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Kabab Cafe Still Rocking

d
Dave Feldman Sep 22, 2000 12:05 AM

It has been a few months since I've been to Kabab Cafe in Astoria, and I just came back from a fabulous meal. If anything, the appetizer platter is better than ever, with three particular standouts -- the perfectly fried, heavily seasoned falaffel; the luscious baba ganoush; and sinful fried kale (in place of the usual swiss chard).

For entrees we had a fabulous grilled lamb with cumin, garlic, onions, and mushrooms, a fabulous whole mackeral with potatos and vegetables; and a slightly blah stuffed vegetble trio -- eggplant, giant red pepper, and zucchini.

Ali is recovering from minor surgery, and is delighted to be back at the restaurant, and it shows. It is so relaxing to go on an uncrowded weeknight. Ali's younger sister has gotten more and more outgoing, and joined in the fun.

One question. Anyone happen to know if the website that is mentioned on the menu is actually operative? There is an URL listed on the menu (an AOL members address) that is longer than most poems. I always forget to ask Ali about it. I'm curious what a Kabab Cafe website would contain.

  1. l
    Lisa Sep 26, 2000 11:28 AM

    Has anyone eaten at their new restaurant down the block (something that starts with a M) Ali took us on a tour and the decor is amazing. WOndering how the food and pricing are? His pricing at the cafe is somewhat arbitrary - however when you get a good night, who cares?

    Anyway, time for some chowhound reports.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Lisa
      p
      pat hammond Sep 26, 2000 11:41 AM

      It's Mombar. Do a quick search from the homepage. It sounds wonderful. When I get back to NY I really want to go there, or Kabab Cafe. I dream about those places! pat

      1. re: Lisa
        j
        Jim Leff Sep 26, 2000 12:19 PM

        Mombar.

        If you've got money to burn and want to eat in that extremely cool ambiance, go for it.

        But while chef/owner/builder Mustafa is a FANTASTIC chef when he makes haimish, soulful, everyday egyptian dishes (as he used to when substitute-cooking at Kabab Cafe), he's aiming way over his own head, trying to make his stuff froufrou enough to justify charging enough $$$ to compensate seven years of building this place (paying rent the whole while, of course). And he's just not that kind of chef; he's untrained and he can't really pull it off, at least not consistently.

        The result is extremely uneven. Again, he's extremely talented, so deliciousness will sneak in. But it can be almost as embarrassing as if your nine year old kid tried to cook a fancy French meal. And your nine year old won't charge $35-$45/person. I won't list the gaffes, strivings, misconstruals, and overchargings, because I think you get the idea.

        Go once. Mustafa's a sweetheart, the waitress is SO nice, some food is good, and the decor is a folk art wonder, utterly unlike anything else in Queens...or, indeed, NYC. You may even be lucky enough to be served something excellent. If so, quit while you're ahead and don't tempt fate with another visit

        1. re: Jim Leff
          l
          Lisa Sep 28, 2000 01:35 PM

          I agree but too a point, as cool as the decor is, it is just too hard to spend that much money on so so food. We went for my birthday (and didn't tell them as per previous discussion) and found the experience to be a ripoff - The $18 dinner portion of Moombar sausage was not enough and really nothing special. He is in way over his head, and could not possibly deal with a crowd which should not be a problem because the prices will keep the crowds away.
          My suggestion is that they try to rent the space out for private parties, film shoots, etc. as the decor is amazing and then perhaps they could recoup some of the investment. But otherwise they have little chance of surviving.
          By the way, Ali's is sometimes inconsisistent (sp?) too both in food and pricing. I was once charged $ 8 for an arugula and apple salad with balsamic dressing (and I was dining by myself and ordered a main course as well) While it was very tasty, I was annoyed with the price given the type of restaurant and service.

          1. re: Lisa
            j
            Jim Leff Sep 28, 2000 01:51 PM

            I think you're spot on with Mustafa. Though you're going to have to trust me that he's a wonderful, wonderful chef when he's cooking what he does best.

            But I disagree violently on your "annoyed with the price given the type of restaurant and service" remark. The concept that an excellent chef (which, at best, Ali is) should charge minimal prices unless he's got linen tablecloths is distinctly unchowhoundish, even snobby. Why on earth should Ali charge what the average hole-in-wall hacks charge? It makes no sense. Delicious food is worth a premium. When I go to Nobu, I'm not paying for the "type of restaurant and service", I'm paying for the great food! And we, as eaters, should want to see superior chefs rewarded for their efforts, wherever they work.

            1. re: Jim Leff
              l
              Lisa Oct 1, 2000 11:05 PM

              Yes, I agree that good food and good service should be rewarded. However, when you look at a menu and are given a range of prices and then the special is about twice the price - it's sticker shock. And let's face it, we all enjoy value for money. Let say that Moombar's prices were about 1/2 what they are charging now, wouldn't our expectations be different?
              Also, if the food and service matched the decor would we think it worth it. As much as I love food, dining is not just about food, it is about the experience too. Presentation, decor, service are all enhancements to great food. And you can have a good food experience and a lousy time or visa versa.
              Anyway, I don't think he should give it away, after all it is a business too, but the prices seemed to vary alot depending on what? And let's face it, food cost on a salad means high profit so I think $8 was excessive given the ingredients and the setting. It's your right to disagree. I struggle with pricing everyday in my business. Every business has a market and you can only charge what your market will bear. I've charged $16 for the same dish in one venue, that I could only charge $8 for in another. Ultimately the customer votes with the wallet.

              1. re: Lisa
                j
                Jim Leff Oct 2, 2000 12:52 AM

                Wait, are you saying Ali's served you really expensive specials without warning about price? Ok, I'd agree that that's a restaurant no-no. Specials should be no more than slightly above the range of regular menu items, or else the customer should be warned. If you weren't warned, I totally agree...I'd be indignant too. I hate that.

                But that aside, as for the rest...

                "As much as I love food, dining is not just about food, it is about the experience too."

                But the experience there is terrific! People leave glowing, it's such a happy, festive, cozy place, and there's so much personal attention. I totally agree that "presentation, decor, service are all enhancements to great food", and (I promise I'm not being cute with you, I really believe this) Kabab Cafe's got absolute tons of all three. It's not Le Cirque, it's a unique experience. And the food's great. And i think $20-30 for dinner there is a totally fair price. That said, there's no reason we have to agree!

                Again, I don't think the presence of linen napkins or any other specific benchmark of decorative accoutrements should determine pricing. I believe great food is worth paying for. And the way Mustafa's been cooking at Mombar isn't much worth eating at any price, as far as I'm concerned. Though the guy can cook his @$$ off when he's not aiming for froufrou (and missing). He's one of the most talented, soulful chefs I know.

                1. re: Jim Leff
                  w
                  wayne Oct 11, 2000 11:03 PM

                  Well, for what it's worth, I've been to Mombar twice over the past few months, got the tasting menu both times (chef's choice) and couldn't have been happier. Moustafa cooked and served everything himself, and I've got to say that although not everything was perfect, his ingredients were top-notch and the flavors worked. The portions were just right, and I don't have to tell you that the staff is tops. The second night I went there was live music that was alternately great and painful, and the cover charge of $8 was heinous, considering we were there to eat. Yeah, it was a bit pricy, but not so much so that I felt overcharged or cheated. I wish them lots of luck and hope they only get better. P.S. Go to the Bohemian Beer Garden prior to your visit while the weather is still good!

                  1. re: wayne
                    p
                    Peter Krass Oct 17, 2000 06:01 PM

                    We had a great birthday party at Mombar this past Sunday (Oct. 15)...given the huge quantity of food, the $30/person pricetag was fine...and that included treating our birthday boy. We brought our own vino, had the place to ourselves for about three hours, and generally had a blast.

                    Mombar's humus, baba, and foul were all sublime. For main courses, folks in our party had the mombar sausage, striped bass, lamb chops, okra stew, rabbit (2 ways)...I didn't taste it all, but what I did taste was delicious, and everyone seemed VERY happy.

                    1. re: Peter Krass
                      a
                      Allan Evans Oct 17, 2000 11:10 PM

                      Peter,
                      As a fellow diner at the same party I had a different take on the meal. The humus and foul mudammas came from cans and were heavily oiled and seasoned to cover their "humble" origin. I can barely accept using cans for foul (but in an Egyptian restaurant, where it's the national dish, that's going far. Layla's in Park Slope makes it fresh and quite well, although Lebanese style, which is very different) but humus? The stuffed intestine: rubbery, nice seasoning, rather meagre amount amidst a flurry of color (yellow peppers and tomato, canned chick peas) but no pita or rice for the sauce. $18 for a few pieces of cut rice sausage flavored with meat, without bread? Also, a Mid-Eastern restaurant which doesn't offer pita is odd indeed. The smoke-screen of flavor (a.k.a. too many spices and oil used as distractions) fails to cover up the meagreness and mediocre origin of the ingredients, as though he were trying to do his best on the smallest budget imaginable. I tried the couscous: bland and overboiled. The okra casserole had a prune flavor that covered the okra taste. The lamb stew with vegetables was OK. The rabbit tasted as though cooked separately and added to 2 different sauces, so the difference didn't enter deep into the meat. It's a beautiful place though and Moustafa is a sweet guy. I just wish he would cut the flamboyance in the kitchen and go basic.

        2. re: Lisa
          d
          Dave Feldman Sep 27, 2000 03:14 AM

          Let me suggest another alternative. You can to to Kabab Cafe for apps/entree and then go to Mombar for dessert and tea or coffee, or even just for tea or coffee.

          I find it difficult to go to Mombar only; how can you be a few doors down from Kabab Cafe and not have Ali feed you something?

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