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Nov 9, 2007 01:14 PM

Kabab Cafe downhill alertl!!!

Wow Ive never been so disappointed chowhounding before. This place came highly touted on here in the past and I expected something edible at the least. First off the place is dismal. The size of a closet is being nice. The proprietor was very grumpy and did not make me feel comfortable at all. It was almost like he was doing me a favor by cooking. This was odd being that all his reviews state he is the most gregarious, comedic host. I feel this might be one of those places thats coastin on past reputation and has gone downhill fast. I ordered a sandwich, app, and dessert and ran me 20 bucks. What a ripoff. Then the kicker is I could not eat anything and had to throw everything out. What a waste of time and money. How does this guy call himself Kabab King when he doesnt even make kababs. He uses low quality ingedients and I saw him throw purdue chicken in a skillet. That is not a kebab. If I missed something let me know. I wanted to go back and vent but I felt like whats the point. The place gave me the creeps.

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  1. wow, thats odd. I went one month ago and the food was great and he was in his festive funny mood...

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. I've always had a good experience there, but I think you've caught him at a bad time. I've read somewhere recently (was it on CH?) that he wasn't doing so well financially. However, that is no excuse for his behavior towards you. I haven't had much luck with the desserts there. Lazziza Bakery down the block is so much better.

        1. i was too not at all impressed by the food served and the prices ali charges. i know kk has a loyal following but i think these negative posts about inconsistencies and such are very useful to someone like myself who doesn't have the cash to blow on a bad dinner...from reading previous posts even dating back to 2002- i think its safe to say that it's a rollercoaster ride w. ali and some are able to enjoy the ride while others experience the pitfalls

          2 Replies
          1. re: liveloveat34

            i really regret that i, too, feel i must tell the truth about my experiences at kc and at ali's brother's place, mombar. on the occasions i've eaten at those places i've wanted so very much to like them. i like ali and his brother. they are earnest, interesting and nice guys who are trying their best to run interesting places that cross the cultural barriers that exist between egypt and the us. i love their attitude and their decor and their vibe and their open, expansive personalities. but the food i've had at both places has always, always been mediocre. they tend to use low cost cuts of meat and they tend to over cook almost all the meat. i've found their appetizers to be bland and tasteless and their salads and other non-main courses to be completely forgettable. and the price for all of this never really makes sense. if the food was great, the prices would make sense. but the food never is that good. i find that on the whole their cooking just isn't that good. they tend to overcook meat, undercook vegetables and poorly season their braises. maybe their culinary training is such that their lack of technique makes them highly inconsistent. i'm not sure. but the end result is that the food, unfortunately, is rarely good. and their kebabs are consistently terrible and dry and overdone, which is pretty inexcusable, since that's really not a hard dish to make.

            i think that the overall experience is often a quite exotic feeling, which tends to help patrons suspend their critical judgement, but, for me, the food has never been good. still, i'm always rooting for those guys and wish that they could somehow turn things around. i really want to like their food and see them do well. but, sadly, my experience there has never been a tasty one.

            1. re: joekarten

              The exotic experience was the only thing that suspended my critical judgments until I got to the train... then my girlfriend and I viciously critiqued it the whole way home. If the prices were reasonable we wouldn't have minded much, but they're not; they're very very high compared to what we normally get and or two people that eat lunch out daily (usually in a different place every day.)

          2. Is this really a downhill alert or a report of a bad experience? A downhill report assumes that the poster has been there in the past (presumably several times) and then has experienced patterns of concern with the food. While it's unfortunate that the OP had a bad experience, it seems like a series of gripes about unfulfilled expectations. I haven't been there in a little while, but it seems that Ali has been forced to renovate and give up the charcoal grill as a mandate from the DOH, so he's apparently moving away from the kabab part of the menu. The specials are where Ali's dishes really excel. My first ever outing to Kabab Cafe, I had baby eels, which were fabulous. He tells me how lucky I was to have gotten it in the first place since he doesn't get that ingredient very often (if ever any more). He also does wonders with offal. The brain dish was quite a revelation. I think that was one of the dishes Bourdian and Zimmern had when they visited on their NYC episode. I also enjoy the humitas appetizer on the regular menu. It's his tribute to a native south american food.

            So yeah, I think you missed something. It's might not be for you, but you could be rewarded if you go back with eyes open.

            14 Replies
            1. re: E Eto

              I suggest you tell Ali to rename his place as its a bit misleading now as he doesnt have a grill to make kebabs. It would be nice of him to have a sign indicating that or telling his customers before they order. As far as downhill, do a search and you'll see threads highliting this. As far back as 02. I think its imperative for vets and newbies to know what they are stepping into. Ali as a person should not sway your objective chowhound opinion on here. Many places start out great and head downhill for many years.

              1. re: fcara

                Extremely well put fcara - and I could not agree with your sentiments more throughout this post. It seems like people on chowhound seem to give a lot of chances to struggling restauranteurs / characters / egos - just because the are in locations that are less desirable than say Manhattan - but the food at this place has seriously suffered in the past year or two. Yes, he was great at the grill - but a couple of items do not make an outstanding menu. Times have changed at this restaurant - the only way he can come back to his original glory is to somehow get back to grilling and using ingredients that are outstanding and unusual, and he has to get back to seasoning his food correctly - Ali has been unfortunately resting on his laurels with the plaudits he has been receving on this site and others and from his TV appearances.

                1. re: FoodCad

                  Anyone know how to use the phrase "in my opinion"? I've been going for years and Ali has certainly changed what he makes and how he makes it but I dont find any difference in quality. I was there last week with my wife and a friend who had never been. She loved the food he served without any coaching from me. My wife and I loved the food as well. We'll be there again this week with other friends and expect to spend our hard earned money on his cooking without regret. I have no doubt that others feel otherwise and that some havent liked it since '02 (or before). That's what makes a horse race. It's opinion folks, not fact. And just because several share that opinion doesnt make Eric wrong. Nor right.

                  As for the food, we spent almost $140 (with tip, without wine) for the 3 of us to eat more food than we should have, all of it excellent. Not cheap but neither is DiFara for pizza (and, by the way, Dom doesnt make the same things that he did 40 years ago when I started going either... no sign in front that says "Maggie isnt here tonite to make the eggplant parm. or soup"). The cold app. platter had a great assortment of the usual and some unusual dips w/cleanly done falaffel balls (greaseless and tasty). We had no offal this time (I've been there and to Mombar for great 10-15 course offal dinners that were great too), but all the meats were more than fine for the price charged. He doesnt pretend to be Peter Luger's, nor charge for it. And his cooking skill brings out flavors that are very rich and satisfying (in my opinion).

                  If this seems a little edgy (ya think?) it's because I dont like to be told that the only reason that us long time loyal customers go back is because we no longer think about the food, only the man. Yes, Ali is a great guy but I always liked Mina too but havent been going back much due to the unevenness. My opinion: go to Ali's. The food is excellent for the money. But, no it aint a "kebob house". I'll be sure to mention that to him.

                  1. re: Steve R

                    You have a point here - I guess it's all a matter of one's taste. Anyway, I will not be going back to Ali's restaurant due to it's uneveness. I am sure that all his supporters out there will be keeping him going even without me.

                    I was not trying to tell anyone anything - I should have prefaced my paragraph with "In my opinion"

                    1. re: Steve R

                      Steve, I agree. The problem with KC is that it looks like a secret place with great interesting cheap food, but turns out to be a place with very good food that is not so cheap. So people with bargain expectations feel cheated. You obviously know what to expect when you go there and so enjoy the food and the experience.

                      1. re: bobjbkln

                        I think you hit the nail on the head. The OP is talking about a disappointing $20 meal of sandwich and app while others like Steve are enjoying meals for $50 and 15 course offal dinners. There really is no comparison and I'm of the opinion that Ali doesn't really have his heart in doing up a budget meal the right way; but that's no excuse for grumpiness when someone orders such.

                        1. re: gnocchi

                          I know Ali's specials can get pricey for what looks like a little hole in the wall, but AFAIK a sandwich or a app-sized bowl of hummus or baba there doesn't cost more than most in the city.

                          How do you spend $20 on a snadwich and app? $6 for a sandwich and $14 for the big mixed veg app platter?

                          For one person?

                          Also, it sometimes seems like every person in the city with a weird hangup about asking how much a special costs before ordering it goes to the Kabab Cafe at some point and comes away thinking they were tricked when stewed veal tail or a roasted trout costs more then the grilled chicken breast on the menu.

                        2. re: bobjbkln

                          Exactly. I was felt thoroughly blind sided and cheated by the prices.

                          And did I mention that his sauces taste virtually the same no matter what you order? And that him not giving tap water is a pain in the ass?

                        3. re: Steve R

                          got a couple quest and some comments:

                          should a tourist who's in new york for a few days, give kabab cafe a visit or not worth the treak and the inconsistencies from night to night.

                          also, yeah, it's not like he's charging more than 30 per person (given that you're not having a tasting menu, but as another question how much does the offal tasting menu run per person, ten to 15 courses sounds like quite a bit per person), also, Peter Luger would cost more like 140 per person than the 140 for 3 at kabab cafe. So Kabab cafe isn't the most expensive restaurant in NYC by far.

                            1. re: kevin

                              No, its not the most expensive in the city. It is overpriced for what it is. I enjoyed my meal there but haven't been back because it is expensive for what it is. A very small, cramped restaurant with good food. Knowing that, you can make your own choice based upon you're willingness to travel, acceptance of price point and from what others say, openness to uneven experiences there. But I wouldn't say that for a tourist who will only be in the city for a few days should trek out there expecting the very best that New York has to offer. Is it good? Absolutely. But, undr the criteria you listed, I wouldn't.

                              1. re: jdf

                                I think that people are ordering the wrong things...stick with the specials. don't expect a "life-altering" meal when you go for lunch and order a sandwich. order what he is known for...things like the lamb shank and the offal. The lamb cheeks and tongue appetizer is fantastic.

                              2. re: kevin

                                It is outrageously overpriced given the area that its in, what it puts out and how the specials are somehow twice+ the regular menu prices. A meal for two which consisted of two entrees came out to something like $40. I was not happy. The waitress he had in there also sucked and I was sitting next to 3/4 of Williamsburg.