Little Donkey, Manoa, Moona - [Cambridge, MA]

The theme of this dining write up will be: wanting to like a place does not guarantee you will. Fair warning.

First, the good: Little Donkey is running on all cylinders. Flavor explosion. We ended up staying at the bar for dinner despite a table reservation because the bartenders were so on top of things and helpful with recommendations that we just didn’t see a need to move. The portions were generous and after about 5 small plates the two of us were stuffed. Particular standouts were the kung pao octopus head and the BLT lettuce wraps. The heat level was perfect- just enough to keep us drinking the excellent cocktails and mocktails. We were clearly too full for dessert, but we ordered it anyways and ended up taking most of it home. While the cookie dough served in a mixer beater is a bit gimmicky, it was delicious and our kids devoured the leftovers. The dense chocolate cremeaux was also fantastic. Food came flying out of the kitchen and we made a movie with no problem. This worked out well for the two of us, as we had originally planned to have my birthday dinner here with my mom and her companion and they cancelled on us which was a blessing in disguise since this would have been too loud and not the ideal dinner for them. I’d go back for sure- there were a lot of things on the menu we didn’t get to try.

Looking for something a bit more sedate and quiet, we made a reservation at Moona to try again for the dinner with my mom and her DC. I really wanted to like Moona as I want to see something stick in that spot. The decor is warm, the space is not too loud, the kitchen is visible but not a focal point. The service was great (despite a slight quibble with them texting me multiple times to remind me of our reservation “Pro tip: if you’re running late, please text us to let us know” then having to wait 20 mins for our table. I’ll pro tip you…)

Moona’s MO is small plates with an eastern mediterranean flavor profile. Our DCs are vegetarian, so we ordered most of the veg options on the menu. Unfortunately, they brought all those plates first then all the meat dishes we’d ordered which is always awkward. We ended up having to add on the cous cous large plate as our veg diners were still hungry and had nothing left to eat, despite our server confirming that we’d ordered an adequate number of dishes for the table and some of us not being very big eaters. The best thing we had was the duck awarma which was a generous portion of duck breast confit. It was intact with wonderfully rendered skin. However, the accompanying sauce was bland and the cucumber salad on the plate was almost inedible due to raw garlic overload. Unfortunately, there really weren’t any other stand out foods among the 8 or so dishes we ordered. The dip platter deserves particular mention as a disappointment and bad value. Ours came with the stuffed vine leaves order placed on the plate as well, meaning the total cost of that plate was $24. For a few scoops of dips, a scattering of olives, and 4 tiny overly-sweet stuffed grape leaves, I expect better. Bottom line: you have to have a fabulous hummus if you’re in the business of fine dining eastern mediterranean, and Moona doesn’t. It’s a tough genre to compete in with Sarma a few minutes away, and sadly Moona really can’t compete.

Moving on to the poke trend taking our fair city by storm: I’ve been to Manoa twice now and just want to like the place so much more than I do. The owner is trying so hard, but the product for me just doesn’t quite stand up. The first time I was there, he comped scoop of rice with crispy noodle topping for my daughter and was very solicitous about making sure we had everything we needed. However, my salmon poke was quite fishy and found myself adding more and more soy to try to drown it out. I should have spoken up but decided instead to come back and give it another try. Brought our family of 4 along for dinner a couple of weeks later and had a similar experience where everyone was just so darn nice, but the poke itself was ho-hum. The fluke special was also fishy, and cut into ragged odd pieces. The shrimp ceviche was completely burned out by soaking in citrus to the point where it was slimy and dissolving around the edges. Our kids adored their bowls of rice with crispy wonton skin bits on top, but we needed 3 bowls of poke for the adults and really weren’t blow away by any of them. This kills me to say, but the Pokeworks in Davis turns out a much more delicious product- they mix the dressing in and toss in way more vegetable toppings than Manoa, and the fish I’ve had there was simply more tasty. Bummer.


Parsnipity, what’s your favorite poke rendition of the moment?

Well, my experience is very limited but I have preferred Pokeworks to Manoa… you? Haven’t gotten around to trying the one on Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard yet but it’s on the list.

The portions at Little Donkey are funny. I agree that the portions are generous (and well priced) throughout the main menu. However I have found the raw bar portions to be quite stingy and overpriced. We recently had an excellent meal there as well. 6 dishes + 2 raw bar + 2 desserts items had a family of four well stuffed. My kids went beserk for the cookie dough beaters. BLT Lettuce Wraps, Charred Avocado and Octopus a la Plancha were among the favorites. My children wouldn’t share the Parker House rolls though.

On the poke front I was pleasantly surprised with the composition of the dishes and flavors at Manoa. The presentations were beautiful and tasty. It’s one fad I don’t mind, just don’t come near me with a sushi burrito.

thanks so much for your post. I’ve been considering all the places you mentioned. We love the hummus at Sarma and won’t try Moona. With Sarma there is little reason to try something iffy in the same genre. We don’t get there often (enough) but love Sarma.

Haven’t indulged in the local offerings yet - looking for suggestions on where to start. Had a decent one last week at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford, CT, great flavor although the ratio of tuna to seaweed was biased a little too much in favor of seaweed.

Poke City- replying to myself just to get this in the archives…
We had a major ramen-fail (Japanfest- doh!) on a cold rainy night recently and ended up at Poke City- good saucing and fish, not quite as many add-on toppings as Pokeworks. Having visited all the immediate-area options more than once at this point, I would still rank Pokeworks as my favorite, followed by Poke City, with Manoa sadly coming in last.


Finally made it to Little Donkey - loved their spicy take on poke. A downside was that my 13-year-old discovered she loved it too - from now on it looks like I’ll have to share. Other standouts were a scallop crudo and a type of barnacle - began with a “p” but can’t recall the full name.

was the barnacle Percebes? That’s the Spanish name for wild goose barnacles. They are from northwest Spain, Galicia, but apparently also from the west coast of Vancouver island in British Columbia. I’ve never had them but would love to try!


Yes! Thank you…give Little Donkey a calland see if they still have them…


Yes, they are from the rocky coasts of north west Spain …


Interesting. In 2 trips to Vancouver Island (most recently in Aug 2019), we’ve never seen these on any restaurant menus. But then again, lots of indigenous species are suffering under the weight of climate change, including once-plentiful sea stars.

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@Madrid, @digga,

I am Spanish …

Yes, this is a wild goose neck barnacle ( percebe = Spanish ) that I had at the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum Michelin Restaurant Nerua.

They have a season, normally November - March … Rocky cold northern waters …


I am really jealous! I hope you enjoyed it.

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