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Hoary Moustache

This Montrose restaurant suffers from an outdated concept and poorly executed cuisine.

During a recent weekday lunch at Café Moustache, I picked idly at the mesclun salad in front of me as my friend Judy poked at her own bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo. The restaurant was empty save for us and one table containing an older woman who was slowly reading the most recent New Yorker from cover to cover. It was deathly quiet inside. Our waiter hovered, having nothing else to do. It made it difficult to discuss the poor salad we were contemplating.

Covered in what seemed like nothing except olive oil, the half-wilted lettuce and its anemic cherry tomato nubs were a sorry way to start our three-course lunch. It was completely devoid of flavor, but at least the gumbo was picking up the slack — somewhat.

Gumbo was certainly an odd thing to see as the soup of the day at what is presented as a more traditionally French restaurant. But I should have learned from previous visits that sometimes Café Moustache's attitude is that of, "Screw it. Let's put something Tex-Mex on the menu." It's this halfhearted approach to the food at the former So Vino that's left me cold across four different visits.

Café Moustache should focus on dishes like the mussels Provençal with chorizo.
Troy Fields
Café Moustache should focus on dishes like the mussels Provençal with chorizo.

Location Info

Map

Cafe Moustache

507 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Casinos

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays, 5 p.m. to midnight Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Happy hour hors d'oeuvres: $4
Tomato salad: $7.95
Duck quesadillas: $9.95
Truffle risotto: $16.95
Braised short ribs: $24
Steak and frites: $27.95
Three-course weekday lunch: $15.95


READ MORE BLOG POST: Cafe Moustache: Not the Place for Crepes. But These Places Are


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The gumbo wasn't bad, per se. But it wasn't striking either, with its thin broth that didn't look as if it had ever seen a roux. And it was simply terribly out of place. Ditto the romano-crusted chicken that was one of the three entrée options for the day. An Italian-American hybrid dish at a French restaurant that also serves the occasional French-Tex-Mex concoction? I am not convinced that Café Moustache knows what it wants to be.

And after tasting the romano-crusted chicken — dry inside and bland outside, covered oddly with a butter sauce that seemed to consist of only butter — I'm not convinced that Café Moustache knows how to prepare good food on a consistent basis, either. My trout meunière suffered the same butter-drenched fate as the chicken — no white wine to be found there — and was aggressively fishy tasting. Trout isn't the mildest fish, but it normally doesn't taste like a wharf.

Dessert arrived, and it was a relief to have the pitiful entrées taken away. But oh, what a replacement came in their place: Judy's Black Forest crepe clearly pre-made, lifeless and cold and containing equally saccharine amounts of mass-produced chocolate syrup and bottled cherries. My chocolate pot de crème was better, but the Jell-O Temptations six-packs at my local H-E-B are cheaper and taste just as good.

During this time, I watched as John — a semi-homeless man who lives just down the street — ambled into the Café Moustache parking lot, bag from a convenience store in hand. He decided to take his lunch in one of the parking spaces, sat down and began "prepping" his cup of Ramen by smashing the noodles into bits with his hand and tilting the cup up to eat them like snack mix.

He had a happy grin on his face the entire time, content to eat his Ramen noodle dust in the sunshine. And all I could think was, "John is having a better lunch than I am today, and he paid a lot less."
_____________________

I confess to not understanding Café Moustache at all. I would say that I don't understand how it is consistently busy, but that question is answered by the thrifty happy hour that it holds from 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. And this is easily the best time to go: The food and wine are inexpensive, and the crowd nicely fills out the sleek space.

Not much has changed, interiorwise, since owners Manfred Jachmich and Elizabeth Abraham changed concepts last year and transformed So Vino into Café Moustache. The soaring ceilings and unique architectural details are still in place, as is the generously sized bar area. And during these weekday happy hours, the place buzzes with a warm and inviting vibe.

During dinner, however, that warmth seems to vanish as people retreat back to their homes or to other restaurants. The dinner service speaks for itself: Why stick around for a nearly $30 plate of steak-frites that's gristly and tough? No, the $4 appetizers — which are more inspired anyway — and $5 glasses of wine are the draw here.

And if that were all that Café Moustache was offering, I would probably love the place. What's not to love about a casual spot offering small plates of duck-Cognac pâté with dill mustard or mussels Provençal with chorizo? Montrose can and would support a restaurant of this measure.

What it won't support is a $15.95-a-person three-course lunch with insipid, poorly prepared dishes that appear to have been transported across time and space from Jachmich's original Café Moustache, which experienced its heyday during the 1980s. Not when restaurants like Feast, Dolce Vita and Indika are doing some of the best, most creative cooking in the city right across the street — and often for the same price. You can even get far better crepes a few blocks away at Melange Creperie.

During that lunch, Judy remarked about her plate: "This looks like a page out of Ladies' Home Journal, circa 1978." And although there's something charming about an old concept revived and reincarnated, there have to be at least a few concessions to time and modern cuisine. Must every plate come with the same boring potatoes and scant sautéed vegetables? Why not choose sides that complement the entrée?

And during my first visit to Café Moustache when it reopened after — appropriately enough — Bastille Day last year, I had a wonderful plate of braised short ribs with Gruyère polenta. But the dried-out haricots verts on the side were a harbinger of boring meals to come, like the softball-size mound of truffle risotto I had recently at dinner or that gristly New York strip on my plate of steak-frites.

And when the best thing I can think of to say about a restaurant's lunch and dinner is that they're "inoffensive," something has gone seriously awry in the kitchen.
_____________________

The last dinner I had at Café Moustache involved not only that risotto and steak-frites, but also those godforsaken duck quesadillas that don't belong on the menu any more than I belong in the French National Assembly. As I ate a few small, soggy bites filled with rubbery duck, the only thing I could think was, "How can anyone manage to make duck so bland?"

The truffle risotto, despite its promisingly pungent odor, was similarly bland, and served in such an indecent portion that I was struck by its size. Who could eat this much risotto in one sitting? And why would they want to? The saving grace was a decent tomato salad that contained the balsamic vinegar and the ripe red tomatoes I'd been missing in my lunchtime salad.

At this dinner, too, the waitress hovered incessantly. Every time my dining companion and I looked up, she was there. She was charming on the whole despite this, and gushed to us about how it was her first job waiting tables.

On the other hand, the service has come a long way from the distant and brusque waiter my friends and I endured on our first visit, so it seems that Café Moustache does indeed listen to some of the criticism leveled at it. And the place, like our waitress, isn't without its charms, especially over a few of those $5 glasses of wine during happy hour.

But during dinner and lunch, Café Moustache desperately needs a more modern approach to its classic French cooking — why not incorporate our local Gulf seafood or Texas produce into the menu? Streamline the menu and remove those ridiculous items. Focus instead on perfecting the standbys like mussels and steak-frites. Emphasize the comfortable neighborhood vibe that's on display during those happy hours. If they do, Jachmich and Abraham could have a hit on their hands.

Until then, however, I'll stick with the spectacular prix-fixe menu at neighboring Feast for lunch, where I can indulge in pan-fried Gulf blue­runner and freshly made strawberry ice cream before hitting the road back to the office — and for the same price as Café Moustache, too.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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23 comments
Anon.
Anon.

I'm curious...when did gumbo become part of Tex-Mex cuisine? Gumbo is cajun which has a very heavy French influence. So it being features as a soup of the day still kind of makes sense.

POOPOOPLATTER
POOPOOPLATTER

The hoary moustache will not be coming into contact with my poopooplatter. Too tickly.

trose
trose

I'm just glad we have at least one critic in this city who knows her stuff and isn't afraid to express a real opinion. Thanks for doing what a critic is supposed to do Katharine, giving us well informed, unbiased opinions without concern for trying to become friends with every half-ass chef and restaurant owner. (I'm looking at you, Alison Cook.)

anonymous
anonymous

You know Alison, do you? I suspect not.

Alison Cook
Alison Cook

No, he knows me and he's pretty much right on everything he said.

Nathan Turner
Nathan Turner

@Aeawf, you sound like you used to work there.

Attyrose3
Attyrose3

I have not been to Cafe Moustache and most likely never will go there, but not because of this review. It just does not seem appealing on any level. What I am puzzled by in this review is that the reviewer was eating food that was being served hot. As she noted in her response to my comment following her review of Tan Tan No. 2, it is too hot to eat hot food right now.

I did have occassion to return to Tan Tan No. 2 the other day. The security guard who was the subject of Ms. Shilcutt's comments, could not have been nicer and said that since the review business has been up. I went with someone unfamilar with the house rice cake appetizer and she loved it as does everyone except Ms. Shilcutt. We also had the wonderful rice congee with seafood. It is hard to find a better bowl of soup in Houston, or perhaps anywhere.

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi Attyrose3 -- I'll have to temporarily take your word that it's hard to find a better bowl of soup in Houston. Because it's June, I'm not eating hot food, and I will not resume such activity until October at the earliest. My chowder threshhold is 74 degrees; I won't even touch chicken noodle anywhere north of the 60's.* But I can't wait to get back in the ol' soup saddle!

Thanks,

Craig

*all temperatures Fahrenheit

Fenterman
Fenterman

Is it too hot for coffee? WTF? I take it you (Attyrose3) are the designator of what foods we must eat in various temperatures? No, you are not. People eat hot food all the time. Get off that ridiculous line of thinking.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Too hot outside to want a pot of boiling liquid at your table over a butane burner is different than wanting a piece of trout. Apples and oranges, man. Good grief.

Aeawf
Aeawf

Oh good Christ, right on I say! Each of the two times I was treated to Cafe Moustache, I swallowed my food hard, in anguish, given to plummier visions of Frederic Perrier doing something similar, but actually good, in this prime Montrose space. The menu is so simple to execute and stun all but the most duncy of eaters.

Takeaway: Manfred is a culinary mummy, and paying more attention to kissing cheeks in the dining room. He pays more attention with a note-pad to what Dolce Vita is doing that he does to his own kitchen. Wine-dress Abraham is equally clueless, as before, parading about beautifully, strutting, preening, trying to talk seriously about wines, without bringing anything interesting to the table.

Other than that, Cafe Moustache is ok.

LS
LS

Never eaten there, but met the chef at the farmers market last weekend. He said they are, in fact, changing the concept away from French and into a local, market-driven menu. He was sourcing ingredients and had a pocketful of business cards.

Nemekf
Nemekf

Knowing Manfred's timing and marketing prowess, he might soon convert the restaurant into a non-mobile Food Truck. And have Carolyn Farb as a gushing customer!

Montrose Diner
Montrose Diner

WOW! Scathing but I am not surprised, I had similar experiences on my one and only lunch I will ever attend to at this restaurant. I agree on the other restaurants nearby offering better options, although unfortunately my luck has run out at Feast where recent dinners have been depressing.

Montrose Diner
Montrose Diner

Mary, my two most recent dinners at Feast were dissapointing as i ventured away from my usual Pork Belly entree order and tried new things like a wild boar chop which turned out to be a huge piece of bone w/ a 1 inch layer of fat on it and gristle, that was it...little to no meat, it was like cave man eating without any sophistication. Also our service was not good that night even though the restaurant was not busy and it was Friday before Valentines. We tried going again and again it wasn't busy on a weekend night and after we saw signs of bad service, my partner and I decided to abort mission. I hope these were just 2 bad nights, because I have always loved that pork belly and don't want it to go away! It seems like as soon as I declare that a place is my "favorite" restaurant in town, things go downhill for me....happened with Feast, Reef, T'afia, and now even Indika is on my wishy washy list.....:(

Mary
Mary

I too always order the pork belly. Best dish they got. Sorry to hear of your experiences. I have been worried about the effect of the owners splitting time with the new NOLA Feast. I love Indika, but have been unhappy with prices lately. $19 for two baby lamb chops (4 small bites) is stratospheric.

Mary
Mary

Specifics on Feast, Montrose? It's also in my top 3 restaurants in Houston. In this heat though, the menu sometimes remains steadfastly winterized and too heavy. Is that the depressing part?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Some of the items on Feast's menu are definitely too heavy for the summer, but I've been eyeing items like their chilled beet soup with yogurt and vegetable empanadas with zucchini blossoms. Mmm.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

As I understand it, James and Meagan are in NOLA. Richard is still kicking around here in Houston.

Ajepej
Ajepej

is the original crew from feast still absent? and doing biz at their NOLA store?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

To head off any possible comments about gumbo not being Tex-Mex... I know gumbo isn't Tex-Mex. There was originally a line in the beginning about the horrible duck quesadillas, hence the Tex-Mex reference, that was moved a bit further down. I apologize for any confusion. :)

 
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