Jan Gardner, the New Zealand-born chef and co-owner of the Moa Room, took cooking lessons at Le Trou before enrolling at the California Culinary Academy, from which she graduated 10 years ago. She's also friends with Albert Tordjman, the eccentric culinary impresario of Flying Saucer. And she lives just four blocks from the restaurant, which means that the Moa Room will be a neighborhood restaurant in her own neighborhood.
"I'm very connected to the neighborhood and to that corner," she says.
The Moa Room is Gardner's first venture in owning her own restaurant. She's worked at Postrio, among other places, and for the past six years has run a catering business. She feels "a degree of trepidation about the lifestyle change, the hours you have to work" to have your own place, she says, but she and partner Linda-Marie Loeb are also highly enthusiastic. For one thing, they're opening at a destination corner -- a place people already associate with quality dining.
For another, they'll be using herbs and vegetables grown at Loeb's ranch near Calistoga. That sounds very organic and California, and in fact the restaurant's menu will be "contemporary Californian," not New Zealander, despite the name.
The moa, she says, "the biggest bird that ever lived, like a giant ostrich," was native to New Zealand but is believed to have become extinct a millennium ago. Given the bird's size, Gardner has no plans to include its likeness anywhere in the restaurant's decor. Nor, for that matter, does she plan to strike many New Zealand notes in the cooking.
There will be "lamb, obviously," she says (of which New Zealand has become a major exporter), as well as little desserts and picked vegetables. "We'll also be featuring New Zealand wines."
No kiwi fruit, though: The fuzzy green balls might owe their worldwide market success to New Zealanders (who refer to themselves colloquially as "kiwis"), but they're Chinese in origin.
... and Shut
Ivy's, the gracious Civic Center spot that for a decade and a half nourished flocks of symphony- and operagoers, is no more. The restaurant was on "hiatus" for the duration of the recent symphony strike, but while the strike has ended, the hiatus is permanent, and the space is for rent.
By Paul Reidinger