Since 2012, executive chef Michael Pagliarini’s intimate Italian restaurant, Giulia, has been among the Boston restaurants where everybody truly knows your name. This August, Pagliarini and his wife and co-owner, Pamela Ralston, opened their seafood spot Moëca, just steps away from their beloved pasta joint, channeling their recipe for tried-and-tested success: the same Harvard Square neighborhood, much of the same team, and a similar number of seats.
Restaurants churning out fried haddock are ubiquitous across Boston. But on Moëca’s menu, Pagliarini envisioned elegant interpretations of coastal bounty, plus a varied selection of briny bivalves. “We’re not just going to be cocktail sauce and lemon wedges,” he says. “We’ve got a great raw bar, we’ll borrow Japanese or Asian flavors, lean into Peruvian ceviche, for instance. It’s not your classic New England raw bar, it’s going to be more whimsical and thoughtfully composed.”
That ethos streams through all of Moëca’s courses and innovation surfaces in both shareable small plates and larger main dishes. “Things will be fermented, smoked and cured in-house. There’s so many rich, complex oceanic flavors that need to be harvested through those processes,” explains Pagliarini. “So maybe you’ll have a raw fluke dish, but the broth is made from the bones of the fluke, smoked in-house, and then used to make a Japanese dashi broth that’s chilled with cucumber water and fresh lime juice.”
Other dishes planned for the late summer opening include a wild striped bass ceviche with a Mexico-inspired aguachile broth and lacto-fermented stone fruits, and Maine halibut poached acqua pazza in a vibrant green broth.
Moëca focuses on what’s caught daily, so it’s unlikely that any meal will be exactly the same. But a few foundations will remain consistent. Expect crudos, savory seasonal stews, and fish roasted whole in a Neapolitan-style brick oven—an homage to Pagliarini’s Italian heritage and love of travel.
Despite Moëca being more casual than its rustic-chic sibling restaurant, Giulia, there will be plenty of caviar, promises Pagliarini. This makes his seafood spot perfect for an after-work cocktail and bite—or a special-occasion splurge. “We’ll have dishes with caviar in them at a range of price points. It might be fun to garnish a dish with the eggs, or a more elevated, traditional caviar service where you can experience more of the roe,” he says.
No matter the season, Pagliarini insists each iteration of the menu will be a “constant collaboration” with chef de cuisine Brian Gianpoalo. He’s worked side by side with Pagliarini since the team first opened Giulia in 2012, starting out as sous chef. Pastry chef Renae Connelly, who was on the founding team for Pagliarini and Ralston’s Benedetto (a restaurant in Harvard Square’s Charles Hotel that closed during the pandemic) is helming the dessert menu, and was instrumental in designing Moëca’s brand-new pastry kitchen.
Beverage director and assistant general manager Charles Coykendall—who comes from Somerville’s beloved Independent pub and Boston’s Baldwin Bar—will offer refreshments in a bar area that includes a cleverly designed partition. “It’s not a solid partition because you want that energy and the vibe from the bar to be translated back and forth between the dining room and the bar,” Pagliarini says.
Moëca’s drinks feature a mix of local, small-batch craft spirits and ingredients that span the globe, including unaged Armagnacs, sake, and mezcal. In addition to classics such as mai tais and daiquiris, Coykendall will mix it up with citrus- and ginger-driven cocktails to complement the seafood. Champagnes and sparkling wines are ideal for pairing with oysters and crudos, explains Pagliarini.
Bostonians will remember Moëca as the home of longtime favorite Chez Henri, a Cuban-French restaurant where heavy Cuban sandwiches—and dark-colored interiors—were hallmarks.
At Moëca, the menu and the aesthetic are both marked departures from those days. Diners can expect lighter plates and a palette of calming, aquatic blue and green hues. The partition between the 15-seat bar and the 60-seat restaurant creates a balance between guests while making a brand-new, hand-hewn bar one of the focal points.
“We made it into a real ‘bartender’s bar,’ with deep, walnut shelving that has a glow about it,” explained Pagliarini. “That whole space just adds a warmth and richness to the room.”
Whether diners order from the bar or the main restaurant section, one thing is for sure: Harvard Square welcomes yet another pearl, a charming local watering hole with neighborhood bistro energy.
Moëca is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 pm to 9 pm, extending to six days a week in the fall or winter.
Carley Thornell-Wade is a Boston-based food, travel, and technology writer who’s been to more than 70 countries and delighted in tasting the regional delicacies of each.