You know that cute little place around the corner? That neighborhood bistro where everyone knows your face, if not your name, and you have a favorite server, and a favorite table? Where the food might not be life-changing, but is consistently executed and delicious and never gets boring?
Until a couple of weeks ago, my neighborhood didn't have that place. But then, two lovely people with long histories in the San Francisco restaurant world decided to start their own dream place -- close to home. And so, MoNo (say "moe-no") was born.
Having now had three meals here, I can honestly say that MoNo is going to make it that much easier for me to stay in Oakland for dinner.
Standouts from the menu have included the Dayboat Scallop Crudo ($13), Asparagus with Prosciutto, Parmigiano, and a fried egg ($9), and the Meyer Lemon Risotto ($18). The risotto, while not overtly lemony, bears a sublimely floral fragrance, and is beautifully cooked -- just this side of al dente -- with several plump, juicy, caramelized prawns.
The Red Miso Grilled Lamb Chops ($21) had stellar flavor, though I wished there were two thicker chops rather than the four thinner chops on my plate; they were cooked a bit more than the medium rare I'd specified, and that's not uncommon with thin chops. Served with amazingly prepared baby bok choy, and tender spears of garnet yams, this is an already-great dish that will only benefit from a bit of fine-tuning in the kitchen.
Lunch portions are generous and reasonably priced: my Seared Tuna sandwich ($10) was big enough to share, and accompanied by a small green salad. (Admittedly, I thought the vinaigrette on the salad too acidic and under-salted. But I wasn't there for salad, so I just ignored it.)
Ms. Eggbeater herself has been consulting on the pastry menu, though I understanding she's just about winding down her gig there. Hopefully, the kitchen will be able to reproduce her Spicy Gingerbread ($6), because my GOD, it's incredible.
The wine list at MoNo is outrageous, giving them lots of credibility as a wine bar. From a section dedicated to artisanal sakes (including a sparkling sake!) to a selection of 15 wines available by the half-bottle, they make it very easy to try something new at each visit. The staff, as green as they are, do a nice job talking about the list, and rumor has it that there will be a sommelier on the floor on weekend nights.
MoNo is a wee little place (maybe 30 seats plus bar seating) and I can see it going the route of Wood Tavern pretty quickly -- packed to the gills every night with locals and regulars. Here's hoping!
MoNo Restaurant and Wine Bar
247 4th Street, Oakland