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Moonstruck

Overindulging in the Caribbean cuisine of Blue Moon.

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Close your eyes. Can you hear Bob Marley singing in the background? Do you feel the warm breeze blowing through your hair, the humidity on your neck? Are we on a tropical island? No, it's just another rainy Saturday night in Memphis, and we're at the Blue Moon Restaurant and Tropical Bar. It may not be the Caribbean, but you wouldn't know by the cuisine.

The Blue Moon feels intimate, with a smallish main dining room and bar area and a unique dining porch jutting onto the brick-lined interior street of the Chickasaw Oaks Plaza shopping center. The walls are vibrant coral and tropical green. Royal blue sconces with half-moons provide a delicate aura. Although the décor is tasteful with a wonderful palette of colors, it could be enhanced with tropical plants, murals, or photos to create a more native atmosphere.

Our evening began with the following appetizers: roasted garlic and St. André cheese with Granny Smith apples and toasted croutons; black mussels in a Jamaican "run-down;" crab cakes; and wild mushrooms and spinach. The mussels were plentiful, swimming in a French Creole sauce of coconut milk and thyme, flavored with a habañero chili. The heat of the chile was tempered by the coconut milk and did not overpower the delicate flavor of the mussels.

The chunks of crab in the crab cakes were a surprise. I haven't been able to identify the lumps of crab in a crab cake since I left the East Coast. Many locally prepared crab cakes are overly seasoned and mixed with breadcrumbs until the crab is broken up and unidentifiable. The crab cakes at the Blue Moon are the real deal: lightly seasoned, lightly breaded, and not overwhelmingly bathed in mayonnaise. A mango jalapeño aioli (garlic mayonnaise) drizzled over baby greens cradled the crab cakes. The mango's sweetness and the blisteringly hot jalapeño enhanced the garlic mayonnaise, embracing the crab as well the taste buds.

Our favorite appetizer was the amazingly simple yet flavorful roasted elephant garlic bulb and St. André cheese. Served on a platter, the garlic and cheese sat center stage with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, red grapes, and toasted croutons. The toasted baguette croutons were the perfect base for the scoops of smooth roasted garlic, apple, and cheese. The bitterness of the cheese balanced the tanginess of the apple.

Four very eclectic and distinct salads are offered at the Blue Moon. Unable to decide, we ordered one of each: the house salad with mesclun greens and tomatoes, the Mediterranean salad, the rémoulade salad, and the signature Blue Moon salad. The house salad is a Provencal mixture known as mesclun, young salad greens from beds of seeds sown together. The greens include wild chicory, mâche (lamb's lettuce), curly escarole, dandelion, rocket (arugula), and other tender lettuces. A raspberry vinaigrette drizzled atop the greens enhanced the flavors. The Mediterranean salad mixed the same mesclun greens with roasted tomatoes and kalamata olives. The epiphany of this salad? The warm pecan-crusted goat cheese. The aroma was tantalizing, and when the pecan and cheese ball was pierced with a fork, a prize of warm goat cheese created a union between all of the ingredients. The rémoulade salad of mesclun greens served with avocados and large shrimp was completed by a classic French rémoulade sauce, which consists of mayonnaise seasoned with mustard, anchovy essence, finely chopped gherkins, capers, parsley, chevril, and tarragon. The Blue Moon signature salad is a bed of mesclun greens tossed lightly with raspberry vinaigrette, topped with walnuts, Gorgonzola (Italian blue cheese), sun-dried cherries, and Granny Smith apples.

The portions at the Blue Moon are ample yet not overwhelming. We found ourselves overindulging, helpless to resist. The entrées proved to be individual masterpieces. The Gulf Coast bouillabaisse, originally a hearty fisherman's stew, is prepared with large shrimp, white fish, and mussels and is flavored with saffron and a rouille. (A rouille is a spicy red-pepper and garlic mayonnaise from Provence served with fish soups.) The flavors were pure pleasure, though the shellfish overwhelmed the stew. The grilled Black Angus filet, generous and grilled to order, melted in your mouth. The beef is enhanced with a yellow onion demiglace, Gorgonzola, and a red and green chili aioli. Mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus completed the filet presentation. The grilled pork tenderloin was served in a reduction seasoned with Asian spices and gently nestled in a bed of basmati rice infused with coconut. The aromatic and nutty flavor of the rice embraced the subtlety of the coconut. The final entrée was the duck breast in a shiitake mushroom demiglace. The duck was served appropriately medium rare. The duck was charismatic, earthy and wild, and served upon grilled polenta, a baked or fried Italian cornmeal pudding.

After the entrées and so full as to be on the verge of exploding, we decided to risk human splatter and ordered four of Blue Moon's homemade desserts. The cappuccino cheesecake had a touch of espresso and an almond ladyfinger cookie crust. The cheesecake filling was light and unlike the dense New York-style cheesecake. The white-chocolate and raspberry crème brûlée was served with bits of raspberries. The "chocolate oblivion" is a rich flourless cake. The result is a creamy decadent dessert adorned with drizzled raspberry purée and fresh whipped cream. However, the winner of the desserts, hands down, was the bread pudding du jour. The pudding marries warm chunks of apples and hints of cinnamon, and vanilla ice cream capped and melted into the bread pudding.

The Blue Moon Restaurant and Tropical Bar is located in the Chickasaw Oaks Plaza at 3092 Poplar Avenue. It's open for lunch and dinner, and reservations are requested. Price range: $10 to $25 per person. A private dining room and full bar are available.

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