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Sep 7, 1997 08:10 AM

Egyptian ecstacy

  • a

After a trip to Cairo it was a joy to return to
the Kabob Cafe in Astoria, Queens. The ful
mudammes was laden with garlic and herbs, and
luscious tempting mashi (stuffed zucchini and
peppers) made one ravenous for more. Even in
Egypt one doesn't always find properly brewed
karkade (hibiscus tea). Chef Ali made an infusion
from the dried flowers - no shortcuts with
powders or (yuck) teabags. Also his liquorice tea
is awesome. Note how the profusion of green herbs
and vegetables lining the counter resembles the
Nile Valley.
Allan Evans

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  1. I should mention that Kabab Cafe is at 25-12 Steinway
    Street in Astoria, up by the Grand Central (about a
    block south) 718-728-9858. Open tues-sun till 12 or

    they're inconsistent, but when they're good they're
    VERY very good...let chef Ali improvise

    14 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff
      Lisa Antinore

      The one thing that has always been pretty consistent at Kabob Cafe is the fragrant melochia (spelled a myriad of ways-I'm not sure which is correct!!!)soup. It's one of the national dishes of Egypt and although its somewhat sticky consistency (imagine spinach and okra happily married) is acquired, its subtle, soothing taste will win you over immediately. Give it a shot. Across the street from Kabob Cafe is another Egyptian-owned restaurant, Al Montaza. The specialty is simple grilled seafood. (the porgy and red mullet were phenomenal-a brush of olive oil a squirt of lemon and BAM on the grilll, charred perfectly and served by one of the nicest waiters ever. The house salad is easily enough for three and is a mixture of bitter greens and dandelion with a bunch of fresh bite-sized pieces of redolant herbs. It is most refreshing and goes well with the homemade pita (fresh off the grill, puffed up like big pooris) and the complimentary grilled eggplant rounds with chunks of tomato that materialize in front of you within minutes of sitting. Toward the end of our meal the incredibly friendly chef came out from behind the open grill and showed us the striped bass that he recommended for next time. Apparently it is his favorite dish because of its unique preparation: After grilling the whole marinated fish it is put into a bowl filled with warm water, olive oil and fresh herbs and spices.Within minutes the fresh-off-the-grill-piping-hot fish absorbs all of the liquid and flavor. He swore that if we tasted it we'd never eat fish anywhere again. Needless to say, we'll be back....

      1. re: Lisa Antinore

        Lisa--first, thanks for all the great messages. Excellent chowhounding. Very glad to have you here.

        I like your comparison of melokhia (as for spelling, when transliterating from a foreign alphabet, there kinda isn't a "right" way) to a combination of spinach and okra. But note that Ali only makes the stuff when his mom brings him fresh melokhia (frozen is available in most Mideastern stores).

        Ali's soooo inconsistent these days, it's really depressing (I'm ever loyal, remembering some truly memorable things he's cooked). Mustafa, his brother, is actually doing a better job these days.

        When I get a second (sigh), I want to ask you about some Bayside places.


        1. re: Jim Leff
          Lisa Antinore

          Jim, it was nice to read your response. I'm twenty-five years old and have been a food critic since I was three (according to my MOM :o) !!!) I love to eat out and do so at least six times a week (everything from the swankiest four stars to soccer clubs in Astoria to the fry stands that dot the Flushing streets of my neighborhood). On Saturday's I teach English in a Chinese school in downtown Flushing and often go to this phenomenal bakery/steam-table place called Mayflower (on Mainstreet next to Kentucky Fried Chicken near the cool, ancient, renegade shoe-shine guy under the el). YOU HAVE TO CHECK IT OUT!! That's all I have time to say right now because I love it so much and it's such a great value (it's hard to spend more than four dolars..) that I can't be articulate about it (does this ever happen to you??).... When I recover from today's heaping, succulent steam table offerings (I picked three of twelve for $3.25): Shaghai chicken, sauteed cauliflower, stringbeans with salted turnips, and tapioca milk, I'll write a proper entry. Right now I'm off to Stork's bakery in Whitestone Village to pick up the most unbelievable German butter cookies (imagine pure plugra with sugar and dark Vahlrona chocolate!!)) for tomorrow and then to Cooking with Jazz for something incroyable and then, you guessed it, the GYM to work off some of the results of this culinary decadence. I just got this crazy computer two weeks ago and it's worth it just for this website. I love your Down The Hatch page as well. Keep me salivating!!! One of these days I might invite you and Robert Siestema to one of my student's ESL food celebrations (Turkish, Taiwanese, Philppino, Istrian, Afghani, Indonesian, Pakistani, Madagascan, Sengalese, Sicilian, Ukranian, I think you get the picture....) Your chowhound self with combust with joy.. Happy Eating!!!

          1. re: Lisa Antinore

            I may have to revise my opinion that women aren't true chowhounds (see

            "have been a food critic since I was three "

            my dad used to call me "Charley Gourmet". No kidding.

            You've GOT to try the potato bread at Stork's (for those following along: 12-42 150th street whitestone 767-9220). It's one of my favorite straight-down-the-middle bakeries, too. I HIGHLY doubt they use Valhrona chocolate, though...these guys are way-Queens.

            I'll try Mayflower sometime, it sure doesn't LOOK good...

            And...that's it. I'm going back to Cooking With Jazz. Last meal there was a C minus for food and an F for service, I swore I'd never return, but too many people are swooning over it.

            Would love to go to an ESL food thang, but of course.

            I'll leave some Bayside stuff as a separate message on this same (Outer Boroughs) board

            1. re: Jim Leff

              The owner of Stork's bakery mentioned that they use
              the finest Belgian chocolate. I doubt if many non
              Queens patisseries can rival their multi-layered
              smoothly buttered croissants, which are equal to any
              boulangerie in foo Paris. Their butter arrives daily
              from an upstate farm. These are true artisans, who
              open their doors at 4am daily.

              1. re: Allan Evans

                Alan, I'm sure they use incredible chocolate (I love
                the place, as you know). My "way-Queens" crack just
                referred to my surprise that they'd use a TRENDY great
                ingredient like Valhrona, being somewhat out of the
                food chic loop in Whitestone (which, of course, is one
                reason we like them).


        2. re: Lisa Antinore

          Bingo! You're one-for-one, Lisa. We went to Al Montazo tonight and had a wonderful meal. If anything, I think you under-emphasized how wonderful the house salad (love those hunks of dill and superb dressing) and bread were, with killer tahini (lemon is not stinted in any dish where it's appropriate) to complement the puffy pita.

          We tried three kinds of fish (they were a little low -- after all, this was a Sunday on a holiday weekend -- for example, no striped bass was available).

          1. Blackened porgy
          2. Grilled Porgy
          3. Red Snapper in spicy red sauce.

          All were terrific, but I had a definite preference in the order listed. And from my conversations with the two cooks, they seemed to have a preference for the blackened fish, which they called "authentic Egyptian" (it does seem to hae little relation to Prudhommian "blackened."

          We stopped at the Kabab House for a gander, but we were resolute in our desire to get some terrific fish, and get it we did.

          1. re: Dave Feldman
            Lisa Antinore

            Good to hear that you liked El Montaza. Sounds like we both have to get around to sampling the striped bass Egyptian-style. Next time you go, walk across the street to Little Village (a Moroccan place) and get yourself a nice take-out cup of mint tea. It's the perfect ending to a superb meal.

            1. re: Lisa Antinore

              Take-out Moroccan tea??? I dunno, tea is a ritual thang, not for slurping out of a paper cup as you drive back to flushing!

              But Little Village's tea is tops, you're right...trick is orange blossom added along with the mint.

              Go up the block to the Egyptian social club across from Kabab Cafe and try the hot fenugreek ("assid") drink. Pretty awesome. I spent last St. Patrick's day there, getting messed up on shisha and fenugreek and mint tea.

              1. re: Jim Leff
                Dave Feldman

                Do they welcome women at that Egyptian social club? We walked by and a guy at the window was glaring at us, and particularly at the lone female in our group of threee.

                We thought of stopping there for a coffee, but the place was packed and there wasn't a single woman there.


                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  We once tried Al Diwan, down the block from the
                  Egyptian 'social club' and Kebab Cafe. It was headed
                  by an Alexandrian family who make assorted stuffed
                  dishes Fridays. Everything was good, very good.
                  Nothing amazing or peak-experience level, but
                  exactly with the sensibilty I encountered in Cairo
                  last summer second-best places. One lovely touch is
                  an alarm clock which has the prayer call
                  digitalized! A nice experience when one is doing
                  archaeology and needs a rest.

                  1. re: allan evans

                    "We once tried Al Diwan, down the block from the
                    Egyptian 'social club' and Kebab Cafe"

                    allan, you got your names mixed up? Al Diwan is the
                    Lebanese on 30th Ave around 29th street (was great, is
                    now horrible).

                  2. re: Dave Feldman

                    "Do they welcome women at that Egyptian social club?"

                    You're right, there are never any women there. But I
                    don't think they'd be mad if one came in...outsiders
                    coming in is enough of a surprise that gender is the
                    least of the considerations. At any rate, short
                    dresses or anything else revealing (as well as loud
                    talking) should be avoiding.

                    If unsure, I'd ask Ali across the street at Kabab Cafe
                    whether he thought it was cool.


              2. re: Dave Feldman

                Lisa, thanks for another amazing tip! We tried El
                Montaza tonight and had a great meal! Dave is right on
                about the bread and House Salad. We also got the red
                snapper in red sauce and the blackened striped bass.
                Both were fantastically fresh tasting and delicious.
                The people at the table next to us got some beautiful-
                looking grilled jumbo shrimp which made me incredibly
                jealous. I'll definitely be back, though, so I'll have
                to try it next time.