WITH A MODERN TWIST ON CLASSIC FRENCH AND AN ATMOSPHERE THAT’S AS MUCH BROOKLYN HEIGHTS HANG AND SANCTUARY AS RESTAURANT, CHEZ MOI IS AN ATLANTIC AVENUE HAVEN
BY MEREDITH STETTNER PHOTOS BY NICOLE FRANZEN
Patricia Ageheim, Brooklyn Heights resident and owner of the French bistro Chez Moi, recalls well the time a patron was waiting “forever” at a table for his guest to show up for dinner.
“He’s texting, calling, and finally catches his friend and asks ‘Where are you?’ Ageheim said. “And he goes, ‘I’m at your place…you said chez moi (literally, “home” in French).’” It was a fun moment that helped affirm the restaurant’s essence and business plan to the owner—a go-to corner brasserie in an intimate, casual, and family friendly setting.
“When we looked to open this space [in 2012], we asked, ‘What do we want to do for this community?’” recalled Ageheim, who was waiting for her 11 year old daughter to pop by the restaurant during our interview. There was, she explained, not yet a French spot on this stretch of highly foot tracked Atlantic Avenue. Ageheim, who is from Sweden, along with her French husband, Tarek Debira, have together run establishments like Nobu Paris and Nobu London, Bond Street NY (where they met), and La Condesa in Mexico City. But after the travel loving couple had children and settled back in Brooklyn, they wanted to open something of their own, so Debira tapped fellow restaurateur Ali Mardassi to join the team. Together, they tore down the walls of a previously cramped space at 135 Atlantic and found exposed brick and wooden beams that have since become central to Chez Moi’s overall design.
But beyond the elegant, rustic mood, is, of course, the food. The kitchen puts a modern twist on classics, and is fanatical about sourcing fresh ingredients (just about everything is made in house). Go to dishes on the dinner menu include a grilled NY Strip steak frites with house made au poivre sauce, escargots, and five types of mussels in a flavorful broth.
“We tried a lot of mussels to come up with our own recipe,” said Ageheim. “When people drink the broth before finishing, you know you have a home run.”
Lamb cous cous, wild skate, and duck breast are other top items, as are the mushroom croquettes. Market fish and risotto change weekly, and the winter menu will feature stews like coq au vin and beef bourguignon, gently simmered and slow cooked to maximize flavor, with Ageheim adding that even seemingly uncluttered staples like French onion soup actually take a long while to get right.
For the brunch crowd, eggs Norwegian, crispy chicken sandwiches (a popular hangover cure), crepes, pancakes, and French toast round out the list. Currently helmed by Chef Blair Hanelt, the kitchen changes its focus not only seasonally, but with the tides of customer desires. He’ll add a house made veggie burger and avocado toast this season for the non meat crowd the latter earning status as a staple item.
But then there are the things that can’t change.
“We really heard about it from customers when we changed up the tuna tartare,” noted Ageheim with a laugh. To survive in the industry these days, though, even a special spot with regulars needs an additional je ne sais quoi. So, Chez Moi aspires to be a crew that also takes genuine pleasure in caring for people. “Our staff is interested and curious,” Ageheim said, adding that living near the restaurant is another element of community. “We have kids, and we always have families in at earlier seatings. That is the original idea of a bistro a place where every kind of character can come.”
For the adult crowd, Chez Moi is known for its craft cocktails, and has one of largest absinthe selections in the city (more than 20 varieties). The bar features both new and classic recipes, and will soon add a gin based drink with CBD oil (a cannabis compound that has a range of health benefits).
Beyond the dining room, there are plenty more beverages to be had behind (or rather, underneath) the bar, at Le Boudoir, a speakeasy in Chez Moi’s basement, accessible through a bookcase in the front of the house. Named for Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, which was hidden in the library, this deeply cool joint opened in 2016 its idea conceived one night when Mardassi and Debira took a sledgehammer to the basement wall and discovered two chambers that were once part of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (built in 1844, and the first subway tunnel system in the world). After an intensive cleaning, it was transformed into an intimate space that features live music and a DJ on weekends.
The build out effort was part, the owner explained, of assembling a space and experience with an almost indefinable quality one that can make a Tuesday night out of the house feel a little fancier, a family meal a little livelier, and a date a little more romantic.
135 Atlantic Avenue / 347.227.8337 / chezmoiny.com