Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dish on Dining: Mua

New Club Vibe on Auto Row
2442A Webster St. (near Broadway), Oakland
Uptown neighborhood
PH: 510.238.1100
Open Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to late; Sat. and Sun., 5 p.m. to late
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

With the current economy putting pressure on car dealerships, the landscape along Oakland’s Auto Row on Broadway is sure to change as a few showrooms are emptying out. If you’re feeling the effects of the downturn, maybe you should drown your sorrows with a drink at Mua, a new restaurant and club built in what looks like a former mechanic’s garage.

Opened in mid-October, this huge warehouse-like space is becoming the latest hotspot in an area that has only been home to Luka’s Taproom for years. Paired with the recent opening of Ozumo, there are more places for night revelers visiting the nearby Paramount Theatre or traipsing through the art studios during the First Friday Art Walks.

My initial taste of Mua was for lunch, because I really wanted to check out the food first. So last week I met my friend Valerie and we entered the nearly empty dining space. The fact that the space is so huge just accentuates the small crowd. (Mua only started offering lunch recently, so it still hasn’t caught on as a lunch spot.)

The spot is a mix of eclectic street art with Asian touches, and that’s also reflected in the limited menu, which has a lot of basic comfort food like hamburgers and fish mixed in with Asian touches like Korean kim chee.

Valerie and I started by sharing the Endive Salad ($7), which came beautiful tossed with fennel, radicchio, almond slices and persimmons. A few specks of pomegranate seeds finished off the festive-looking dish.

The salad was light and crunchy, a really bright and cheery start to lunch. I really enjoyed the persimmon slices, which seem to have cured in the light dressing so that it was soft and smooth and not at all mealy the way persimmons can sometimes be.

For our entrees, Valerie got the special sandwich of the day made with pulled pork and served with French fries ($10). The meat was very tender and the bun was nicely toasted, but it lacked any strong flavors. It was more texture than taste.

The same could be said about my Lamb Tagine ($16), which came in this beautiful blue-glazed bowl. The tender chunks of lamb meat sat on a bed of couscous. While very tender, it lacked any distinctive flavor. Only near the end did I get a slight lamb taste, but there were no spices to conjure up the sense of Morocco, which is often associated with the tagine. (The tagine is a cooking vehicle that looks almost like a pot with a huge teepee-like lid, and it’s often used in North Africa to braise meats.)

A few days later, I returned to Mua to check out the Friday night scene with my friend Joe. The bar was crowded with a mix of people who were drinking and watching the flat screens. The dining area wasn’t very crowded, but then again it was after 10 p.m. and it really is a huge space.

I started with one of their specialty drinks. It was a lemonade ($10) made with yuzu-infused vodka and grapefruit juice. It was pretty but nothing special. Joe skipped the drinks because he ordered from the dessert menu the Adult Float ($7) made with double chocolate stout and a scoop of caramel ice cream. It was an interesting idea to use beer to make a float, but I wasn’t sure if the flavors of the ice cream and the stout really complemented each other. Both tasted fine by itself (Joe really enjoyed the caramel ice cream), but together it seemed an odd pairing.

I also ordered the Lamb Cheeks ($9) off the dinner menu, which was pretty much identical to lunch. The lamb cheeks were tender but—again—lacked any major flavors. It wasn’t bland, but it wasn’t tantalizing in my mouth. It’s like it just sat there wondering what to do (not that lamb cheeks really do much).

During my lunch with Valerie, the waitress we had was very friendly and helpful. I really thought she was great. But at the bar, the bartenders were perfunctory, talking to you only to get your order and nothing more. That seemed odd for a bar when you expect people to chat, especially a new place that needs some talking up. Several times a bartender worked right in front of me creating drinks and not once did he look up at me to smile or ask how I was doing. It really made the space seem cold, just like the vast warehouse environment.

Mua seems like a welcomed addition for the neighborhood, creating more of a night life for Oakland. The vibe and space are very attractive and engaging. But the food falls short, delivering in presentation but lacking in flavor. If the chef can add more complex flavors (or really any flavor) to his dishes, then the food will live up to the overall club vibe.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Funky but Flavorless)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Mua on Urbanspoon


Passionate Eater said...

You know, I actually don't like the meaty, gamey flavor of lamb, so I think I might actually like those flavorless lamb dishes! But as for the disinterested servers, I probably wouldn't be too interested in those.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the stout/ice cream combo on menus before. I think the idea is the malt and chocolately flavors of the beer are to complement the ice cream like a malt shake.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of stout with caramel ice cream! It's cool to hear of another spot opening up in that part of town too. Funny thing, I ordered lamb earlier in the week that was so gamey it just about kicked my butt!

David K. and Ann C.-K. said...

That's too bad you didn't like the food -- the photos make it look pretty good. Always looking for great new restaurants in Oakland. Speaking of, have you tried Camino yet? It's excellent.

Ammie said...

I've been underwhelmed by Mua's cocktails (it's hard to compete with Flora down the street), but I think their bar nibbles are well done. The mac and cheese is great on a cold day! Will have to check out their full menu one of these days.