You can have a pleasant dinner at Mustache, if you order cautiously. There are one or two good appetizers, the salad bar has some nice items, and most nights there's a pianist in the lounge who gently croons Stevie Wonder songs and other hits. But after trying almost a dozen main dishes, plus most appetizers and desserts, we can't think of much else to recommend.
The first time we opened the menu it seemed ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. Here are appetizers from potato skins to snails, seafood from New Orleans shrimp to Indian-style fish in coconut milk, veal and pork and steak and duck and . . . wild boar? On top of all that, Mustache has an all-you-can-eat buffet with a handful of specials that change every night -- some fish, poultry, meat and usually king crab legs.
Maybe it's just been bad luck -- every restaurant has its off nights -- but during our visits to Mustache a lot has gone wrong. Oysters Mont Rose (another name here for oysters Rockefeller) were coated with a stiff and pasty sauce. Clams with champagne sauce were, oddly enough, coated with the identical, lifeless sauce -- and the clams were spoiled. The same night the cream curdled in our coffee, and during another visit the "Fresh Catch of the Day" was inedibly old. Potato skins have been overpowered by a creamy cheese sauce that hardly tastes like cheese and with phony-tasting "bacon" bits. One saving grace: mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, plump and nicely seasoned.
Let's start with the best entrees first. Steak au poivre is tender and faintly peppery, although it's cut thin like breakfast steak and the sauce is too thick for our tastes. Barbecued shrimp are not at all barbecued but they're served with a decent, lightly spiced sauce of green peppers, garlic and shallots. The rest of the main dishes we've tried have been less successful. Sauteed red snapper a la Hassan is sort of nice. The fish is lightly fried and then simmered in coconut milk and scallions, but it's covered with stringy, odd-looking crab meat and the fish has been overcooked. Chicken a l'orange was cooked so dry one night it was hard to swallow.
Wild Boar Moldavian Style sounds great -- "Braised in pepper sauce with grape juice with onions and fennel, arranged en croute, fried in butter and topped with mushroom sauce and served with potato pancakes." But on a recent night it tasted as exotic as a tough Salisbury steak TV dinner.
On the face of it, the notion of an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet with salad bar and four entrees and two vegetables and all the champagne you can drink for $12.95 sounds pretty good, no? But the huge, domed stainless steel buffet pans, with hot flames leaping underneath, constantly pump the food full of heat and steam and make the tasteless fish more tasteless, the washed-out green beans more vapid, the chicken more like cardboard, and the king crab legs even more waterlogged.
Clearly, the thing to do at Mustache is to stick to the appealing salad bar, only $5.95, which includes dark crisp spinach; marinated shredded carrots; quartered beets; fat, freshly marinated mushrooms; cucumbers vinaigrette and spicy, homemade-tasting croutons. The salad bar's the place where many restaurants fall flat; at Mustache it's the strong point.
The staff at Mustache is extremely friendly, if not overly helpful. The men wear wide suspenders, keep your champagne glasses filled (with a sweet budget champagne) and if you complain about a dish, graciously replace it. We'd rather have the cooks be a lot more careful, charge more money and get more dishes right the first time.