Mamlouk - warning long! - six courses to discuss
We went to Mamlouk last night - the "mysterious" new Middle Eastern restaurant on 4th between A & B owned by the Moustache people and mentioned on this board earlier this week.
As noted, it's a six-course no menu, no options meal for $30. There is no beer, only juice and white or red wine (again, no choices,and the wine is best described as drinkable) and the pricing policy re: wine is indeed somewhat mysterious- they pour freely and somewhat randomly and then somehow come up with a price.
The room is cute if cramped (the kitchen area is right in the middle of the restaurant, separated by a bar with no seats), decorated with Middle Eastern chatchkes and seating is on low benches and chairs around those very low, guaranteed to make you drop stuff in your lap, tables that are really a copper tray set on a low frame. Very atmospheric - and reasonably comfortable. One note of caution: we were a party of eight, and although they happily took our reservation, there is not actually a table big enough for eight and we were pretty crowded and two people sat on decorative end tables for chairs. I'd say six is the max. (There is also a beautiful courtyard empty right now, that may provide garden seating soon.)
The staff is very friendly, if a bit overwhelmed
(it was full last night) and certainly confused about how to deal with a large group.
The food (I don't know if it changes from night to night) was yummy, if uneven, and the menu is not particularly adventurous. However, everything is very fresh - you can see all the prep going on in the open kitchen - and has the lively clean flavors you get at Moustache.
The first course was crudites - an uneventful bowl of carrots and hot peppers with some pickled items. A bit of an exaggeration to call it a course - but it took the edge off.
The second course was a variety of spreads - hummus and baba gonnush (same as Mustache), bitter yogurt, a delicious nutty eggplant salad, a rich and flavorful carrot and walnut spread, and an avocado spread that was basically guacamole but avoided the gloopiness that sometimes plagues this dish. This course - which was heartily enjoyed by all - everyone loved at least one of the salads - came with Moustache's trademark warm fresh pitas as well as some incredibly delicious small round breads that were salty and covered in seeds. (Unfortunately there were only a few of the latter and unlike the pita they were not renewed).
The third course was a straightforward green salad in a refreshing vinagrette with bits of toasted pita. It was a nice touch after all the rich spreads.
The fourth course was squash stuffed with lamb in a tomato sauce. Perfectly yummy, but not particularly subtle and the squash were not that flavorful. Accompanying this were very tasty green beans cooked with tomato and olive oil.
The fifth course was the best: perfect pieces of grilled smoky tasting chicken kebab in a rich lentil puree. A word to the wise: Don't pig out on the spreads as I did, and save some room for this.
Dessert was uninspired chopped fruits sweetened with honey and sprinkled with pistachios. I found them a bit cloying but the mint tea that followed ROCKED.
At the end of the meal, we were offered a hookah - choice of apple or strawberry. In keeping with the Westerner friendly approach of the restaurant, we were offered hookah smoking lessons (will not seem unfamiliar to anyone who grew up in the 60s or after) and prophylactic hookah "condoms" so you will not get your tablemates germs. The hookah is $15.00 and is atmospheric, but I did not get the "buzz" that some of my tablemates claimed to.
All in all a totally enjoyable and fun little restaurant that will probably be even better once the staff gets used to what is certain to be overwhelming success. It's good for groups (of six or less) because the eventful communal menu provides great icebreaker conversation and it's remarkably quiet even when full.