No self-respecting hillbilly would be caught dead at MoonShine Modern Supper Club in Millburn—it's much too sophisticated, and the drinks it serves are a long way from throat-searing hillbilly hooch. Just watch your step going in, advises Pat Tanner in her review.
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When Victor Delapa and Joe San Philip opened MoonShine Modern Supper Club a little over a year ago, their idea of supper club was “Americana with an air of sophistication,” Delapa told me after my visits. “But we also wanted people to feel they were at home, within their community.”
The front door leads you into a long, narrow lounge with a stunning wood bar and tufted armchairs in canary yellow—the single pop of color. Very suave, but watch your step. The operative word is dark. The dining room is a dramatic charcoal gray featuring a long banquette upholstered in plaid under large paintings of elegant white and gold horses. French doors open onto the sidewalk in good weather, but not even their substantial panes let in quite enough light to overcome daytime gloom.
When there’s activity in the upstairs dining room/event space, you can sometimes hear the music and clamor in the main dining room, where it mingles with the sounds of the busy open kitchen. If the room is more than half full, conversation becomes an effort. Nonetheless, Delapa says families, “some with little kids,” enjoy the dining room. The lively bar and lounge is singles central.
How to cook for these different constituencies? MoonShine starts with modern bistro musts—charcuterie, cheese platters, beet salads, raw bar, pizza, steak frites—and last summer offered updated versions of such supper-club classics as oysters Rockefeller and lobster Thermidor.
The best dishes tend to be the more inventive ones of executive chef Frank Falivene, one time chef de cuisine of Artisanal in Manhattan and former chef/owner of the fondly remembered Ora in Morristown. His truffled gnocchi with veal meatballs would be toothsome on their own, but cloaked in sherry cream with pancetta and silky cremini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, this starter is off the charts.
Equally winning was another starter of grilled shrimp glistening with paprika oil, on a salad of frisée, chick peas and piquillo peppers. Served in a skillet, sweet-potato hash and duck confit topped with a poached duck egg and Hollandaise should have been hotter, with more Hollandaise, but once I added a bit of needed salt, it was formidable. Falivene’s pappardelle in roasted tomato sauce with olives and herbed ricotta succeeded on fine ingredients and finesse alone.
These dishes offset several middling choices, often under-seasoned. We resorted to salt and pepper shakers to correct lackluster white-bean hummus, mahimahi, fungi-Fontina pizza, market and Caesar salads, and that duck hash. Steak frites came in four different cuts; while the hanger steak was juicy and powerfully beefy, the pricier New York strip paled by comparison. All came with forgettable fries.
Some dishes were not even middling: mushy, red-snapper ceviche; dry, flavorless oysters Rockefeller; and tabbouleh tagged with oversize pieces of harsh, preserved lemon. Desserts were pedestrian. (I’m told they’ve since been overhauled.)
Still, it’s possible to handcraft a bright MoonShine experience. Preferring lively to gloomy, I would sit in the bar/lounge. I’d browse the impressive list of beers, picking a few to partner with the fine gnocchi and meatballs, paprika shrimp and duck-egg hash. Easy to take a shine to that meal.