Moxie Expands and Retools

With 17 years as an east-side fine-dining institution, Moxie (3355 Richmond Rd., 216-831-5599, unceasingly takes evolution into account as part of its stamina. Given his bistro's national reputation for stylish execution of sophisticated American fare, partner and executive chef Jonathan Bennett has never made shying away from change an option. The newest plans for modernization will come to fruition in April 2015, when the restaurant closes its doors for two weeks to remodel and emerge with an updated look and menu.

Bennett began mulling over renovations more than two years ago when he recognized that today's fast-paced lifestyle didn't always hold up against Moxie's indulgent multi-course approach. The fresh menu iteration will keep time-tested favorites, while nearly doubling the roster of offerings by introducing more customizable, accessible choices.

"The way we eat today versus the way we ate five years ago, or 10 years ago, or 17 years ago, is very different," Bennett offers. "I don't necessarily sit down and have a first course and second course. And now we sometimes eat out five times a week."

When constructing the new menu, Bennett took into consideration that diners might cross Moxie off the list if upscale dining isn't within their time or budget constraints. Building on the beloved house burger, for example, the chef decided to expand sandwich offerings to include options such as smoked salmon on pumpernickel with fromage blanc, and a vegetarian chickpea on challah.

Price points also drop for the main courses, but dishes continue to look to stellar seafood and steaks for inspiration. In one instance, short ribs will be reworked into a stroganoff dish, while new pasta dishes such as spinach gnocchi and pork belly carbonara will see the light of day.

And though Moxie often draws on its comfort food roots, Bennett is vocal about his desire to break from his own comfort zone. He'll venture to the Far East in dishes like Faroe Islands salmon garnished with pea shoots and ginger-soy broth. And beginning as soon as January, Bennett will launch pho Mondays and steam bun weekends.

"For the longest time, I wouldn't venture out of my realm of cooking," he admits, referring to his American and French techniques. "America has a broad, broad spectrum."

Long celebrated for its appetizers and elegantly composed salads, Moxie has given its starters close attention.

"[This is] where the fun begins," Bennett declares. Guests will kick off meals with shared plates of warm medjool dates with bacon and bleu cheese, or ripe avocado smashed with lime, cilantro and sea salt.

It's a calculated move by Bennett to draw guests back into the art of conversation after witnessing far too many tables occupied by "that couple that's really not talking," he says.

"There's not an appetizer on the menu that's meant to sit in front of you. It's meant to sit in the middle of the table, and with that comes an automatic connection between each other. We want to create activity at the table and an environment that's about enjoying that time together."

The menu won't be the only noticeable change. After the remodel, says Bennett, the only familiar view guests will recognize is that of the longstanding dining room mural depicting the full narrative of an evening out — from kitchen, to date night, to boudoir.

In the lounge, a new fireplace will provide the ideal place for guests to gather. It all comes back to a feeling of being "cozy and intimate," hopes Bennett.

"We're so disconnected sometimes. We want to do whatever we can to engage with that feeling of sitting in a comfortable environment with people you love."

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