Over the last year, something quietly took shape in the empty storefront between The Betterday coffee shop and La Montañita Co-op at the Solana Center on West Alameda Street. The first sign was a door punched through the wall between Betterday and the former Real Butcher Shop. Then Betterday expanded their food offerings as they took over the former butcher’s kitchen. Then not much else happened until the storefront underwent a radical makeover in April. Then a sandwich board appeared with a menu on it.
On May 4, Betterday owner Tom Frost and chef Paul Novak finally showed off what they'd been up to and opened Shoot the Moon (907 W Alameda St.), their New American restaurant.
Frost and Novak have managed a special thing with the restaurant, turning an otherwise nondescript strip mall concrete box into an inviting, comfortable space. The room is decked out in rich woods and polished floors and the seating is just nice enough to invoke luxury without feeling snobby. A cozy bar spreads itself out in the back area and the kitchen is positioned dead center. Favoring an old-school style pass-through instead of the more trendy open style, it feels like it's been there for years. This is a good thing.
Overly hip spots often distract from the goods, whereas Shoot the Moon allows the food to take center stage. And that food is simple and delightful, taking classic American foods and adding in small, entertaining twists. Lamb is served with a three-onion bread pudding; mashed potatoes have vanilla in them; tomato gravy comes with stuffed cabbage (the latter a delicacy heretofore only appreciated by Polish folks in beloved gwumpkies).
The first thing to notice is that the prices are a bit high. Entrees hover at the $20 range, appetizers around $10. They're not a dealbreaker, but could make some second-guess a trip to a shopping center mostly known for a high-end grocery store and a laundromat. To those people, I say: Give it a go. Shoot the Moon could easily become your once-in-a-while dinner-out spot: It's away from the Plaza, has an earnest lack of pretension, and is just good.
I opted for a full three-course meal. The johnnycakes ($9) come with pinto beans and chicos, a beautiful deep red smear of chili paste and cultured cream finish these off.
- Beautiful plating
- These tiny johnnycakes were so perfectly cooked they looked fake
The balance in this starter was unexpected. The earthiness of the beans with the sweetness of the smoked corn is a combo that can't go wrong. The crisp cakes added a great bite of sweet breadiness. The chili was spicy, perhaps a bit overpowering considering the subtleness of the other flavors.
For the entree I went with the brisket ($23). This is served with a potato-parsnip mash that has a hint of vanilla and a side of asparagus and horseradish cream.
- The plating was again picture-perfect
- The meat looked a bit fatty, but smelled amazing
Novak smokes the brisket in-house and you can taste the freshness. There was a beautiful char on the piece I had, and though the meat was a touch fatty, it melted in the mouth and filled me with a sense of being by a campfire—precisely what a good smoke should do. This was a seriously good brisket.
Vanilla in mashed potatoes may sound weird, but this trend in cooking has been around for a few years. Here it takes on a new coat of paint with the parsnips. Not sweet per se, the vanilla adds a brightness that most mashes miss out on. The asparagus was asparagus, but that isn't to say it wasn't good, there's only so much to be done there.
For dessert I had to go with the seasonal favorite of rhubarb. Here they serve it in an apple rhubarb crostata ($10) with a side of vanilla ice cream and strawberry sauce.
- So much sauce
- Another beautiful plate
Crostata is having a bit of a moment. The free-form nature lends an air of "homey" to a menu. It's not out of place here, but the pastry was a bit grainy and the ice cream was freezer-burned. The sauce was delicious and the filling was as well. I am a pastry snob and my expectations are always high, making this dessert the low point of an otherwise perfect meal.
Overall, Frost and Chef Novak have added a much-needed high-end dining spot to their end of town. The Solana Center now features dining of all stripes and this is a welcome development.
The big surprise is how beautifully on par with the highest-end restaurants in town Shoot the Moon ends up being. If they can keep the quality at the level on display a month into their venture, they really have something great going on. They do need to up their pastry game, however, and the prices, while not extravagant, are potentially a hurdle.