Moksa: Time to head to the nearest izakaya

Just hanging out at the izakaya: Visit Moksa at 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-661-4900, www.moksarestaurant.com.

In all the talk of neo-retro-cocktails we get up to here, it’s easy to forget that there’s room for playful experimentation with a more user-friendly flavor profile. That’s the format at Moksa, the new pan-Asian izakaya helmed by chef Patricia Yeo and Solmon Chowdhury, owner of the visually and stylistically analogous OM. Like OM, Moksa has a multi-purpose feel, with a vibrant lighting aesthetic in the front bar, a larger dining room, and, in the back, a mid-sized nightclub called Naga. But wait, what’s an izakaya again?

“An izakaya is kind of like a common casual eatery where people hang out,” explains Noon Inthasuwan, the sommelier and certified sake specialist who oversees the bar. “It’s casual, with small plates, communal tables and easy-to-share street food.”

Inthasuwan, who was born in Thailand and lived throughout Southeast Asia with stints in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malasia, Indonesia and Vietnam, brings a pan-Asian flavor to her cocktails as well. While the flavors are ones you’d expect from a chef-driven Asian kitchen, they’re fused with the high-quality spirit mind-set you find percolating elsewhere in Central Square.

“For most of it, I try to use ingredients that would match what’s going on in the kitchen,” she says. “Edamame puree, shi-so, mango habanero, an elderflower vinegar, vinegar infused with kumquat.”

The Terracotta cocktail breaks the mold a bit, with reposado tequila, Cynar, preserved lemons and a cayenne pepper rim. The Tokyo Chic uses edamame puree blended with green tea, shaken with absinthe and then mixed with Bully Boy white whiskey and garnished with a marshmallow peep.

“It’s fun, funky and chic,” says Inthasuwan, “like Tokyo street-fashion style.”

Better drinks than your average sake bar

Balancing an approachable list with flavors that enhance the dishes — try the Dan Dan Mein with spicy pork-mushroom ragu — is no easy task. Many other lounge-style Asian restaurants relegate cocktails to an afterthought. Inthasuwan was adamant that wouldn’t happen here. “I’ve had some pretty good cocktails at Asian restaurants, but sometimes we need to put it more in the limelight.”


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