It took more than a year for Bener Bilgin,
the owner of My Moon in Williamsburg, to gut the boiler room
of an old factory and transform the neglected space into the
performance venue and eatery he envisioned.
His hard work created a showplace with a towering ceiling, arched brick walls and huge banquettes cleverly fashioned from the former plant’s water tanks.
Above the long bar hovers a sculpture that resembles Emma Thompson descending from the heavens in Tony Kushner’s "Angels in America." Like so many places in the neighborhood, the walls serve as a gallery space for local artists. When I visited, an exhibition of paintings, strongly influenced by Picasso’s early works, hung about the room. (A new display goes up every six weeks.)
After a "Pomelitan" (Absolut citron and fruit juices), the dark, multi-leveled space can seem as campy as it is dramatic, like a hangout for creative types as envisioned by a set designer.
Artists and others may be in attendance on Wednesday when a live belly dancer entertains; they may show up on Fridays for jazz sessions, or on Saturdays when a DJ spins ’80s rock or house music, but on a recent Tuesday evening, only a few tables in the 246-seat dining room were filled.
The nearly empty restaurant may be due in part to a chef just getting his bearings in the kitchen. Manny Marin, who cooked for Palio in Manhattan, took over the kitchen in early March. He offers an eclectic mix of Spanish, Turkish and Mediterranean meze and tapas - little plates meant to be shared - as well as a small selection of entrees. The menu makes a good read: garlic shrimp in white wine; grilled octopus with chopped red onions in a sherry vinegar dressing; "boreks," the phyllo dough turnovers filled with feta cheese; and other dishes that promise a lively dining experience. However, much of the pleasure lies on the page.
There were a few highlights: a briny seafood bisque; rare shrimp and tuna over a salad with a tart, lemony dressing; and a silky creme brulee tinged with orange. But too many overcooked, improbably under-seasoned dishes made for a disappointing meal.
Pretty green zucchini patties, one of the hot meze offerings, looked lovely drizzled with garlic yogurt dip; however, they were bland and soft, and the garlic in the sauce was barely noticeable.
After such a dismal beginning, briny mussels, chunks of sweet shrimp and lobster in a rich seafood bisque came as a surprise.
I understand why Marin thought sliced, toasted almonds in the "tuna stack," one of the cold meze, would make an intriguing addition. A few nuts would have added an interesting crunch to the soft raw fish, but someone in the kitchen went overboard, layering the mound’s center with so many almonds that munching became labor intensive. Frizzled slivers of beets sprinkled over the fish were chewier and a little sweeter than expected, but pleasant. And dabs of roasted beet vinaigrette cried out for salt.
Nothing was needed to improve the flavor of grape leaves filled with rice and tiny cubes of apricots that lent a welcome note of sweetness. Too bad they were left on the stove until the grain went from tender to soggy.
A skewer of sweet shrimp and meaty tuna with delectable, chargrilled edges redeemed the disappointing grape leaves. A pile of mixed greens in a strong lemony dressing, which were served with the kebab, complemented the fish’s smoky taste.
What should be the restaurant’s signature dish, "couscous with 10 ingredients," turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the evening. The waiter came to the table carrying an elaborately engraved metal pan with a conical lid. With some fanfare, he lifted the tagine’s top, revealing a small serving of pallid couscous.
"It must taste better than it looks," I thought. Not so. The lamb was cut into such tiny pieces I could barely taste it; the vegetables were also diced into cubes so minute that I’d need the team from "C.S.I." to detect them. As far as spicing goes, that, too, was kept on the understated side.
There were no Middle Eastern notes in the small dessert list, just the usual bistro-style suspects: creme brulee, chocolate mousse and sorbet. I couldn’t find fault with the citrus-infused creme, and the mousse was serviceable. Neither was memorable.
I suspect My Moon will be at its peak on warm spring days and summer months, when its doors open onto a breezy, secluded courtyard lined with tables. A change in ambience may soften the space, but the kitchen needs more than a shift in mood to turn out decent fare.
My Moon (184 N. 10th St. between Bedford and Driggs avenues in Williamsburg) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14-$18. The restaurant serves dinner daily; brunch is available on weekends, from 11 am to 4 pm. For reservations, call (718) 599-7007.