Restaurant Reviews

The Mustard Seed Bistro in Cooper City Works With a Very Specific Crowd

Make no mistake; Tim Boyd is a lady's man.

There's something about Boyd, the 42-year-old chef and owner of the Mustard Seed Bistro in Cooper City, that seems to attract women. Maybe it's his amber brown hair and his deep, pronounced cheekbones or his lanky, boyish gait. Because when Boyd emerges from the kitchen of his French-inspired bistro, his largely female customer base grows breathless and starry-eyed, like they're witnessing George Clooney strut his way down the red carpet.

Boyd runs the 40-plus-seat restaurant with his co-owner and wife, Lara, and my God, do they make one beautiful pair. As Tim Boyd tends to the back of the house, coaxing flavor out of caramelized onions and slowly reducing sauces to a lustrous sheen, Lara Boyd spreads a luminance around the bistro's sunny dining room. She walks between the lacquered wooden tables with an elegant countenance, courting diners as they lunch on crab cakes with black bean salsa and tuna niçoise. As a team, they seem unstoppable.

As for the many women who fill the Mustard Seed Bistro daily, they'd as soon eat Waldorf chicken salad out of Tim and Lara's outstretched palms as on a piece of the restaurant's square, white china. During a recent lunch visit, the gray-and-yellow-striped dining room looked as if a taping of The View had exploded inside. All at once, they filtered in: ladies with big bouffants — and equally outsized handbags — and society types in pastel cardigans. There were women in spandex with baby strollers in tow and cougars on luncheons with Bluetooth headsets set snug in their ears. And as each set arrived, there was Lara, welcoming and seating and chatting.

"How are you today? Great to see you! You're looking wonderful, you know. Where's the rest of the gang?"

The Boyds sure have crafted a cult following in the eight years or so they've run restaurants in South Florida. In 2002, the couple opened the Upper Crust Café in Plantation only to sell it two years later. They were quick at work with a new venture soon after, Pembroke Pines' Milk and Honey, where they stayed until a year ago, when Tim caught wind that the Upper Crust had been bought out. With their noncompete clause voided, the Boyds packed up the gang and headed to Cooper City, where the Mustard Seed was born.

Like their past few ventures, the Mustard Seed is a quaint bistro, with rust-brown chandeliers, white chair rails along the walls, and lacy curtains that obscure the orange strip mall outside. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — and it's busy at almost all times. Tim decided to split the kitchen with Peruvian-born chef Ernesto Rado, a longtime employee whom the Boyds have made a partner in their venture. It was a move that Tim Boyd says exemplifies the organic nature of his relationship with his employees. "My staff is very important to me," he says. "If I can lift them up alongside me, I do."

The family dynamic unequivocally works. Though the restaurant was packed at lunch, both Lara and our waiter Keit ("No h," he says. "I'm one of a kind.") visited our table countless times to check on us or just to exchange pleasantries. "How do you like that sandwich?" Keit asked as I dug into an upscale club made with turkey, melted smoked Gouda, fresh avocado, and bacon. I nodded in approval, but, truthfully, the flavors of the caramelized onions, sweet oniony sauce, and stone-ground mustard were muddled. The whole thing might've been remedied by toasting the whole-grain French loaf, which was otherwise flaccid. The bowl of Peruvian seafood stew it came with (soup and sandwich combo, $12.50) was much more enjoyable. The tart, bright broth was buoyed by chunks of tomato, celery, and toothy potato. A mound of flaky white tilapia in the center was crowned with a clam shell that sported a jewel of pearly meat along with one bouncy, ivory scallop.

I was equally so-so on the grilled vegetable ciabatta ($8). The sandwich, oozing goat cheese and pesto, impressed my dining partner with its fresh, grilled eggplant. But again, the bread felt too gummy and soft — ciabatta should be ropy, firm stuff. House-favorite shoestring French fries ($2.50) were too wispy, but I can see how the clientele would buzz over the light, greaseless strands.

For dinner, the Boyds blanket the tables in white linen and dim the lights, placing a spotlight on the cartoonish mural behind the restaurant's central bar, which is used mainly as a service station, since they don't have a full liquor license. The servers don sharp black or white pressed shirts and stiffen up their backs for the well-to-do crowd. Nostalgic 1940s tunes play on the loudspeakers overhead, the tinny sounds sharpening once you slide into one of the high-back booths that curtail the restaurant's crowd noise.

You'll notice that crowd is a bit more varied at night: mainly couples and families, with plenty of men in their company. The restaurant seems to book lightly and in stages, so service never really bogs down and diners can sit comfortably for a few hours or more. This works great if you make a reservation, but I saw more than a few walk-ins get turned away at the door. I felt bad for them, but it was nice to sit and savor a bottle of wine like our Cloudline pinot noir and not have to worry about being shooed out when the last drop was poured. A good thing too, since the Oregon pinot was easy drinking, like liquid jam — not bad for a $36 bottle, about double the price of retail. The rest of the wine list is studded with more reds than whites and a dozen or so splits, most falling in the $50 range.

At dinner, entrées tend to peak past the $30 mark and work up toward $40 — a hefty sum for what basically amounts to strip-mall dining. You'll achieve maximum flavor-to-dollar ratio by sampling the restaurant's solid list of starters instead, none priced higher than $14. We took that route and ended up with clams in coconut curry broth ($12), a bowl of shellfish musty with garam masala and the grassiness of green onion. A pliant flatbread "pizza" with prosciutto and glazed, red-skin pears ($11) was a beautiful example of sweet versus salty, the earthy ham and tannin-laced pears tempered by a smattering of mixed greens. Our favorite, though, was a chopped salad with cucumber, apple, and blue cheese ($10), lightly dressed greens powered by an exquisitely crusty/seared crab cake.

Although the wait staff is largely perfect, our waiter that night was a tad stuffy; no matter how much we attempted to engage with him, he just puffed his chest and acted uninterested. (And when I told him my glass came with lipstick on it, he didn't bother to apologize.) We much preferred Keit, who exchanged his lunchtime waiter role for busboy. His capable hands delivered us tomato risotto with mushrooms ($22), a perfect example of al dente rice gilded with stock to the very pinnacle of creaminess — if only there was one dominant flavor to assert itself. The same could be said of a special of bison tenderloin: the grilled fillet was a lively garnet and far more intense in flavor than beef, even if, for $32, the portion size was woefully small. A sad, red-wine reduction coating didn't enhance the flavors in any way.

In stark contrast, the cherry gastrique that coated my roasted duck ($29) was the picture of balance. I'd eat a pile of bolts if it were slathered with this stuff — an observation not too far off, since the duck's breast and thigh were roasted to a uniform gray/brown and absent any juice or sear. Disappointingly, each of the expensive entrées comes with the same sides: a summery blend of asparagus, string beans, and baby yellow squash and a smooth but boring scoop of mashed potatoes. As we shoved them around our plates, Tim came out of the kitchen to chat with a nearby table. I think they left much more impressed than we did.

It's easy to see why the Boyds have the following they do. Their place is classy, has great service for the most part, and has a young, attractive team in command. They're wonderful hosts whom you want to spend time around — and there's more to spend, now that they're opening a second location with adjoining market in the old Grapevine Gourmet spot in Plantation (it should premiere any day now). But the dinner experience is a bit too predictable for the prices — even in a dining scene where costs continue to rise and places are being shuttered faster than you can say "Chapter 11." Ultimately, a $30 entrée has to succeed in its environment. And though the Boyds have done well catering to a specific crowd, those outside that circle may be better off admiring from afar.

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John Linn