menu and some from the verbal one.
For an appetizer, our server highly recommended the crab cakes, which he said were packed with fresh crab. Indeed, they were packed, but they lacked the fresh flavor and delicate texture you might expect. Instead, they were disappointingly leaden and ultra-dense throughout, with a crust that was tired rather than crisp. The Caesar salad, which we split, was better, with a thick, zesty dressing (though it was unevenly distributed; some leaves were barely dressed, while others bore huge blobs) and paprika-imbued croutons.
The same guy who asked for a bigger wineglass—a loud partisan of the restaurant despite his quibble—strongly recommended the lamb tenderloin as an entree to both the members of his party and to another nearby table. “You’ve never had lamb like this,” he said to them. “If you don’t like it, I’ll buy it for you!” We had already ordered by the time we heard his offer, but the off-the-bone short ribs I had were very nice, as tender as promised, with a savory glaze and a melting, gelatinous quality in the connective tissue that showed they had been carefully slow-cooked.
The dish was vertically garnished. This Moxie trademark is somewhat lost in the dark dining room, but I could make out an elaborate curlicue of a long, crisp-fried noodle stuck jauntily in the mashed potatoes. The potatoes, I must say, needed no elaboration: They were very tasty, mildly tangy with sour cream and with a pungent hint of horseradish. Crisp green beans and (I think) some red cabbage were equally nice accompaniments to the short ribs, unlike some thick, unpeeled and barely cooked slices of carrot that were also on the plate.
No fancy garnish appeared on the unadorned, enormous pile of jambalaya my husband ordered from the printed menu. The server predicted he wouldn’t finish it and was right: It was a huge pile of rice and various meats, including deliciously hot andouille sausage and slightly dry chunks of chicken. The spicing of the rice was unusual, as was using what seemed to be aromatic basmati rice.
Desserts all are fairly basic, and nothing stood out as an imaginative must-try. We split a piece of old-school chocolate-mousse cake with raspberry sauce, which the crumbly, dry cake made rather ho-hum. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. It offered plenty of chocolate and plainly aimed to please, but, as with Moxie itself, flaws in the execution and a certain dated feel about the concept left me feeling ambivalent.