Mustache has re-opened
I loved Moustache. If the stories I've heard are true, the despicable human who ran Moustache ($2MM in bail may suggest the accuracy of "despicable") stole the restaurant name, menu, and recipes from a place in NYC (and those weren't even his despicable acts!). But if he did in fact steal, he at least had the decency to do a great job with the food. The new owners of Marhaba have "copied" the menu, but apparently they didn't get the recipes.
Excited to try this new incarnation, I ordered the same meal that marked my first happy visit to Moustache, fetush salad and lamb pitza. Service was prompt and pleasant enough. The fetush lacked the tasty dressing from before. This one was oily and probably not seasoned the same. The raisins were overly chewy, and the pita seemed stale (I'm not confusing stale with toasted). The lamb pitza arrived too early - curious since the kitchen looks out over the dining room, the place wasn't very busy, and they could have easily seen I was working my way through the large salad. By the time I ate the pitza, it had cooled off substantially and was working its way to soggy. The pitza had pretty much the same fire as before, but not much flavor. I asked for salt to liven it up.
I realize I'm being hypercritical. It wasn't awful. I really like this type of food, as it can be really tasty and not heavy. But in a town with excellent eateries like Bell's Tavern, the two Thai joints, Tortuga's, and Caffe Galleria (for starters), Marhaba is going to have to pick up their game a lot if they hope to compete.
We were excited to hear that Marhaba had taken over the Moustache space. There's no question that Lambertville can support an excellent Middle Eastern spot. We visited the new restaurant this week. As others have mentioned, the space is unchanged, physically: all the decor from the Moustache days has been preserved.
The menu is also pretty much identical. We always enjoyed the fatoush salad, hummus and falafel and, of course, the zatter bread, each of which are still offered.
Service was cheerful and prompt. Each of the three items I mentioned arrived fresh and in generous proportions. Yet each fell somewhat short of my memory of those dishes from the Moustache days. The zatter bread was crispy and topped with abundant zatter spices, but just didn't have the same zing it once did. The falafel was a bit bland. Labne, a yogurt spread with olive oil and zatter spices, was wonderful. A dessert of refreshing yogurt and honey with fruit featured strawberries and grapes that weren't quite fresh (I would guess they were store-bought), although the watermelon was juicy and sweet. With so many local fruit orchards, the dessert would do better with locally grown peaches and nectarines (and the fruit could change seasonally, according to what's in the market).
The pita that came with the falafel was hot, steamy and light. Just perfect.
The owner and staff are trying very hard to succeed in this space and deserve to do so.
I am hopeful they will work to bring the quality of the food up to the level diners expect.
Prices are right (cash only) and BYO was a plus.
I never made it to Moustache but just tried Marhaba and was very pleased. Zatar bread and pita were great. I have to disagree about the Fallafel, in my opinion it was EXCELLENT - much less greasy than the usual variety and nice flavors. In the last few months I've had fallafel at a couple popular middle eastern restaurants in D.C. and Marhaba's was much better.
I was never a regular at Moustache though I did have lunch there a few times. As a result, I will have to rely on madgreek99 and others to provide comparisons between Moustache and the new Marhaba. I can say, however, that I didn't find many differences between the two restaurants.
Marhaba is owned by a young husband and wife team that lives nearby. The husband is indeed a former employee of Moustache. When I was there for lunch last week, the wife was the sole server, though her husband seemed to help occasionally. I don't know who was doing the cooking but it wasn't either of them.
I opted for the chicken shawarma sandwich, at $5.95 the most expensive sandwich on the menu. It was pretty much a typical chicken shawarma though it didn't have much spiciness and could have been hotter. On the whole, though, it was very good. It would have been nice to have a side of some kind, such as french fries which are often served with shawarma.
Having had the ubiquitous baklava at Moustache, I tried the Marhaba version. In my opinion, the latter was superior in flavor and benefited from being warmed slightly. I believe the portion was also slightly larger, though neither was what you would call large.
When it comes to ambience, there isn't an awful lot. The previous owner did what could be done with the space and the current owners don't seem to have changed anything. I still think the floor looks like a garage floor with traces of oil stains (!) but, all things considered, the overall atmosphere isn't bad. You wouldn’t come here to impress a first date or for a romantic evening but you most certainly would come for the food and the value.
Even though I was having a late lunch, the place was about half full so it seems the restaurant is off to a good start. I expect they will keep most of the old Moustache clientele and continue to attract new customers to what I believe is the only Middle Eastern restaurant in Hunterdon County.
If you go to Marhaba at lunch you should know that the owners bring their young child to work and she sits in her carriage in full view of all patrons. For me, this wasn’t an issue but I could tell that one couple was put off by this and was still grumbling about it as they left the restaurant. I was told that baby isn’t there at dinner - probably a good idea!
Went there for dnner last night. Here's the scoop: The new owner was an employee of the former Moustache. The decor is exactly the same. The menu is almost the same; they have all of the previous selections plus a few extras. The recipes are very, very similar. We did notice a few minor recipe changes. Some for the better, but not all. The only noticeable difference is the speed at which we receied our meal. At Moustache, things moved quite quickly. At Marhaba, not so much.
The baba ghanoush is still quite good, seems to be a bit more garlic and more lemon. The pitas were still good. The ouzi is still very good, but not as spicy and seemed to be a bit skimpy on the filling. The side salad has been improved dramatically. At Moustache, I found the tahini dressing to be overpowering and usually only picked at my salad. Now at Marhaba, the dressing is much lighter and more palatable. In summary, Marhaba is quite good and only Moustache regulars will notice any differences. Am pleased to see the return of good Middle Eastern food to the area, hopfully without any drama this time.
Went to Moustache once. Was terribly disappointed in the food and service and never went back. Perhaps I'll give this a try, I've not been to L-Ville in over a year. My favorite place closed in October 2007 and I just haven't made the trip up the hi-way much. Moustache was the last place I did go to. And I was disappointed, so, between too much work and no good news I've not been back. And it's only 15 minutes for me.
Suzy, thanks for the update. Yes, please let us know your impressions of this infamous spot.
I may be in Lambertville this week, and if I'm there mid-day I'll try to have lunch.
According to some on-line information I found, Marhaba will continue to offer Middle Eastern cuisine and will be open from 11-11.