Al-Omda Restaurant -- in Astoria, a little Egypt
Al-Omda sits smack in the middle of a culinary dead zone, on the one avenue in Astoria which doesn't have any restaurants. That's why I went there tonight -- because no one here ever has, apart from one intrepid hound who had a falafel sandwich there over a year ago. It's a bright, pleasant place, with a friendly owner fluent in English. In the back, three women, the owner's relatives I think, sat and gossips, at times exchanging banter with the owner and another man at a nearby table.
Is this place Egyptian, I asked the owner. (A Google search on omda yielded a lot of hits in Egypt, where it means "the mayor") Yes, he said. Do you have melankhia, I asked. I don't especially like melankhia, but it it as Egyptian as you get. Ali over at Kebab Cafe, whose mother once prepared a dish of it for me, told me it dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. Those guys at the next table got the last dish, the owner said, but I have another thing that's also good. I asked about meat, and he told me a long list. How much is rabbit, I asked. $13, he answered. It seems like a lot but I'd come from Manhattan so I ordered it.
Six big plates of food were soon brought to my table, and I realized I'd got my money's worth. I got:
1. A generous portion of juicy, tender rabbit. It had been coated with a nice spice rub before cooking, and it was excellent.
2. A big soup bowl of the "other thing" the owner had mentioned. It was green with ground-up plants and had a rich, heady garlic flavor. It's easy to flavor something with garlic -- you just throw it in, BAM! -- but it's not easy at all to achieve the superb garlic flavor in this soup. Cubes of potato floated in it.
3. Rice pilaf
4. Good pita bread, likely baked there
5. A plate of vegetables -- olives, peppers, carrots -- either pickled or macerated in spices
6. A salad -- not a very good salad but by then I didn't care.
I ate it all, every bit, and vowed to return. This place is awesome.
Walking to the subway, I saw a tiny Greek bakery with a wood-burning oven. Somehow I managed to squeeze in a delicious baklava (75 cents)
33-10 28 Av, Astoria
28-46 31 St
tried al omda last night. really wanted to like it, but was quite disappointed. wondering what others' experiences have been. had heard it was good, so went to try it out myself.
we had babaganoush (which was plain and more or less unremarkable, but not bad), a bowl of lentil soup (which was creamy and great), two salads (which were tired and wilted and pretty sad), a serving of tahina (pretty good, but nothing special), warm but not homemade pita and a mixed grill. the mixed grill was kofta (nicely cooked, but nothing spectacular in terms of taste), chicken (the same) and lamb (overdone and too much gristle). the service was attentive and sweet and the owner was a helpful, friendly and kind man. but the food was really plain, not that tasty and generally unremarkable. made me think of any number of nameless roadside places in the middle east where the food is nothing special and not that different than what you can make at home for a fraction of the cost. and nothing in particular to recommend it over any takeout place on steinway (like little morocco or the halal sandwich place.) i wanted so much to like it, but felt that it was just kind of blah and forgettable and nothing special. the owners are so sweet that you hope for a great meal, but leave disappointed. and eventhough we ordered simple, staple-like food (dips and grilled meats), i really think that a middle eastern place should be able to excel at such simple fare. the night before we were at the cevabizanica sarajevo and had a similar meal of dips, salads and grilled meats and were blown away by how perfectly prepared and tasty all the dishes were. so i do think that simple grilling and salads can vary from bland, gristley and overcooked to perfectly tasty and scrumptious.
any other opionions?
I had lunch there today. It was 1:30pm when we visited, but they didn't seem to be fully open yet. The host pulled the chairs down from a table for us to sit on, he still had his coat on, and another guy was still mopping the floor (not an appetizing smell).
When I looked at the menu, I realized that maybe this place really shouldn't be open for lunch. The bulk of the menu is entrees from $12 to $17. That's too high for lunch at an informal place like this. I looked for lunch-portioned sandwich versions of the entrees, but there were none. So my friend and I shared a mombar ($6) and falafel ($5).
It took quite a while (~20 min) for us to get our food. We were the only diners, but I guess they were probably still setting up in the kitchen as well. Once the floor was dry, the guy rolled out a carpet. Another person came in and dropped off some groceries. We enjoyed watching an Arabic soap opera while we waited for the food.
Our host finally brought out some pitas and a tahini-based dip. The pita does seem to be made there and was steaming hot and quite good. The falafel arrived as 6 pieces of falafel,instead of as a sandwich. They were just OK. The mombar is a sausage casing filled with rice, herbs and spices. Despite the lack of meat in it, it was well flavored with mint and spices. It was grilled to a nice golden brown and the rice inside was perfectly cooked. For whatever reason, both items were served on top on a few scattered chunks of what looked like McDonalds's lettuce.
Well, there's promise, but it doesn't seem like they really care that much. We were pretty much ignored for most of our meal while the host sat watching the soap opera. Didn't even get a refill on my water.
The main entrees during dinner might be worthwhile. I spotted capon, rabbit, beef and fish tajines, kebobs and grilled fish.
re: squid kun
Yes, this was the "intrepid hound" I referred to in my post. This was where I first heard of this restaurant. It intrigued me because it was on a culinarily dead street, and I've been meaning to go there ever since.
So last week I ate in every restaurant on 28 Av!! Marjana, Favela and this one. All awesome.