Our Gourmet: A terrific small-plate experience at Moxy

August 02. 2017 12:20AM

106 Penhallow St., Portsmouth; 319-8178; www.moxyrestaurant.com

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.

Cuisine: American tapas.

Pricing: small plates $4-$9; larger plates $7-$13; larger plates $11-$15.

Handicapped access: Two doors and a tight entrance; first-floor easily accessed; upper dining area up one flight of (very sturdy) stairs.

The scores for Moxy
Atmosphere: 17/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 19/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 19/20
TOTAL: 91/100

Modern American tapas at Moxy is beckoning near the Portsmouth waterfront, and answering the call is a most rewarding adventure into dynamic small-plate dining.

We’ve had mixed experiences at tapas eateries, with some plates too small and too expensive for what you receive. If the menu offers traditional appetizers and entrees we often have found ourselves going that route instead.

Not so at Moxy. All of the spirited bistro’s offerings are modeled on the tapas design, and prices are fittingly small-plate appropriate so diners happily order half a dozen or more plates — and come away with a robust and satisfying experience.

The handful of chefs at the first-floor, open-air grill are busy preparing so many dishes. The ground-floor kitchen shares space with a full bar and several tables, and up a flight of stairs is a comfortable balcony dining area with lots of high windows and mirrors and seating for 25-30 people at small tables. Upstairs patrons have a view directly down from above the bar, or out the windows at part of Portsmouth, with a limited water view.

On the menu are all manner of interesting combinations of locally sourced meat, vegetables, seafood, cheese, fruit, beer and wine, and the selections we tried were small masterpieces of delicate, savory, tasty fare. Moxy is not open for lunch, but an evening meal of lunch-type selections is not against the rules.

“Between Bread” offerings include hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, burgers with “moxy-q” sauce, and mini Italian sausages (all $11-$12) — all meant to be shared. The “One Fish, Two Fish” selections are calamari, clams and whitefish ($7-$13), but those are the larger dishes.

We started small with Ricky’s Cucumber Kimchi ($5), an order of Fried Pickle Chips ($5) and a Salad of Baby Arugula ($6). All were remarkable, fresh and creative. The lightly battered and fried pickle chips came with honey mustard and a spicy ranch sauce for dipping, and each of the pickle slices was a thick, two-bite item. The arugula salad had a cider vinaigrette, juicy cherry tomatoes and super-crisp brown molasses croutons. The kimchi (ice cold and delicious) was razor-sliced carrots and cabbage with cucumbers and a sneaky, spicy, thin Korean sauce.

With everyone ordering all kinds of stuff, servers are kept busy at Moxy, especially with dining areas on two separate floors. Different people kept bringing us different things, but our primary server, Alexis, kept everything straight, answered our questions and treated us with comfortable style. All the servers are very attentive to empty plates crowding the small tables and did a fine job making room for the next plate.

Moving adroitly from plate to plate, we held on to the kimchi and welcomed our larger second round. Pan-Seared Local Whitefish ($13) and Misty Knoll Farms Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs (14) were creative dishes with a similar theme — large lettuce leaves and sauce accompanied each dish for creating wraps at the table.

Inside the leaves went the slightly-salty whitefish, nicely seared on the outside, along with locally produced mushrooms and garden squash with a red-wine glaze sauce. A terrific combination, and enough food for four small wraps.

From the “Bigger & Interactive” section of the menu, the boneless chicken thighs were juicy and conveniently half-sliced, with a sauce of creme fraiche and some sliced pickled ginger, cilantro, and a small mound of crispy, tiny onion slices. Again, although tapas sometimes yields too-small portions, this dish lived up to its menu billing and provided plenty of food for about half an entree each, which is what we intended. And the tender, dark-meat chicken was noteworthy on its own, made better by the great presentation and accompaniments.

We also had on hand an order of Crispy Potatoes ($7), which were drizzled with herbed sour cream sauce and served with a nice helping of crushed spicy tomatoes as a sauce. The tomatoes were very well chilled, in contrast and complement to the very hot (temperature) and crispy “patatas Portsmouth.”

But wait, there was more. Our “Land Rovers” choice was Beef Short Rib Marmalade ($9), which featured two small servings of sliced and tender short rib meat on grilled garlic toast with pickled onions and a bit of bleu cheese.

If we were to do it again, the short rib plate was largely an unnecessary choice, and we would not have gone hungry without it. But, my word, it was quite good, and we would definitely at least consider it again, over the top or not. Very tender beef, piled nearly high on the toast, with the onions and flavorings neatly packaged above and below. Through two slices with the knife, each serving held together extremely well while putting the fork to it. It might have been a bit extra, but we did not leave a morsel.

Desserts ($6-$8) include Blueberry Pockets, Fried Dough and Trio of New England Brulees (Indian, black currant and Boston creme), but we went with the Whoopie Pie Sliders, which were three miniature (three-bite each) chocolate and creme cookies with a small tub of chocolate dipping sauce. Indeed, a good ending.

All together, the food portion of our dinner came to $67, not including tax and tip, a very pleasing value in a city where dining can be costly.

Moxy is a happy, somewhat boisterous place. Upstairs, the tables are close together, making for a neighborly experience. We liked that, and the fast-moving service and many plates at table made for fun dining.

We’d return to Moxy in a minute, whenever we’re near the Portsmouth waterfront.

Our GourmetPortsmouth

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