CHELMSFORD -- International flags line peek out of the grass in front of Moonstones, a nod to the restaurant's eclectic menu.
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"We have a little bit of everything," said Tiffany Natinsky, executive sous chef.
Seating for guests is as varied as the menu offerings at Moonstones. Ten chairs are set at the eatery's raw bar, where guests can watch kitchen staffers shuck local oysters, including the Moonstones Special Oyster, topped with a pickled cucumber pearl and lime sorbet -- an appetizer that boasts salty, savory, sweet and sour flavors.
"With the chill of the sorbet and the pop of the cucumber pearl, it's an intense textural experience, Natinsky said. Raw bar diners may also watch the preparation of another Moonstones favorite, Tuna Tataki, which is served on a block of Himalayan Pink Salt, and topped with a wasabi-soy drizzle and seaweed salad.
The Chef's Table, a long rustic wooden table that can seat up to eight under a glass chandelier, sits near the raw bar and the main dining area. For a more intimate dining experience, guests at the Chef's Table can close the gold mosquito netting surrounding the small room. Chef's Table diners may order off the regular Moonstones menu or, for an additional fee, opt to have a chef-guided dinner paired with wine.
Natinsky rolled back a sliding wooden door to reveal the restaurant's main dining area, a carpeted space filled with plush pillows atop wide armchairs.
"We're all about comfort here," Natinsky said. "And as far as dining rooms go, it's so quiet in here you can maintain a conversation."
The lounge area of Moonstones gives off a trendy vibe complete with sleek white booths, dim lighting and large silver "moons" hanging over the bar. Guests sit on the banquettes sipping on such popular libations as Moonshine (a secret in-house made still), and the Asian Pear Martini (ozeki sake, pear liquor, fresh pear and lemon juices). The Moonbar also runs a Happy Hour on weekdays, from 3 to 5 p.m., and offers small plates (barbecue chips, fried buffalo calamari, white truffle parmesan fries) for only $5.
Moonstones made tapas its entire focus when it opened on Route 110 four years ago, but has since expanded its menu as it was a still a new concept for the area at the time.
Tapas, or small plates, gives guests an opportunity to try more than one dish rather than commit to only one meal, said Peggy McFarland, Moonstones general manager. At most restaurants, she noted, dishes meant for sharing are usually fried and don't often veer from standard bar fare.
"Here we have fresh, local, fun, and exotic flavors," she said. The restaurant stays true to its commitment to serving local food by updating its menu twice annually to reflect what is in season.
The eatery is gearing up to add its famed Bolognese, made with tagliatelle noodles imported from Italy, back to its menu for the winter, Natinsky said.
"It's made the right way," Natinsky said. "There are certain steps involved, and a lot of love goes in it."
Natinsky, who has been working in kitchens for 16 years, attributes the success and quality of the Moonstones' menu to the restaurant's executive chef, Robert Jean.
"It's his inspiration, most of the ideas are his," she said. "And frankly, I think he's a culinary genius."
185 Chelmsford St., Chelmsford, 978-256-7777, www.moonstones110.com
- Hours: Mon.-Wed., 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (brunch, complete with a Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar), and 4-9 p.m. (dinner).
- Parking: Has a large lot that is somewhat shared with the Best Western Hotel next door.
- Reservations: Accepted. Can't get a reservation? Try their sister restaurant, Cobblestones in Lowell.
- Menu: Internationally inspired tapas
- Price range: The cost of tapas ranges from $6-12, and entrees from $17-48.
- Atmosphere: Cozy and hip.
- Try this: Korean-Style Pork Belly, Baby Beets (served with goat cheese and mint oil), Tuna Tataki, Smoked Pork Chop (served with marscapone polenta, topped with spiced apple chutney), Filet Mignon (served with whipped potatoes, pearl onions, mushrooms, and finished with a red wine demi glace), and Wild Mushroom Risotto (topped with oxtail ragout and truffle butter).
- Brunch favorites: Eggs Benedict, Challah French Toast, Croque Madame, Red Velvet Pancakes (topped with whipped marscapone and Vermony maple syrup).
Read and see more at www.blogs.lowellsun.com/diningdiva/.