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MoCA: Trippy, techie pan−Asian dining in Forest Hills

MoCA’s nightclub−like facade is a fitting entrance to the techno−wonderland that serves as the restaurant’s ambience. Photo by Suzanne Parker
By Suzanne Parker

We weren’t expecting the showplace of postmodern psychedelia that greeted us at MoCA, a recent addition to Forest Hills’ 70th Avenue restaurant row between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street. This Asian bistro is a fantasyland of lighting effects. Variously colored lights glow, change color, blink or do all three on the walls, floor, ceiling and tables. A lit Plexiglas column encloses a terrarium surrounded by a waterfall. An otherwise ordinary potted palm rotates. The good part, for us, was that we didn’t have to endure deafeningly loud music to enjoy clubbish decorations.

The name MoCA, we learned from their showy if barely legible Web site, stands for “modern Culinary Art, a blended name that reflects our concept of MoCA Asian Bistro; i.e., a dining facility that blends contemporary style, cozy atmosphere, fine services and authentic Asian foods.” Their pan−Asian menu includes sushi, Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian dishes.

We started with an appetizer that lived up to not only the culinary claims of the restaurant, but its high−tech theme. Before we took our first bite of Crunchy Spicy Mango Tuna Tartare, we felt compelled to determine what was changing color. Our table was lit red from below, but something else was going on. Aha, a light embedded in the clear bowl of ice under our appetizer was winking different colors as we consumed. Once that had been established, we could go on to enjoy what was really a creatively delicious dish. Chopped spicy tuna with just the right amount of kick was mounded over diced mango, dressed with a citrusy dressing and covered with crunchy panko crumbs. We’d rate this a must−order.

Other appetizers lacked the high drama of the Crunchy Spicy Mango Tuna, but nonetheless had merit in the own right. Boneless barbecued spare ribs were a luxurious, meaty treat that took the messiness out of eating spare ribs. Sea urchin (uni), ordered from the a la carte sushi list, was creamy and briny tasting, just as it should be.

Coconut seafood chowder was the least successful of our appetizers. The broth was very coconutty, but other flavors lacked the assertiveness needed for balance. The bowl of soup was large enough for sharing, but the seafood therein was less than abundant.

MoCA’s sushi offerings run deep. Sushi can be had as a fanciful appetizer, familiar or exotic rolls, a la carte nigiri or sashimi or sushi bar entrees. We opted for the latter in the form of MoCA Special Sushi. This is a combo platter of a kamikaze roll (spicy tuna) with an assortment of nigiri sushi. Everything on this platter was absolutely fresh and of excellent quality. The assortment was a little boring, but very respectable.

Bird’s Nest, described as “the most popular and famous dish from Malaysia,” had its points. It normally comes with shrimp, chicken and vegetables, but the person in our party ordering it doesn’t eat chicken. We requested that the chicken be left out, and as a result, were served a formidable amount of jumbo shrimp.

Asparagus was the dominant vegetable, although mushrooms, peas and cashews rounded out the dish. The downside was the taro basket. Instead of a lacy weave of taro shreds, the taro was more or less solid, and not very appetizing. Of course, since the basket is the most gratuitously caloric part of the dish, they were probably doing us a favor.

Desserts are showy and pricey. Our green tea and red bean tartufo could have been shared by four diners. The chocolate−covered exotic ice cream ball was artistically presented, as was everything we ordered, and thoroughly satisfied our sweet tooth. This would be a real child−pleaser if you bring any young ones along.

The Bottom Line

If you like being dazzled by electronics, you can do it here. Make sure to visit the restroom, even if it’s just to sightsee. The food, although on the pricey side, mostly lives up to its surroundings. Their birthday special effects are worthy of Tina Turner if you happen to be celebrating. They have some well−priced lunch specials if you want to check this place out on the cheap.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e−mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

MoCA Asian Bistro

107−18 70th Rd.

Forest Hills, NY 11375

718−268−3333

www.mocaus.com

Appetizers: $5−$14

Entrees: $18−$35

Desserts: $9−$12

Cuisine: Pan−Asian fusion

Setting: Postmodern psychedelic

Service: Attentive

Hours: Lunch & dinner daily

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Vouchers for Barnes & Noble lot

Dress: Casual

Children: Will enjoy spectacle

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes, prices lower

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

Handicap Accessible: Yes

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