Anyone tried La Kabbr (new mid-Eastern on 9th Ave)?
Had dinner there last night with some friends, and it was actually quite a good experience. We did not actually plan to go to La Kabbr, just happened in while looking for a different place, and decided it was too cold to keep searching.
Firstly, it is definitely an Iraqi place, though they like many Iraqi restaurants these days they are not especially out front about the fact for obvious reasons.
The service is not great (we got a different wine than the one we ordered, for example), but our waitress was most congenial, and seemed to care about our dining experience. As was the case with OP, the salad was certainly nothing special. I would say, though, if you judge Middle Eastern food by the quality of the dinner salad, you need to seriously rethink your criteria.
We had some baba ghanouj and grape leaves for starters (solid, unspectacular; but pita was fresh, warm and tasty - not obviously store-bought), and shared the Iraqi kebab and a lamb shank in sauce with soaked pieces of pita (forgot the name). The kebab was decent quality ground meat (shish kebab style), cooked properly (slightly charred, tender inside), and subtly flavored with parsley, salt, maybe a bit of garlic, and onions with cumin and lime on top. Served with a simple rice pilaf. Pretty standard kebab - not much different than what you would get in most Arab or Iranian restaurants (as avowed by one DC from Tehran). A good rendition however, and I think only someone unfamiliar what Arab food would say they were 'underseasoned' (if you want spicy South Asian kebabs, this is not the right place).
The lamb shank was excellent. Served in a warm, thick, tomatoey sauce with an abundance of onions that were still intact but ready to disintegrate on your tongue. Chunks of pita had been put at the bottom of the bowl and allowed to soak up the sauce, giving them a lovely dumpling-like consistency. The lamb itself was delicious - stewed and falling off the bone but not overcooked.
We finished with nice, cumin-scented, Arab coffee (strong, sugary, no milk, muddy at the bottom).
The two entrees were healthy portions, and the bill was less than $30 per person, including tip and wine (the place is no longer BYOB). All of us were happily stuffed. I would certainly return if in the area, and might even make a special trip (I know of no other Iraqi restaurants in the area - anyone?). Not sure if we just caught a good night or if things have changed in the last few months since the other posts, but I would say that La Kabbr is definitely worth a try.
re: Joe MacBu
I saw that too and really want to try it - despite the neg. reviews here. The article says that they have masgouf, though I'm curious as to whether they actually get the fish from Iraq (doubtful, I suppose - my understanding is that masgouf is made with a particular fish, though I see recipes for it using other ones).
I'm also wondering about La Kabbr, despite the pans. Anyone been recently?
Not sure the early posters tried what this place does best. The servers might assume non-Iraqis want familiar dishes and not the ones Iraqi expats are hankering for. Or, as the story says, "Few New Yorkers seem to notice that La Kabbr is an Iraqi restaurant, seeing it instead as a generic Middle Eastern place."
(To anyone who's ever had trouble cracking the code at authentic Chinese restaurants, some of this may sound familiar.)
To Joe's point: Reviews in the Times are written only by designated critics, either staff (like Frank Bruni) or free-lancers like Peter Meehan (who has since left the paper - see http://eater.com/archives/2008/04/mee...). The La Kabbr piece was in the food pages but was not a review but rather a feature story, written by a free-lancer.
re: squid kun
I visited due to the article in the NY Times, and while witnessing the eccentricities of the Times readership was indeed amusing (Table of well-dressed older ladies enters, one points and loudly announces, "That's the Iraqi flag!", they spend the rest of the meal openly staring at the one table of people who might conceivably have been Iraqis), the food was mediocre and the service was atrocious.
Allow me to answer my own question.
I went last night with my girlfriend, my brother and his wife. When we got there, there were a few other tables already filled, which I took to be a good sign. How wrong I was.
Perhaps I should have known something was amiss when we ordered, and they told us they were out of lamb. It's a Middle Eastern restaurant! They're out of lamb. But, I thought to myself, that must be a good sign - they are using fresh ingredients, and they ran out - this is a good thing. Again, so so very wrong.
We ordered a mixed appetizer platter, and main dishes (kebabs, ribs, fish curry, spanakopita). The dishes each came with soup or salad. Three of us got the salad, my girlfriend being the exception. So it was odd when the waitress gave my girlfriend a salad, she said no, I have the soup, and she then just put down two salads in front of me and walked away. No biggie but a little odd. We sorted out the soups and salads, but no dressing. After trying very hard to get her attention (mind you, it is a small place), after about 5 minutes, she finally brought over the oil and vinegar. Of course, the salads were filled with old brown lettuce and mealy tomato. The lentil soup, on the other hand, was not bad. Oh - and she brought out a basket of pita. Not only was it not warm; not only was it certainly store-bought, but the pita was wrapped in plastic wrap. in stacks of 4 quarters. in saran wrap.
After that, we waited for a while. The appetizer combo is mostly dips, so I wasn't sure what was taking so long. I went down the block to pick up another bottle of wine (La Kabbr is BYO, which was a saving grace), and returned to see our main dishes. So apparently they just forgot about or ignored our appetizer order. The waitress definitely heard it, because she repeated it back to me.
The mains were largely forgettable. The kebabs were underseasoned, the fish was dry and flavorless, the spanakopita was not bad, and the ribs were decent but too mushy. Hot sauce helped a bit. But the mains were all in the $15 to $20 range, the portions were somewhat skimpy, and the food was just not good.
A largely forgettable experience, with many better choices nearby.
I wish I'd read this before I went a week or so ago. I had almost the exact same experience. Totally clueless waitress and thoroughly mediocre food that was only a notch above microwaving stuff from the "prepared foods" at the grocery store. I guess a few months haven't improved things.
I wrote the "Bad night or lousy restaurant?" review over at menupages the day (http://www.menupages.com/restaurantde...) after eating there, then saw your review here and was struck by the similarities.