September's Can't-Miss Dish

Unicorn Oysters with Rhubarb Granita at Moëca
Credit: Chris McIntosh
By Ellen Bhang · 09/06/2022

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it. 


Unicorn Oysters with Rhubarb and Lime Granita


On the plate: Unicorn Oysters with Rhubarb and Lime Granita  

Where to find it: For years, chef Michael Pagliarini and wife Pamela Ralston talked about opening a seafood spot in the same Cambridge neighborhood as their beloved trattoria, Giulia. But it took the unexpected closure last spring of their Harvard Square restaurant, Benedetto, for the couple to even consider dusting off the concept of a coastal-inspired venue. What prompted them to revisit the idea was a restaurant space around the corner from Giulia  becoming available. “Benedetto brought so many wonderful, talented restaurant people into our lives, and we were not ready to break up this team yet,” Pagliarini explains. The opportunity to do something new at 1 Shepard St. “became a rallying point for us.”

And rally they did. Fast forward a year, and Moëca—named for a feisty Venetian crab—is now open for your dining pleasure. Some dishes are decidedly not-Italian, but as Giulia fans would expect, this team is leaning into relationships with local farmers and small purveyors of responsibly sourced seafood.

Moëca’s debut marks one of the strongest restaurant openings in recent memory, with every dish deftly executed right out of the gate. The azure-blue exterior, plus a bar and dining area accented by custom woodwork, provide a buoyant setting for tantalizing crudo, whole roasted fish, and global dishes including striped bass Aguachile with chicharron-like crisps. Enticing cocktails and pitch-perfect desserts round out the experience at this summer’s most anticipated new restaurant. 

Notes on the nosh: If you first spied Unicorn Oysters with Rhubarb and Lime Granita on social media—bivalves topped with a Disney Princess-pink condiment—you could be forgiven for dismissing the dish as Instagram clickbait. But the raw bar offering comes with serious bona fides. Pagliarini talks glowingly about Unicorn Oyster, a farm co-owned by Chris Burns and Austin Watroba, situated on Maine’s Damariscotta River. “It takes a lot of labor to rake the oysters, turn them, and keep them growing properly—and, to deliver oysters that have a good length, and also a deep cup,” he says. The chef raves about the oysters’ salinity, seaweed flavors, and just-right texture. “They’re plump, but with a little crispness to them,” he says. “Just the perfect little bite.”

The granita that tops the pristine shellfish is equally artisanal. Rhubarb, harvested at Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth, gives the icy condiment such brilliant color. For decades, Eva Sommaripa’s farm has been an indispensable source for chefs seeking organically grown herbs and greens. Moëca’s kitchen team juices that rhubarb, as well as limes, and combines the tart, fragrant liquid with sugar and two kinds of vinegar. A whirl in an ice cream machine is the key to turning out a garnish that’s a world away from the pebbly granita you might have encountered elsewhere. Moëca’s version is superior. Think of it as an agrodolce shave ice. 

Sip alongside: A white wine from Thymiopoulos Vineyards, called ATMA White, is stunning with just about everything on the menu. It hails from northern Greece, and is, in large part, a  blanc de noir—a rich style of white wine made from the juice of dark-skinned grapes. An essential step involves gently pressing grapes (in this case, the variety xinomavro) then immediately separating the clear juice from the pigment-rich skins. Full of vibrant stone fruit flavors, lemon pith, and herbal notes, this Greek glass pour feels perfectly at home at Moëca—as will you. 

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