The picturesque waterfront on Leschi’s Lakeside Avenue is the perfect location for Meet the Moon(120 Lakeside Ave., 707-9730, meetthemooncafe.com), a restaurant as happy and handsome as its surroundings.
As I walked up to the restaurant on an unseasonably warm March evening, I found the garage door that fronts it wide open. Every table at this latest offering from the Heavy Restaurant Group (Barrio, Purple Cafe and Wine Bar) was full—with couples, families, friends—and the bar immediately drew me in.
Given that the bartender is Michael Cadden of Tavern Law fame, it’s only fitting that the libation station has some verve. Amber lightbulbs hang above the large bar, with high exposed shelves that house hundreds of bottles of liquor, capturing their whiskey golds and chartreuse greens. The weathered gray wood paneling on the walls and roughhewn plank floors manage to convey an atmosphere both rustic and sophisticated, while one wall of mismatched mirrors and another with a variety of gold antique plates add just enough visual pop. My favorite design element of all, though, are the modern sconces—essentially gray and black ombre lightbulbs jutting out from the walls.
The food is deeply satisfying as well, starting with a roasted cauliflower appetizer (further evidence that cauliflower is the new kale) that comes as an entrée-sized portion in a golden-raisin gastrique bath with strewed dollops of rich lemon yogurt, almonds, and pickled golden raisins. The choice to make a gastrique out of raisins was inspired, unlike anything I’ve seen on a plate in this city. Likewise, the albacore tuna poke starter stands up to the highest sushi-restaurant standards; the pliant squares of tuna are bracingly fresh and accented by an accomplished balance of serrano pepper, green onion, sesame seed, ginger, and the subtlest soy dressing. A minor complaint: the pieces of avocado, though beautifully ripe, are of equal proportion to the tuna and weigh the nearly perfect dish down some. I’d prefer half the amount of avocado. Still, anyone who has grown frustrated with lackluster raw-tuna preparations will be pleasantly surprised at how good it really can be when the ingredients are stellar and seasoned well.
Entrées continue in the same vein. The trout frites renewed my faith in chefs who can prepare a whole fish simply but perfectly. From the light gold crust to a flaky white skin that respected the integrity of the fish’s delicate flavor, it was so good on its own that I left the heaping side of fries (rather soggy, unfortunately) alone.
The steak and onions are less successful. The grilled skirt steak, served in medium-rare slices, lacks seasoning, though once I dunked a piece into the slightly chunky, sublime blue-cheese aioli I understood the logic. The dish could easily do without the rather slimy mess of caramelized onions and mushrooms; the onion rings that also come with it are more than enough, and some of the best I’ve had. Though battered in beer, their exteriors have a pleasantly dry heft, and the smaller size makes them actually easy to eat. No onion slipping out of its fried shell before making it to your mouth here.
Curried lentil hash, made up primarily of roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes, gets a blast of flavor from roasted fennel, red pepper, and coconut milk, while the curried lentils act as a sort of gravy. The requisite fried eggs finish it, and a side of arugula helps lighten the load. It’s a huge portion (all the portions, in fact, are quite big), and our server, after commenting on how much food we’d ordered, helpfully asked if she might try to request a half-portion of the hash (even though only one size is offered on the menu). Fortunately for us, the kitchen agreed, as we were bordering on bursting. Side note: I love when servers find unique ways to enhance your dining experience, particularly when it cuts down on your bill.
Were we seriously going to consider dessert after this profuse pageantry? Of course. The strawberry rhubarb crisp has but a handful of crumble and is sweetened very judiciously, allowing the full character of rhubarb to dominate. As a lover of all things sour, I thought it was marvelous, though the cream on top might be sugared up a bit.
The only thing left on the menu after that is a stroll along the dock or in woodsy Leschi Park. Though after a meal at Meet the Moon, you’ll forget it’s the scenery you came for in the first place.