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New Moon Fusion Restaurant

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Location: 20 E. General Robinson St., North Side. 412-321-3525
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 4:30-9 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 4:30-10 p.m.; Sat. 4-10 p.m.
Prices: Starters $4-9; noodle & rice dishes $10-14; entrees $16-21
Fare: Asian fusion
Atmosphere: Understated swank
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Designated sections

Today we know it as PNC Park, but if you were paying attention several years ago, you may recall that the Pirates' new home was originally designated Forbes Field 2. It was a name that suggested the neighborhood intimacy that could put foul balls on front porches. Ultimately, though, the fact that the city already owned acres of open land on the North Side outweighed loftier considerations of community. Instead of a civic attraction nestled inside a neighborhood, we were promised new sports stadiums as generators of a brand new office, retail and residential development.

Among the pioneers on this new frontier are three from Hong Kong via Philadelphia: Executive chef Roger C. Li and his partners, Benny Leung and Ada Keung, moved to Pittsburgh a few months ago to open New Moon Fusion Restaurant around the corner from PNC Park and across General Robinson Street from The Andy Warhol Museum. Inside, white walls and ebony-stained wood evoke neither the family-fun atmosphere of the national pastime nor the iconographic color of the pop artist. Instead, the quietly elegant space is centered around a double-sided gas fireplace and simply decorated to barely hint of Asia.

The menu, on the other hand, is deeply indebted to the lands of tempura and stir-fry. Of the various schools of fusion, Li has clearly chosen to focus on traditional Asian components and preparations informed by occasional Western ingredients and techniques. Thus, calamari are buttermilk-battered and served with ponzu, and duck breast is tamarind-glazed and paired with sweet-potato mash.

On the night we were there, the soup of the day was coconut curry with salmon, and these being some of our favorite things, we knew we had to taste it. We found it quite distinct from a traditional Thai coconut milk soup, with a light, sweet golden broth flavored with Indian herbs and the judicious addition of diced hot peppers. Studded with chewy shredded coconut and tender pink cubes of salmon, the soup was so delicious we wished we could have licked the bowl clean.

An appetizer of Peking duck quesadilla showcased New Moon's ability to fuse traditional Asian flavors with Western preparations. A crisp, dry tortilla enclosed tender, rich shreds of duck meat in hoisin sauce, a combination of tried-and-true tastiness, if a little overpowering toward the quesadilla's other fillings of cucumber and cheese.

A "TNT sushi roll" consisted of tuna, salmon, crab and cucumbers, rolled in rice and seaweed, then fried in a light tempura batter. The spicy mayonnaise dressing was not assertive enough to merit the TNT moniker, but aside from the warming of the fish, the sushi retained its essential freshness in this flash-fried preparation.

You can call them short ribs, you can call them kalbi (as the Koreans do) — just don't call Jason late for barbecue. These thin slices are a distinct cut from any we've seen, and they cooked up toothsome and flavorful, with the marinade surrounding the meat and emphasizing its beefiness. On the side, "spicy napa salad" was a clever update of kim chee, blaze orange and like the famous Korean cabbage dish packing plenty of heat, but without the trademark pickled flavor that can be off-putting to the uninitiated.

Angelique ordered the festive-sounding samba shrimp and scallops, though since the kitchen was out of the latter, it became samba shrimp and chicken. Tender white meat and plenteous plump shrimp were coated with a subtle mix of spices and sautéed with colorful, sweet mango, squash and peppers for a light yet complex flavor.

From the dessert menu, banana spring roll offered a familiar Western sweet treat — cheesecake — in an inventive form that made it new again. Instead of a slice, sweetly tangy banana cheesecake was rolled into a crispy wrapper and topped with a decadent mix of whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries. Just the right amount of banana flavor plus dense, creamy cheesecake texture made for a clever and sweetly satisfying finish to our meal.

New Moon Fusion Restaurant is a stylish arena for Chef Li's considerable culinary talent and inventiveness. May his team share the success of his winter neighbors on the North Side.

Jason: 3.5 stars
Angelique: 3.5 stars

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