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Great meal Kabab Cafe... and he's looking for a new cook.

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We ate again at Kebab Cafe last night. The duck was superb. He also made, on a bizarre special request, a schnitzel. Who would have thought he could make delicious German food?

And I forget what they’re called, but he makes these delicious fried pieces, some with bastourma others with cheese on the inside. Oh they’re good.

And a new wonderful item was a tuna salad. But not your mother’s kind. Nice chunks of (raw?) tuna in a salad with a tremendous amount of raw garlic. Also with some greens, rice wine vinagar, basil, and sumac. Talk about fusion done right!

Also of note: chef/owner Ali is looking for a new cook. Luis, after 5 years, is moving on in a week or so. No doubt the pay is bad and the hours long, but if somebody is looking to work there and learn under his tutalage, stop by and inquire.

25-12 Steinway St.
Astoria, NY 11103

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  1. Wow, losing Luis is another blow for Ali. In my experience, he never let another assistant help him as much as Luis. One time at lunch, Luis cooked an entire meal for us and it was great.

    I hope Luis is getting a better-paying job. He deserves it.

    And thanks for the tip about the new items. I saw Ali at the BBQ-NYC event and he was in good spirits.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      can't wait to get back to new york and try it. this is highest on my list. i love those idiosyncratic, quirky joints with dedicated chefs and no menus. always just a little more interesting than the cookie cutter joints around town.

    2. the fried pieces are called something like fatiya, with an accent on the "i". take a strip of mild white cheese about 1 cm by 1 cm by 8 inches, wrap it philo dough, fry it crisp, and then cut it like sushi; lay it out on the plate with a little hummus and olive oil and some apple wedges. eat it right away while it is crisp and hot and while you are hungry. wow.

      1. Losing Luis probably is a blow. But I can't help but feel it may be the best for both of them. 5 years is a long time for those two men to be in the same small place together.

        Best I can tell Luis is getting a little more money, but isn't moving up in the food world at all.

        Let's hope Ali can find a good replacement. Otherwise he's goig to have some long hard nights there. That's for sure.

        1 Reply
        1. re: fotaq

          Too bad about luis -- he should open his own restaurant.

        2. wow, it'll be hard but im sure Ali will pull through. I've got to think positive about it because for me there's no other option! We can't lose him. I'm glad that Luis will be doing well though, he's a good egg. And now to go pay that man a visit and try out the new grub!

          1. where's louis working at now? is it also an eyptian or mediterranean restauerant? in astoria, queens too?

            1. I was in the city this past week and hadn't been to the Kabab Cafe in about five years. Since I was with a first-timer, we started with the mixed-apps plate. Ali's cooking has actually changed and improved. The babaghanoj has this creamy, whipped texture it didn't have before and still has the same smoky, roasted flavor. The foul has a more refined, chopped texture than it used to.

              We shared one of thhe menu items that have been added since I was last there, the lamb with pomegranate and yougurt sauces.. It was a bit overbaked but even so, super delish, and it's great to see he's branching out into sauces. Judging by the accompanying veggies, he seems to have a subtler hand with the seasonings now, too. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Can't wait to get back again in a few months for some specials.

              Too bad to hear he's lost an assistant, but he's held down the place singlehandedly before and I'm sure he'll manage again until he finds someone new.

              1. I went to Kabab Cafe this week with some out-of-town guests and I'm happy to report that this was as fine a meal as I've had there. Ali's nephew (Moustafa's son) was helping out in the kitchen and dining room. Looks like he's learning the ropes, but I'm not sure this is a full-time gig for him. He's got a lot of cooking in his bloodline so maybe he's itching to be the next of the great El Sayed chefs.

                The meal started out with the usual mixed appetizer plate. Always a crowd pleaser.
                http://static.flickr.com/87/234318213...

                Ali recommended that we try a new appetizer he's added as a special. Actually, he pretty much twisted my arm into ordering it, since he knew I haven't had it before. I wish I can remember what it's called, but they're three types of filled or rolled pastries that have been deep fried. They looked like churros coming out of the oil. The three types included cheese (with some "hocus-pocus" spices), spinach, and a mixture of basturma (dried, cured beef) and veal. They were cut up like maki-sushi and plated with hummus. I can't wait to have these again. I thought I would like the meat filled one the most, since I really like basturma, but the spinach and the cheese were also quite suprising, with such interesting spices and the textures. Still loved the basturma and veal.
                http://static.flickr.com/90/234318264...

                We also had the pumpkin dumplings that were a special item. While it was quite enjoyable, I thought the spicy tomato sauce that accompanied the dish overpowered the filled dumplings. However, that sauce was pretty tasty on its own. I could find other uses for it.

                For mains, we ordered the porgy, flounder, and duck. I hadn't ordered the flounder before, but this might become my favorite fish dish. Two fillets are sauteed with vegetables and gets a little saucy from the residual liquid in the vegetables (and I'm assuming tomatoes, maybe he adds a little stock) and it's cooked just right, so the fish retains moisture and firm texture.
                http://static.flickr.com/82/234318320...

                The porgy is a usual entree item for me, and it's a good one. Spiced and grilled, and served this time with potatoes.

                The duck has become a favorite as well. I've described it in a previous post, so I won't go into too many details, but it's sweet (with a honey marinade) and the rice that accompanies it is made with duck stock. I could eat the rice by itself.
                http://static.flickr.com/93/234318291...

                We were careful not to over-order so we would have room to enjoy desserts down the street at Laziza, but again, Ali was very persuasive and twisted our arms in ordering his medley of desserts, this time topped with homemade yogurt, and then smothered with pears simmered in a wine reduction sauce.

                Here's Ali spooning the pear mixture on the dessert plate.
                http://static.flickr.com/84/234318374...

                And the finished dessert.
                http://static.flickr.com/81/234318396...

                We brought a couple bottles of wine, a few of us had water, tea and coffee, and 5 of us were well satisfied for $30 apiece. I'm glad to see Ali back in form after the blackouts from this summer.

                6 Replies
                1. re: E Eto

                  I like your food descriptions, but pictures... let's say are not too flattering. Veggies are too charred and look overcooked. Sloppy cutting and presentation of weird garnishes, and finally - overcooked carrots - ick. I've been having both curiousity and reservations about this place, but I think I'll pass for now (I would go with my SO, who will immediately will pick on such things which would most likely put a damp on even a good dinner).

                  1. re: welle

                    It's certainly not for everyone, but Kabab Cafe ranks up there as one of my favorite places in NYC, period. I'm not sure how you assess sloppiness, but I'd describe it as rustic. And what you think is overcooking might be the most flavorful aspect of the food as the vegetables pick up a lot of flavor as the charred parts are the fond picked up from the roasting pan. As with many rustic cuisines, it's not quite apparent what is haphazard, but as far as I'm concerned, I like the intricacy of Ali's spicing, as well as his straightforward and balanced approach to handling most foods. You have to try his hot sauce.

                    For Silverjay, the many Japanese people I've taken here, they've always commented that it's very "nihon-poi" (Japanese-like), as it reminds them of the small chef-driven operations all over Japan, like many yatais (stands), serving outstanding food.

                    1. re: welle

                      Have no reservations. It's solid.

                      - Yer Sunnyside pal.

                      1. re: welle

                        those carrots don't look overcooked to me. they are a bit charred, but overcooked carrots look kind of dimmer and darker.

                        1. re: welle

                          I'm honestly curious why you think uniform cutting is superior to "sloppy" cutting. I vastly prefer the latter, because of more variety in texture and "mouth feel." I can understand why it makes a chef's life easier, but not why it leads to a better experience for the diner. Even from a purely visual point-of-view, I prefer sloppy.

                        2. re: E Eto

                          Thanks for this post. I'm really looking forward to trying Kebab Cafe for the first time. The fish dishes sound and look superb. I'm waiting for some friends who are visiting from out of town as well, to enjoy as many dishes as possible.

                        3. I went last night and had the "new" appetizers and like you I loved it, especially the spinach one.

                          1. Ali does like his char, but if those picture don't look good to you... don't go. His vegetables aren't "carefully" sliced. If you or your S.O. will pick on him for that, well, he's not for everybody. Nor does he want to be. But that being said, he won't overcook his food.

                            Good news is he was busy tonight. And trying out new help.

                            1. he was "on" tonight too, and quite busy. we were going to do takeout falafel but a table opened up and he persuaded us to stay.

                              i'd put smart money on his new help not working out. she didn't seem natural in the kitchen. but who knows.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: babar ganesh

                                I had a fabulous meal at Kabab Cafe tonight. As often was the case, Ali was a little low on provisions on Sunday night. The biggest disappointment was that he didn't have the fried appetizer special available.

                                Along with some wonderful standbys (including a fabulous porgie and a kusherie wth the most caramelized onions and tomoato sauce ever), we ate two standouts:

                                a chicken w/saffron dish, with saffron-infused rice

                                the best braised lamb I've had at Kabab cafe

                              2. Ate here years ago, can't say how many, at least 6 or 7 years back. While digging the atmosphere, the warmth and the gracious service, my wife and I were decidedly underwhelmed by the food, which we also felt was very overpriced.

                                On the good word of Hungry Cabbie ( http://www.gothamist.com/archives/200...), I decided to return.

                                The result: as good a lunch as I've had in many a moon. Ali lives up to his rep as a personable, passionate lover of food. He greeted me by saying, "I love people who love food". Indeed, how could I not give this place a second go-round? I decided to give myself over completely to his infinite wisdom, and took his suggestions to order the daily specials. The fried mushroom appetizer, with dollops of yogurt and a special hot sauce for dipping, had it all going on: texture, spice, lightness and lots of flavor. For a main dish, I had braised, fall-off-the-bone tender veal with vegetables over rice pilaf. Good to keep you going for hours and to keep your mouth watering until your next visit. Washed it all down with some mint tea.

                                While still a tad pricey for me to be able to come here as much as I'd like - I'll go for the less pricey menu items next time - this place provides some wonderful chow in a soothing, refreshing and original atmosphere.

                                Extra added attraction for music lovers: I don't know if this is always the case, but he had a wonderfully eclectic mix going. Some great Egyptian sounds, followed by Otis Redding, and so on. It seemed to punctuate the whimsical vibe given off by this place - Ali cooks what he likes, as long as it's good.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Polecat

                                  We just ate there for the first time this evening. We enjoyed it a lot. We had an appetizer of fresh sardine filets marinated in olive oil and spices, followed by a lamb shank, chicken kebab stir fry, and a grilled striped bass. He also served us some pita with the spicy 7-pepper hot sauce. I had a couple of beers and wife had some nice habiscus tea. Total was $78. It's certainly a little steep, but I enjoyed how he presented each dish to us and explained the spices used and bit of commentary. We loved the sardines and the chicken was a no-brainer good. The lamb was OK and the fish was fresh and tasty. He doesn't seem to use very much salt when he cooks- is my initial observation/experience. He's a nice and affable, not in an intrusive way. I concur with Eri Eto's comments above (9/8/06) in that the place has a rustic charm, in food, service, and atmosphere.....I can really appreciate this place, having lived in Japan where this type of operation (and dedication) is quite common- as alluded too above......Oh, and Laziza afterwards for middle-eastern treats, which of course you can't get in Japan. I like the one with all the nuts....

                                2. awesome restaurant!
                                  i love his attitude. my friend asked that something be put "on the side" and he ranted and raved that nothing would be served different from what he had in mind! such a fiery guy!

                                  everything was delicious. i love hole in the wall UNIQUE restaurants such as this. luckily i will be moving into an apartment a few blocks away next week so i can go there and laziza all the time!!! its too bad laziza isn't hiring because i'd love to work there (or intern) to learn their amazing pastries.