Montclair has a lot of restaurants with a diverse range of cuisines—Ethiopian, Indian, Japanese, and a bunch of Italian, but until now, we were missing out on the fusion of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine of Lebanon. Uncle Moustache, which opened its doors on Sunday, July 15, has given us just that.
Located in between Toast and Marrakech, the decor of Uncle Moustache is what you notice right away. Very cool, eclectic art, antique furniture, and black and white vintage photos make you feel as if you’ve been transported to a very cool French bistro. Manager Ali Lyoussi, who hails from the East Village via Morocco, beamed when he spoke of the designer, named Alex Gherab, who scours vintage French shops for unique items. French music plays in the background, and a flat screen television mounted on the wall, will soon be playing black and white movies (with no sound) for an added touch.
The second thing we noticed (Kristin Wald came with me as the vegetarian taster) was that it was really hot. Granted it’s 101° today, with a “real feel” of 109°, but the a/c wasn’t working properly. Lyoussi said he had it on, but because of the heat, it just wasn’t cooling. Hopefully, that gets fixed soon. What helped was a cold, refreshing glass of Loomi ($2.50), a Persian Lime drink that was tart and sweetened just right.
Chef Wissam Al Masri, who hails from Brooklyn, via Lebanon, explained Lebanese cuisine as a mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors, specifically French. French is the second language of Lebanon. He said Lebanese cuisine is 90% vegetarian and locally grown, but there are offerings of chicken and lamb.
Being Greek, I adore this type of food, and while very similar to the Greek food I’m used to, this food was much lighter. We started with a Mezze platter ($12), which served up five appetizer dips: Labne (a creamy homemade Greek-style yogurt), hummus, baba gannouj, Spinach and chickpeas and Rahib. The hummus was smooth, light and very creamy. The Rahib is a delicious eggplant, red bell pepper and cucumber blend, that is refreshing and cool. The Labne was made from scratch by Chef Al Masri and was tangy, thick and creamy. It had a drizzle of olive oil and some chopped tomatoes as garnish. It was excellent and Kristin’s favorite. While I liked them all, the baba gannouj stood out. I’m not alone in that opinion. When Al Masri worked at Mamlouk, which was a restaurant in the East Village and is now closed, the NYTimes reviewer described it as, “wonderfully smoky baba gannouj, sprinkled with a few jewel-like pomegranate seeds.” The combination of the smoky eggplant and sweet pomegranate is amazing.
We were served two fresh from the oven, pillow-like pita breads, one traditional and the other whole wheat, to eat the dips with. Both Kristin and I preferred the whole wheat version.
Next came Ouzi ($16), a mix of fluffy rice, sweet peas, onions, raisins, carrots, almonds, and spices all enclosed in Filo. You can add chicken or lamb to it and it’s served with a Lebanese version of Tzatiki yogurt sauce. The sauce was very thin and sprinkled with Sumac, a Middle Eastern spice. It was good, but I prefer the Greek style. But the Ouzi was delicious. The filling has so many flavors, savory, spicy, smoky and the Basmati rice was fluffy and light.
Some of the best Falafal ($10) I’ve had were served next on a plate with Romaine lettuce, tomato and tahini sauce. Again, they were light, not greasy and just right. Then came the pizza, or Pitza ($7-$11), Uncle Moustache’s oven baked Lebanese style pizza, which is baked in the dining room in a corner that houses the pizza oven. It was small, and could be eaten individually or shared with another person. We had the Moustache Pitza ($11), with roasted red bell pepper, tomato, onion, parsley and chili topped with fresh mozzarella. The crust was crisp and thin and the sauce sweet.
Uncle Moustache offers brunch as well as lunch and dinner. To give us a sampling of the brunch menu, which is heavy on eggs, but also offers pancakes and French toast, Chef Al Masri made us a crepe with organic chocolate, served with strawberries on the side. Gooey, sweet and light. I would order it as a dessert. It’s not on the menu, but he plans to offer crepes as special, serving different fillings on different days.
Uncle Moustache is a BYO opened from 10 am until the last person leaves, said Manager Lyoussi with a smile. They also offer take-out and delivery.
702 Bloomfield Avenue
Montclair, NJ, 07042
(Kristin and I were given a complimentary sample tasting as reviewers for Baristanet. Our opinions are our own and we are two very opinionated chicks.)