Kabab Cafe, Astoria
- Eric Eto
Kabab Cafe may be my favorite place in NYC. It's fun and quirky, and on a good day, the entertainment Ali provides is worth the price alone. My recent visit was as good as always. Four of us shared the mixed mezze plate, marinated sardines, humitas for appetizers, and braised duck, ribeye steak, and porgie for our entrees. The sardines were reminicent of boquerones, though much heartier and rustic in presentation, and the mixture of spices, onion, and oil were perfect together. We all used our bread to lap it up. I never seem to look at the menu since I almost always get the specials, so I had completely forgotten about the humitas until I took a glance at the menu. As Ali will tell you, he insists on serving it because it is a "deeply political" dish, and while this typical south american dish will seem out of place on his menu, it's really worth it. While the base flavor is the typical steamed cornmeal with cheese and corn, Ali adds another element with his spicing. Since four of us were sharing, I didn't eat as much of this as I wanted. I'll have to order for myself next time. We opened a bottle of rosato (70% nebbiolo/30% barbera) from Mandolina winery in Santa Barbara (where we were last month) and it was a great choice with the spices. Ali's hot sauce was particularly spicy this time around.
The ribeye steak was a first for me. The meat was sprinkled with spices and grilled (perfectly medium rare) and was a hit with the table. It's not a real prime piece of meat, but the spices and the flavor of the beef were well matched, with neither overpowering each other. The duck was very interesting. It was braised in a honey sauce, and I believe it was roasted at the end since it came out dry and the edges crisp. The meat was tender, and it reminded me of good carnitas. The porgie, which seems to be my favorite of his fishes, was another winner. Nice char and crisped skin, and tender meat inside a good sized porgie. One of our Japanese companions was reminded of a good yaki-zakana (grilled fish) that you get at izakayas in Japan. She was really craving a bowl of rice and some shochu. With the entrees, we opened a bottle of Lucas & Lewellen pinot noir (2003?) (another of our Santa Barabra stash) which again, was a great accompaniment especially with the duck and the steak, and also worked quite nicely with the fish.
We passed on dessert, but enjoyed Ali's mint tea and his Egyptian coffee spiced with cardomom. We let out a sigh after finishing a perfectly stellar meal. Nuff said.
The first time I had the humitas at Ali's, I had just come back from a long trip and he had just added it as a special. I ordered it as an appetizer an liked it so much I just had him bring me another order. That was dinner.
The porgies are also my favorites of his fish, and I'm happy that it seems to be available every day. I tend to prefer them when they are small, and you get more char.