Mohamad El Zein watched from afar as the recent wave of Mediterranean restaurants opened, but he noticed there were not very many offering Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. He hopes his forthcoming Moona, set to open in October at the former Playska space in Inman Square, can fill that void.
“I’m from Lebanon, and my business partner [Radouan Ouassaidi] is from Morocco. We feel like there isn’t a lot of representation in terms of Arabic food from the Levant region and the Arabic countries in North Africa,” El Zein says. “If you look at a country like Morocco and a country like Lebanon, it’s hard to find a commonality with the cuisines. But if you look at the pantry that countries in that region use, you’ll find they use a lot of the same spices and things out of that pantry.”
Meaning “pantry” in Arabic, Moona will have Mark McMann (Shepard, Ashmont Grill) in charge of the kitchen, serving a menu focused on hot and cold mezzas. (“The Greeks say meze, Arabs say mezza,” El Zein notes.) A section at the top of the menu will offer five to six dips, such as eggplant zaalouk, to pair with pickled vegetables, like cauliflower and turnips, and three to four kinds of offal, such as brains and tongue. There will be a few larger dishes, including a Cornish hen served in a tagine and a vegetarian dish with hand-rolled couscous. Spice blends and wet mixes will all be housemade, and El Zein expects those spices will help Moona stand out.
“We here in the Western Hemisphere have this amazing vegetation. Why not use Swiss chard in the spring, and beets and apples in the fall, and all the things that are available to us, and then open that pantry up and use the different spices to make it more of the flavor profile of back in that area of the world,” El Zein says.
Dessert will also reflect that philosophy, with Egyptian bread pudding as well as Turkish coffee warm pudding cake. (There’ll be Turkish coffee service and Moroccan tea service too.) The wine list will also offer a few picks from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon as well as other Mediterranean countries. The bar will seat 10, while the dining area will have 20 seats. No matter the size, El Zein is happy to see his passion turning into reality.
“I’ve wanted to do an Arabic restaurant for about five or six years. I wanted to do one that was more modern,” El Zein explains. “There’s so many authentic places, but there aren’t that many that are coming out of the bubble and trying new things.”
Moona 243 Hampshire St., Cambridge (617-945-7448) moonarestaurant.com