Michael Pagliarini and Pam Ralston, owners of the acclaimed Italian restaurant Giulia in Cambridge, will open a new restaurant steps away, Moëca, in spring 2022. It will be located at 1 Shepard St., Cambridge, between Harvard and Porter squares, most recently home to Luce, Shepard before that, and French-Cuban icon Chez Henri for the better part of two decades before that. “We’ve admired this space since its Chez Henri days,” says Pagliarini. “It’s an important part of our neighborhood and we’re excited to create the next chapter.”
Since Giulia’s opening in late 2012, the upscale Italian restaurant has earned much attention locally and beyond for its excellent house-made pastas and hospitality; it tends to be one of the toughest dinner reservations in town. Moëca’s menu will have some Italian influences, too, but it will draw from elsewhere as well.
Pagliarini describes the forthcoming Moëca as a neighborhood seafood restaurant and bar. “We want to bring the best small boat, sustainable seafood to our neighborhood,” he tells Eater. He and the team envision “a place where you can get oysters and beer, simple grilled fish, and bountiful seasonal vegetables. Think spaghetti and razor clams, raw seafood with Asian and Latin American flavors, and the best ice cream, gelati, and house-made desserts from [pastry chef] Renae Connolly.”
Connolly was the pastry chef at the team’s now-defunct Harvard Square restaurant Benedetto, which closed unexpectedly in early 2021; she took over the pastry program at Giulia over the summer and will now serve as pastry chef for both restaurants. Local dessert enthusiasts know that the Clio and Cafe ArtScience alum is one of the best pastry chefs around. (Take a peek at her Instagram account to see some of her creations.)
As for the non-dessert portion of the menu, diners might see dishes like cuttlefish risotto with Italian porcini, white wine, and nepitella, a savory herb in the mint family; fried jumbo soft shell crab with whipped salt cod, capers, lemon, and white sturgeon caviar; and grilled head-on blue prawns with warm anchovy salsa verde and asparagus. There will also be a featured trio of dishes from the same fish that highlight different techniques and preparations, with the fish rotating based on availability. Take wild striped bass, for example: Moëca might offer a raw bass dish with cucumber, bottarga, fresh citrus, and basil; roasted collar ravioli with fresh herbs, tomato, ginger, and lemon; and grilled loin with sweet corn and roasted peppers.
To drink, the team will build on the “extensive Italian cellar from Giulia,” says Pagliarini, adding wines from France (including Champagne), Spain, Portugal, and beyond, as well as a full cocktail menu emphasizing classics.
Brian Gianpoalo will serve as chef de cuisine; he’s been with the team for nearly a decade, opening Giulia as sous chef in 2012 and currently serving as Giulia’s chef de cuisine. General manager Lauren Faria is also a veteran of the group, having served as general manager at Benedetto and staying on board after the closure “to help evaluate opportunities for a new venture,” says Pagliarini. Giulia regulars may have seen her working the floor at Giulia lately.
“We’ve always wanted to do a neighborhood seafood restaurant,” says Pagliarini. “Some of our favorite and most well-received dishes at Giulia and Benedetto have been seafood-based. We want to take all of our favorites and give them a home, then continue to explore great seafood cooking traditions wherever we can find them.”
The vibe, he says, will be less upscale than Benedetto was — more casual and fun. “We’ll have the same exceptional service, spirited hospitality, and generous cooking and are as committed as ever to supporting robust, diverse, and vibrant food systems.”
In terms of potential pandemic-related accommodations, Pagliarini says that takeout will certainly be offered “if indoor dining becomes challenging,” and there’s also a hope of developing Connolly’s pastry program to include, among other things, pints of ice cream and traditional Italian gelati for takeout. Outdoor dining, on the other hand, is less likely, as the restaurant’s available sidewalk space is fairly narrow.
The restaurant is named for a crab called “moeca” in the Venetian dialect. (Here’s a good read on the crab.) “They are fished in the local waters and brought to market as a soft shells,” says Pagliarini. “My friend Paolo Tagliapietra, whom I hosted a dinner for at Benedetto, admiringly described these crabs as being resilient, resourceful, and determined to adapt to the challenges they face. Basically, all the qualities we need now as we face the persistent pandemic challenges, the cultural evolution of the restaurant industry, and climate change impacts on our food systems. We’re ready to put some good out into the world, one seafood dish at a time!”