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Moxie Finally Living Up To Its Name

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Aug 11, 2005 5:53PM

When Chicagoist heard that Moxie, the Wrigleyville restaurant previously noted more for its garage door facade and dark décor than its food, was re-opening, we shrugged. A friend of Chicagoist succintly worded it in an e-mail exchange last week, “Does Wrigleyville really need another tapas restaurant?”

An argument could be made to that effect. Sometimes it seems that there are more places to dine along Clark Street than there are baseball fans. More to the point, what the immediate area around Wrigley Field doesn’t need is another concession to lowest common denominator dining: that ubiquitous pub that burns a half-pound of Black Angus beef beyond recognition, smothers it in bleu cheese or gorgonzola, and sells the whole mess to its customers for $9.50. In short, what Wrigleyville doesn’t need is another Hi-Tops. Or Sports Corner. Or Murphy’s Bleachers. Or Yak-Zie's. Or Bar Louie. We could continue ad nauseum.

Apparently Moxie owner Chris Lefferdink agreed. Although his Executive Chef Chris Swan developed an inspired menu the food tended to get lost in the restaurant’s dark lounge décor. “What I like about tapas is that it encourages social interaction,” Lefferdink said. “I’ve had too many meals served in the traditional way- soup/salad, entrée, dessert- where you spend five minutes talking and twenty minutes eating.” So Lefferdink hired Knauer Incorporated, the firm that also designed Gibson’s, Tavern on Rush, and Monsoon, to give the interior a complete overhaul. The garage door and meet market vibe are gone. In their places are spacious seating, front and back patios, warm wood tones and lighting, and a curved ceiling that highlights the centerpiece of the bar- a round elevated table that allows diners sitting there an up-close-and-personal view of Swan and his line cooks hard at work in the kitchen.

Despite Lefferdink’s mantra that dining should be a social experience that theory only goes so far if the food doesn't match the atmosphere. Chicagoist has had too many dining experiences where the food was so bad that we spent our time eating quoting Ralph Wiggum with every bite- "it tastes like... burning" and "this food tastes like grandma" are personal favorites.

So how is the food at Moxie? You think we’re gonna tell you before the jump?

Hah! Read on.

Moxie describes its menu as “contemporary European-inspired tapas.” Realistically speaking the only tapas-inspired part of the menu is in the presentation: small plates; small dishes; an emphasis on sharing and sampling. Swan, a veteran of Café Selmarie, has built an eclectic menu full of inspired foods that pair rich, sweet flavors with savory, smoky spices.

The dishes Chicagoist sampled included the Kahlua mashed sweet potatoes. Topped with whipped honey-ancho butter, the potatoes were a major hit among diners at last Friday's re-opening. The bleu cheese Portobello mushroom appetizer is marinated in balsamic vinegar and oil, baked, then paired on the plate with a roasted shallot and cream sauce that pairs with the bleu cheese masterfully.

Moxie’s white bean hummus- a combination of white beans, roasted garlic, and chipotles, has an astounding amount of character. It’s served with flatbread wedges dusted in chile powder for a spicy alternative to traditional hummus. Topping our meal was the chicken satay. Marinated in chile and served with a red curry peanut sauce and tamarind-honey glaze the result is a savory alternative to traditional satay.

Moxie also has an extensive bar specializing in martinis and three flavors of sangria. For us beer drinkers they carry an extensive selection of craft beers and imports. A bottle of Leffe Belgian ale cooled our palate between bites of the hummus while an orange cocktail (mixed with Bacardi O and raspberry liqueur) was the perfect drink to stoke our appetite.

With its new interior design Moxie looks to place itself with longtime Wrigleyville mainstays Pepper Lounge and Tuscany on Clark as alternatives to the sports pub atmosphere around Wrigley Field. Now that the food isn’t getting lost in the shuffle it looks to be well on its way. Moxie is located at 3517 N. Clark Street and the phone number is 773-935-6694. Reservations are accepted.