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Moon After Dark

Crescent Moon Café
705 Market Street

by Ally Carte

I've found it increasingly difficult to convince myself to go to West Knoxville. Sure, sure, it has its charms and, until the powers that be decide North Knoxville or downtown is worthy of a decent bookstore, I'm going to find myself making a near-weekly pilgrimage to the westish end of Kingston Pike. But I'm not hauling heinie out there on a lark, simply because I'm too lazy to cook dinner one night. I'm not going to play the weaving-through-construction-cones game and the avoid-getting-squashed-by-an-SUV shuffle. Life is too short.

Fortunately, the dining options in the center of the city have increased. The Regas-venture City Brew has recently opened its doors and old stand-bys like Bistro at the Bijou and Tomato Head are holding their own. At lunch, a favorite choice has long been the Crescent Moon, a cozy little spot tucked between two neat old brick buildings. But the Moon closed up shop at 3 p.m., forcing the supper crowd to eat elsewhere. Until recently, that is.

Crescent Moon is now offering an early dinner menu, served until 7 p.m. The choices change nightly and one special dominates the page for any given meal. Last week, for example, options ranged from Moroccan chicken with couscous, veggies, and harissa to baked Cornish game hen with red pepper soup, a spring green salad, and a decadent chocolate dessert. On different days, you could have picked from either marinated gulf shrimp with a twice-baked potato or chicken and broccoli crepes with fruit muffins. If you set your mind to it, you could almost travel around the culinary globe during the course of a week (printed schedules of the dishes-to-be are available for the asking so that you may better plan your trip).

On the night we went, the menu featured a salmon B.L.T. on toasted, homemade challah, served with grilled sweet potato and carrot wedges ($16.95). Tender, flaky salmon fillets were stacked on top of each other, separated and surrounded by slices of sweet, tender challah, some bacon, and a lettuce leaf or two. But how to eat it? Is it best to cut it? Start from the top and work down? Or just pick this giant pile up and make a huge mess?

While the sandwich provoked some of the best kinds of questions—better thoughts than those I often have along the lines of "good lord, why does all of my food have absolutely no discernible flavor?"—the biggest challenge with the grilled veggies was to not just cram them all into my mouth like a starving dog simply because they tasted so good. The Moon's kitchen has a knack for knowing when to let the natural taste of the food come through; both of the vegetables had been lightly coated with oil, salt, and spices, and grilled just enough to caramelize the natural sugars, lending a subtle sweetness to these tender plants.

Fortunately, the roll-ups—whose variations change nightly as well—also come with the well-prepared veggies on the side. The Moon's familiar lunchtime roll-ups undergo a make-over after dark. The turkey version, which at the noon hour features meat, Swiss cheese, and a lovely garlic/dill sauce, puts on a snazzier face for dinner, with the addition of some avocado and onion slices, as well as a side of a creamy balsamic sauce ($8.95). Some of these additions work better than others—the Stilton in the roast beef roll-up ($8.95) is overpowering and the onions are too few to fight through the cheese's musty taste. A veggie version with sautéed squash, zucchini, red pepper, onion, carrots and hummus as well as an Italian version with ham, salami, pepperoni, onion provolone and a red wine vinaigrette (both $8.95) round out the sandwich offerings, which are all served on a bed of mixed greens.

Despite the few misfires on the menu, dinner was satisfying. No, it ain't cheap when compared to any number of casual dining establishments, but these eats have depth, as if real time has been spent actually making the simple act of consumption into an enjoyable experience. Couple that with the Moon's proliferation of wall art, twinkling lights, and cozy nooks, and you're in for a good night out. And just think of how wonderful dinner at the Moon will be once the weather turns and you can dine al fresco on the patio under another sort of moon. You may never go West again.

A note: Crescent Moon does not accept credit cards.

February 8, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 6
© 2001 Metro Pulse