CORNWALL, Ontario OK, Ill admit it. We were afraid. Or maybe apprehensive is a better word.
Moon Thai and Japanese Cuisine has a beautiful website with fantastic photos and an endless array of Asian fusion offerings.
Foie gras sushi. Curry pumpkin soup. Gyoza. Toza tofu. Beef enoki maki. Salmon tataki. Smoked duck salad. Sushi and sashimi. Japanese dinners. Thai seafood. Sushi pizzas.
And thats just the tip of the iceberg. Page after page of menu choices accompanied by photos that make you want to chew into your computer monitor.
We were afraid. Could they really pull this off?
So its a Monday night. We hop in the car and head for Cornwall, just across the river from Massena. Bridge traffic is light and we breeze through customs.
Maybe its because we told the officer we were going to the moon that he let us through without a hitch. Wonder how many times he hears that in a week?
We arrive at Moon in downtown Cornwall and realize its the former location of Jade Garden, a popular Chinese restaurant for many years.
Its a gray brick façade with a classy black Moon sign. Theres a large sign in the window touting their all-you-can-eat buffet. Uh-oh. Weve got those here, and no thank you.
But we had heard that their buffet was different. Very different.
Inside, the decor was quite sleek and modern. The gray and black color motif continued throughout, including the table settings. Soon after we were seated, a flock of waiters descended on us, filling the tall, cylindrical Tom Collins-like glasses with water, topping each with a thin slice of lemon, taking drink orders and leaving us with menus.
Two menus, in fact: one for the food we viewed online and one for the buffet. A little overwhelming, as we perused both over a round of beers that included Tsing Tao from China, Asahi from Japan and a Molson Blue from Canada. Singa, from Thailand, also was available.
But where was the buffet? There wasnt a steam table in sight. Ah-ha! Its Monday and maybe they only set up the buffet on weekends.
Not so, our primary waiter, Tao, explained. Each of the more than 100 items on the buffet menu is made to order. Made to order? How could they possibly do that?
And, we noticed, at least half of the buffet offerings are also on the main menu, a multipage book in itself. So, with Taos guidance, two of us went for the buffet and two of us ordered off the menu.
The buffet came with a few rules: 1) order as much as you wish as often as you wish; 2) finish everything on your plate or youll be charged menu price for it; 3) you have an hour and a half to eat all you care to; 4) no help is permitted from those not brave enough to order the buffet.
Let the feasting begin!
The buffet people got to order in waves from the huge selection everything from appetizers to desserts and everything in between.
We knew when the pumpkin tempura arrived along with several maki rolls we were in for something special. Slices of ripe pumpkin were battered and lightly fried and truly delicious.
Snow dragon roll (tempura shrimp, cucumber, avocado, tobiko, topped with salmon) and golden dragon roll (the same, but topped with raw salmon) were absolutely spectacular. Shrimp lends itself to tempura, but tempura in a roll has a very limited life before it gets soggy. These were obviously prepared to order with presentation second to none.
Thai lemongrass soup (chicken broth, lemongrass stalks, straw mushrooms, chilis, cilantro) is a staple in American Thai restaurants. The flavors are subtle and sometimes lost if theres too much heat. Not the case here perfectly balanced.
Against Taos advice, we ordered wonton soup. Too filling was his input save room for the good stuff, was his message. But wonton soup was a benchmark for one of our team, a wonton expert of sorts.
He proclaimed the wontons (small pork-filled dumplings) awesome not too soft and not too hard, probably in the top 10 Ive ever eaten and Ive had my fair share of wontons.
From the menu, we ordered a cold mango roll (mango and vegetables wrapped in soft rice paper with hoisin), a cold beef roll (barbecue beef, basil and bean sprouts wrapped in soft rice paper) as well as hot and sour soup.
The delicate rolls were excellent, bursting with fresh flavors and served with peanut dipping sauce. The soup (tofu, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, egg, Thai chili, chicken stock) was as expected: tasty, with just enough heat to excite the palate.
Also from the menu: soft shell crab tempura, shiitake mushroom sauté and fresh mango salad.
Some thought the tempura was a little on the greasy side; others didnt mind the grease. It was served over a bed of artistically chopped cucumber tossed with a light vinaigrette, with ponzu sauce (soy and citrus) on the side.
Shiitake mushrooms were plentiful and yummy, sautéed in a slightly thickened garlic butter sauce. The mango salad was plentiful as well, shoestringed mango tossed with sweet peppers and onions, mint leaves, coriander, shallots and lime juice, finished with roasted cashews. Fresh and colorful, too.
Next, the buffet boys got a salmon sushi pizza as well as red snapper sashimi (raw fish unadorned with rice). I ordered a piece of yellowtail sushi and two pieces of tobiko (flying fish roe) sushi from the menu.
Ive never had sushi pizza. We had the salmon version, which was a crust of deep-fried, flattened rice patty with raw salmon, tobiko and green onion in a spicy sauce as a topping.
It was an interesting dish, but lacked the clarity of taste the other dishes had. Now if theyd made it a cone instead of a flat crust and put a stick in it, they could sell it at the New York State Fair.
Red snapper sashimi was as fresh as could be (how do they do that on a Monday night 350 miles from the ocean?). Yellowtail not so much, and it looked different from any Id ever seen before (like a rectangle of scrambled egg). But it still had that buttery yellowtail taste.
Tobiko sushi is nori (dried seaweed) wrapped around rice with bright red beads of fish roe on top. This redeemed the yellowtail.
Still with me?
For entrees from the buffet, we got Thai spicy noodles (flat Thai rice noodles stir-fried with sweet peppers, basil leaves, garlic and fresh chili) and ginger beef (sliced beef, spring onions, black oyster mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, Thai sauce).
We asked the chef to kick up the spice on the noodle dish, and it came out exactly the way we expected the desired heat was there, the person who ordered it wiping beads of sweat from his forehead.
Ginger beef was quite tasty, maybe a little light on ginger for some. There were visible slices that got a few solos, but all-in-all, a well-balanced symphony of flavors.
Menu entrees were beef in thick curry peanut sauce (sliced beef in a sauce of coconut milk, peanut sauce, red curry, tamarind and kafir lime leaves) and ginger seafood.
The sauce in the beef dish was bold and perfectly spiced. We again asked the chef to spice it up a notch and it came out just right. Shrimp and calamari were the main ingredients in the ginger seafood along with assorted veggies and a flavorful sauce.
It was all we could to do order dessert. Red bean ice cream from the buffet menu got the nod, and it was the real deal, not just vanilla ice cream with some specs of adzuki red beans. It was smooth and delicious, and like everything else on the menu, made with attention to detail.
Did I forget anything? We tried the wakame (seaweed salad) early on. We intended to use it as a palate cleanser between courses, but it was gone before we could do that. And we got unagi kabayadi (barbecued eel) for a menu appetizer excellent. And two additional pieces of sashimi, tako (octopus) and hokkigai (surf clam), and both were very good.
Thats it. Two buffet dinners along with two people eating lots of things from the regular menu cost $119.61 in Canadian funds. The total included $13 in Canadian taxes; tip and beer were additional. The exchange rate is virtually the same right now.
We found Moon to be a wonderful restaurant and agreed wed be there once a week if it was nearer. The experience, the service, the atmosphere and the food were all on target.
Its still hard to believe the amount of top-quality food and variety of dishes that continually poured from the kitchen. And added bonus was Tao, our waiter, who was extremely knowledgeable and helpful and had a genuine desire to please.
Were over the moon for Moon.
Oh, and we did break Anthony Bourdains (chef, author, TV food personality) rule to never, ever eat sushi on a Monday. That comes from his outspoken book Kitchen Confidential that every aspiring chef and foodie should have on their shelf.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moon Thai & Japanese Cuisine
25 Second St. East
1 (613) 932-4700
Off-the-menu Asian fusion plus a made-to-order buffet with more than 100 items
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
Foie gras sushi. Curry pumpkin soup. Gyoza. Toza tofu. Beef enoki maki. Salmon tataki. Smoked duck salad. Sushi and sashimi. Japanese dinners. Thai seafood. Sushi pizzas and more.