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Jan 2, 2002 02:08 PM

Yemenite Cafe

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Three of us had a delightful meal at the Yemenite Cafe on Atlantic between Court and Clinton. After we ordered, our waiter brought a lovely lamb broth for two of us, but noting that our third was vegetarian, he brought her a salad of surprisingly nice greens with a dressing based on their hot relish. It was delicious.

Soon two enormous freshly baked flatbreads showed up. This is the kind of bread that spoils you for commerical pita as it's closer to naan. Our starters and main dishes then arrived together: We had a Yememite-style ful madames which turned out to be mashed up fava (broad beans) in a delectable spice mixture that was quite different from Egyptian-style ful which, although I love it, tends to be a pretty bean-y, one-note affair. Our kidney beans were in a similarly spiced sauce, but whole.

I'll pause here to say that I am ignorant about the history and influences that underlie Yemenite food but I'm fascinated by the fact that it is totally unlike other cuisines of the region (at least as practiced in New York). Frankly, I can't usually tell if the middle eastern restaurant I'm in is of Jordanian or Lebanese or Syrian descent but Yemenite food seems closer to Indian than it does to other Arabian cuisines. Perhaps it is the country's location at the tip of the pennisula...

Back to food: We ordered roast lamb (not on the menu) which turned out to be a great hunk of meaty meat roasted to within an inch of its life (or should I say death). No pink-in-the-middle here. Served with buttered basmati (or other aromatic) rice and a stewed potato. My vegetarian friend ordered "salta" which was a dish of stewed vegetables served in a sizzling-hot pan. Tasty, but dolloped with a strange, watery fenugreek-infused foam that must be very traditional but seemed oddly nouvelle.

The highlight of the meal was a big hot bowl of fattah, strips of bread (this is probably what they do with all the leftover home-baked bread) doused in butter and honey and sprinkled with nigella seeds (often called black sesame seeds). Basically, I wanted to live in this bowl of fattah. It was somewhere between a bread pudding and matzoh brie and was absolutely supernal. Since they brought it along with the other food we certainly weren't going to save it for dessert, but it might have been even better then. I think it would be a great breakfast dish as well.

We did not order the famous Yemenite assid, a big glutinous blob of a dumpling that I've had on earlier occasions and failed to get excited about. But we could have.

My new Arabic motto: Make fattah, not fatwa.

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  1. Good to hear. I like the Yemen Cafe a lot, though my Dad once took me there when I was a kid, before I was quite ready for such exoticism, so it took me a long time to get back to it! All the meals I missed in the meantime!

    1 Reply
    1. re: annab

      great to hear that this place is getting its due- it has been a personal favorite for awhile...
      the ambience may lack some due to florescence, but the people there are so nice, the waiters so concerned, and the family feeling so warm (although mostly all men), you cant imagine that worldly ethnic troubles threaten us at the dinner table in brooklyn...

      the prepared tea self-served from the front of the place after the meal is another one of the jewels in this queen of sheba's crown!

    2. next, try ali baba, 85th and amsterdam, kosher yemmenite cafe-darn good indeed

      1. This is a reply to an old post. The OP's review still holds true. The food is still excellent. They opened a new , second location in Sunset Park that is even better than the original.
        The Arab friends I ate with, think this place has the best lamb and best pita around. I have to agree. The lamb soup was fantastic, the grilled rack of lamb was so flavorful and delicious. I had it over basmati rice which was great. The food is very authentic. There's a great bakery next door called Cedars Bakery with excellent pastries. Yemenite Cafe has the best Middle Eastern food I've had in NYC

        4 Replies
          1. re: jen kalb

            Yemenite Cafe is on 7130 5th Ave. , which means it's in Bay Ridge. I was being driven. We stopped at several places in the 50's, including an Arab Specialty store, so I guess I got confused, as Sunset Park in the 50's is all Arabic. 7130 has to be in the 70's. We did walk to Cedars Bakery, so that must be in the 70's also.

            1. re: foodwhisperer

              thanks for the clarification as well as the recommendation- I didnt remember anything that far north.

              1. re: jen kalb

                What is the name of the place on Court St. these days? I think they've gone through 5 or 6 name changes since 2002.