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Nov 8, 2004 04:56 PM

kabab cafe frustration (long)

  • t

After reading many, many posts about KC and going there a number of times, I am still a little confused about this place. The first three times I was there, I had a great meal and a great time...soaking up the vibe of the place, talking to Ali (including getting tips on draining yogurt, etc.) but each time, I have been somewhat taken aback by the price. I have read many of the posts talking about the price, some arguing that it is a bit high and citing examples of specials being a lot higher than you would expect (e.g. $14 for the mixed appetizer plate, $8 for a spinach salad) and others saying given Ali's talent and the quality of the food (not to mention the hang), it is more than fair.
So I went last night prepared to be a little cautious in ordering. 2 of us ordered the baba ghanoush app, the beet salad, the special pumpkin appetizer ($12), the kofta kebab entree, and the mixed dessert plate (baklava, konafa, yogurt, etc.) at $10! With a glass of wine, tea, and two waters, it came out to $75 with a good tip (even though Ali was kinda grouchy and didn't do much of the cooking himself). so I have come to the conclusion that unless I want to leave hungry or just have a snack, I will be dropping a decent amount of dough. I recognize that this is a special place with often very special food but I feel like I am paying quite a bit more than I expect to each time. Can anyone shed some light on this?

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  1. skip the wine and swig a 40 before you get there

    5 Replies
    1. re: steve
      Dale Weinstein

      KC is a problematic joint. Every once in a while you get something transcendentally great. Perhaps more often you get fizzy, over the hill baba ganoush and really tough meat out of the freezer.

      Go for lunch and have a bowl of the escarole soup, and a falafel. Dinner is a shameful ripoff, but I guess he's gotta charge those prices to survive with only those few tables.

      1. re: Dale Weinstein

        I was there just a few weeks ago and am too feel ripped off.
        not because of the space or Ali's charm. And I must say he could have had another career as a baby sitter. My two years old son had a great time with Ali "the entertainer".

        Egyptian Mousaka , beets salad, Lamb dish, and another app with beer was around $75.00 incl tip. By the way do we have to tip restarant owners??

        Ali wont see my face at his place again. I will invite him to Tanoreen in Bay Ridge where he will see that middle eastern food can be as amazing as well priced.

        1. re: big joe
          Mark DiBlasi

          Ali is really overreaching charging what he does for what is never a consistently or totally great meal. He uses cheap meat and charges prices in the big league range, and people leave feeling ripped off.
          Many things are reheated, not fresh or just plain poorly executed. The only reason he's still open at all is because he's a cool dude and sometimes some of the food rocks.

          He should scale back and make a few great things, charge fair prices, and he'd have line out the door.

          1. re: big joe

            Who is the Arepa Lady and where can I try her amazing cuisine (corncakes and all)?


      2. d
        david sprague

        i think -- and correct me if i'm wrong -- you're somehow pegging your perceived cost to kebab cafe's decor (or lack thereof) than to the food you're getting. if the space were posh, or located in a more upscale enclave, and the same food were served for the same price, you might consider it fair or even a bargain (particularly if the proprietor spent as much time tending to you as ali usually does).

        4 Replies
        1. re: david sprague

          That's certainly a part of it, and why not? The quality of the dining environment is definitely part of the cost, as is the address. Rent costs more in, say, SoHo than it does in Astoria. And naturally you pay more for food in a place where the owner invested in furnishings, dishes, silverware, etc. There is nothing snobbish about that.

          The main point here is, however, the (in)consistency of the food at KC.

          1. re: david sprague

            nope...that's not it at all. I've read that argument before on this board and I don't buy it. $14 for a mixed appetizer plate is overcharging, regardless of the decor (for what it's worth, I'd choose the decor of KC over a posh joint any day) listing pumpkin dumplings as a special appetizer and then charging $12 for them is overcharging, no matter how tasty it may be. It wasn't served with truffles for christ's sake. This same dish would cost no more than $8 at most restaurants. The kofte kebab entree was quite tasty with well cooked meat and nicely grilled vegetables but I still see the $13 price tag as a bit much. same with the $10 dessert plate. If you start using the "great cooking makes up for high price," then who's to say Sal and Carmine's shouldn't start charging $5 for a perfectly made slice of pizza or Sripraphai should jack the prices of all their dishes up because they're one of a kind thai. don't get me wrong..I still like this place and have enjoyed each time eating there (maybe less so last time because Ali was a bit grouchy and actually didn't tend to us all that much) but still get sticker shock at the end of each meal...

            1. re: tuber

              I totally agree with BOTH sides of this debate (disclosure...I haven't eaten there in quite a while...I was priced out of my old favorite hang, alas. And, also, Ali's a friend, so I no longer write about the place, except informally here, and only with disclosure).

              When Ali's "on", he's worth literally whatever he charges. You can leave with the feeling that no one - at any price - in the city of NY is eating better than you just did. And that's worth top dollar. Those who think that Middle Eastern (or any other) cuisine needs to be cheap need to reexamine why some cuisines "deserve" to cost more or less. Deliciousness is deliciousness, and anything great deserves to fetch a fair price, regardless of cuisine, location, etc. If he can get those prices (and he clearly can), then there's no reasons not to charge what the market will bear. And I think KC has TONS of ambiance/atmosphere. I feel great there.


              Ali's not always on. And on his off nights, you will not get value for your money. Especially because he uses crap meat, and I do find that a really shoddy way of treating customers who are being charged top dollar. When i first went there, crappy lamb shank (doctored into deliciousness) cost $7, with trimmings. Ali's a great chef, and deserves $35/entree. But he's still using the same cruddy lamb. Not cool. And the whole "just let me cook for you, talk to me and tell me what you want" shtick is attractive, but he uses the ambiguity as a pretense to charge whatever he thinks he can extract from you. He needs to post prices and stop giving people coronaries at check time. No new customer walks into that place and expects to drop $30-50 in this venue. He needs to let them know the deal ahead of time. It's not cool.

              So, is it worth it? Well, if you can afford it (I can't), and you're willing to have two ok meals to get to the third splendid one (I am), and you (like me) love the vibe and find KC one of the very very VERY rare places in NY you can go and feel truly at home and have an experience beyond the usual cold commercial transaction...then definitely. And there are enough people fitting this bill, so Ali's doing well. I say god bless him.

              Finally, Tuber, per your earlier posting....if the Arepa Lady charged $15 per corn cake and Mr. Demarco charged $10 per slice, I'd eat at both places less but I'd be a lot happier with the world. I want to live in a world where genius counts and is rewarded. The idea that Difara's and the Arepa Lady should make the same amount as the uncaring shlocky multitudes is deeply repugnant. The dude who runs B.B.Q. at 2nd and St. Mark's probably drives a Rolls, and the Arepa Lady is poor. This is why the treasure is so rare and fleeting and the crap is so pandemic. I want the Arepa Lady in a Rolls. I want to save up to eat her wares. I don't know if I truly deserve her corncakes at all, much less deserve them cheap.


              1. re: Jim Leff

                Note that Mark DiBlasi's reply has been moved to the General Topics board because it's off-topic for this regional board. Please look for the thread there entitled "Relative Prices of Different Cuisines".

                Our software doesn't allow us to automatically move postings and their replies, we have to do it all by hand, so please have a heart and help us keep the discussion organized (for the benefit of all) by starting new threads on the appropriate board when conversation digresses (you can post a "heads up" like this one to the original discussion so participants know to make the jump).

          2. I've only been there a couple of times, but I also felt the same way. The food is very good, but I do think it's overpriced for what it is. I felt that he oculd have used better cuts of meat. I also remember quite a dissapointing dessert plate. The filo was so dry and tough that I needed a lot of water to wash it down. Luckily, I head a few doors down to Laziza and ate to my heart's content. If you are going to do dinner, have dessert at Laziza.

            1. Yeah, no question, it's overpriced for the quality of the food (which is good, but not great). But the way I figure it, you are paying for the experience. It's like a free show with Ali and the place is so adorable.

              What bothers me is that I feel like Ali could be putting a little more into the ingredients (I basically don't get meat there anymore cause they are are always mediocre cuts). But still worth it in my book.

              1. $75 is about the same price point we often come to... my only question is that after all that food, 2 of you are still hungry ?? We've never left hungry.

                Must not forget the egyptian coffee here, an absolute must.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Chicago Mike

                  I didn't say that...I said that it seems like either you do it right and get all the good stuff or you try to keep the cost down (ie just get a sandwich) and maybe leave hungry. I have never left KC hungry...and I have never kept the cost down

                  1. re: tuber

                    Damn I'm about 3 years late but this thread would have saved me from my horrible experience with the overpriced inconsistent Ali Baba!

                    1. re: fcara

                      i agree, i went with my bf recently and did the offals tasting....charging $8 for a small portion of chicken liver is absurd, not to mention that offals are probably the cheapest cuts of an animal- our offals tasting was more than our omakase dinner at Esashi the night prior, i was not a happy camper when i saw the bill and also had to run to get cash. i'm interested to see how recent visits have gone....