Café Moutarde
239 Fifth Avenue
(at Carroll Street)
Park Slope
(718) 623-3600

 

 

 

Café Moutarde almost doesn’t fit the surrounding scene — even though this stretch of Park Slope is full of excellent places to shop, dine, and drink yourself silly it still all looks like . . . well, Brooklyn. But Moutarde is a gleaming, bejeweled European bistro, with shiny copper fixtures and mirrors in all the right places. I walked past it dozens of times thinking I couldn’t afford it before I actually looked at the menu. It turns out that, not only can I afford it, but in a way I need it.

I don’t think we New Yorkers are particular enough about the quality of life in our city, the simple aesthetic value of our living spaces that’s so often overlooked. We live in drafty, windowless, leaky dives in order to keep our rents below $1,000 per month. We allow our refined cityscapes to be marred by garish modern high-rise condos, parking garages, and anything else the non-residents who build this place dream up. We flock to every new Dunkin’ Donuts or American Apparel or Starbucks rather than boycott them out of the neighborhood so regular, less fluorescent establishments can open in their place. In our constant search for the deal and the trend we forget the importance of beauty and a slow comfortable pace, how those things can stimulate our emotions and thoughts and make us feel less automated. We lose that certain . . . je ne sais quoi that they capture so well in Europe. I think of Moutarde as a little way to regain it, even if only for a few hours over breakfast.


What they consider their brunch menu isn’t really. Brunch is meant to offer the special, the unusual, even the experimental on occasion. Here they serve up the expected pancakes and omelettes and eggs benedict. But that’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with plain old breakfast, New York! And at Moutarde, everything is so right with breakfast. The poached eggs are perfect, the omelettes are . . . well, the French invented omelettes after all. Everything comes with the lightly dressed mixed greens and the reasonable handful of home fries seasoned just so that you wish came with all of your breakfasts all the time. French women don’t get fat, remember?

I never order pancakes because they seem so low and off-putting. But the pancakes at Moutarde are sweets prepared with as much panache as any fine dessert. The first time I tried them out I took a couple cautious “that’ll be enough for me” bites and when I came to I had thoughtlessly eaten almost the whole damned plate. I think their fluffy not-so-sweetness recalled a time in my life when I earnestly set out to invent the perfect pancake recipe, believing rightly that pancakes — historically a pre-Lent celebration of all things glorious and bad for you — should actually be glorious as well as bad for you. I didn’t succeed (although I did enlighten many a roommate about the culinary sin that is buying a box of Aunt Jemima). Moutarde has succeeded, though — so much so that I was almost inspired to give up some other pleasure in return. Almost.

There are some caveats here, which I provide not as a deterrent but us advice on how to get through a meal pleasantly. You French fans will be tempted to order the house-baked pain au chocolat, but I wouldn’t — they are literally bite sized (a little smaller than a piece of Shredded Wheat cereal) but cost as much as regular-sized ones elsewhere. The servers, though exceedingly polite, often don’t know how to answer your questions or give menu advice, so don’t be surprised if your request for a side salad becomes a huge dinner salad or vice versa, and don’t be shy about sending the unwanted things back.

Armed with such awareness you’ll be free to enjoy the manifold pleasures, and maybe open up to all the other pleasures you could be having. The French, despite how much we like to make fun of their nit-picky attention to details when it comes to language and culture and architecture, understand this joie de vivre more than most. There’s a surge afoot in Paris to prevent the Champs-Elysee from becoming a huge outdoor strip mall. I can hear the American sneering already, but what we might see as backwards is actually very forward thinking. No, we won’t surrender our niceties, our cozy cafes and bakeries and bars that make an afternoon walk so picturesque and alive with inspiring human bustle. We appreciate the way our neighborhood looks and no sir, whether you are Frank Gehry or not, we simply don’t want it to change.

We could use a bit of that resistance here. And it’s essentially a bistro philosophy: The good life found in simplicity. Take a tried-and-true crowd pleaser like a hamburger, give it a little extra TLC, present it lavishly, and you have a smitten customer.

Whether it’s the sunlight pouring in and glinting off the coffee urns, or the fresh fruit cascading off your French toast, or the mosaic work along the walls, the little things at Moutarde make you feel unique again, which you are.

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