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Kabab Cafe downhill alertl!!!

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  • fcara Nov 9, 2007 01:14 PM
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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. 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

                          Neither is Peter Luger!

                          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.

                              1. re: Yaxpac

                                ...I ordered the lamb shank

                            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.

                    2. My first and only time at Kebab was magnificent: the trick is to put your meal in his hands. We asked for an all-offal meal and dish after dish (which went cheeks, sweetbreads, tongue, brain, and mountain oysters) were each unique and delicious. It isn't cheap (actually rather ridiculously priced), but that isn't any reason to complain (or order falafel anyway). I need to go back for some normal cuts of meat, especially if the guy is having trouble keeping afloat.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cmballa

                        In the interests of research, 8 of us went last night and had Ali feed us. Some assorted mezze, smelts, sardines, cut up eggplant & mushroom "sandwiches" (on tortilla type bread, not pita), sweetbreads, fried brain, a kidney/liver mix (chopped up into almost a course paste), lamb chops, lamb shank ... several with hot peppers and other spicings... then dessert. Just about everything was fresh and excellent. Kept bringing dishes until everyone said they were full. Very generous amounts stuffed all 8 of us. Total was $50pp. We brought the wine and beer, he gave us bottled water (we only had 3 small bottles of it... not our favorite drink).

                        A couple of things to say: one, we're well known to him and several of us have even gone to dinner with him elsewhere (Gleichek in Brooklyn, for example). I have no way of knowing how much food others get or if he's as generous as he is with us but the place was packed (not hard to do) with regulars and first timers alike. All seemed happy enough. Secondly, and maybe most importantly, I watched a little more closely and noticed that just about everyone pays between $30-55pp. I dont think you can eat little enough to pay less. My guess is that he cant afford to have such a small place with so little turnover without charging a minimum. Strategy, therefore, would be to go only if you're willing to pay $40-50pp, come hungry enough to eat a lot for the money, and not be dead set on specific items. Just my 2cents.

                      2. wow thats surprising to hear. sad to hear, we've always enjoyed ourselves at this place.

                        1. My girlfriend and I just got back from dinner there. It was my second trip to KC and on both occasions I've been disappointed. The meal began promisingly enough. We ordered sweet breads and beet salad as appetizers and they were quite good. But it went downhill after that. The lamb shank I got as a main course was overcooked and the rice accompanying it not very warm. When the bill arrived for more than 60 dollars we were appalled. The lamb shank alone had cost 18. Now you expect lamb shanks to be expensive, but they must be cooked well and this one wasn't.

                          Ali seemed to be in low spirits. True, it was nearing the end of the night, but for the prices that he's charging, one expects a more pleasant experience.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: daniellaczar

                            but you see anywhere that serves a lamb shank or osso buco dish around town will charge at least minimum 18 bucks so i'm not sure where the price gouging at kabab cafe is stemming from.

                            1. re: kevin

                              3 lamb shanks = 4-6 dollars at just about any Queens South Asian establishment with a tandoori. The shank that I had at KC was pretty bad, over cooked and small. Tiny portions.

                            2. re: daniellaczar

                              I'm beginning to sound like a broken record (remember records? remember that expression?) but....

                              If the food was poor quality, undercooked or otherwise not well made (and your lamb shank sounds like you thought it was), then I cant fault you writing a bad review of the food. But, once again, you're another reviewer faulting Ali for charging reasonable prices for what he's serving and I just dont get it. One of my favorite local places in Bklyn, Downtown Atlantic, serves a shank for upper-$20s (burgers there are $11 and so's the pulled pork w/fries, for reference) & no one says a word: Ali charges $18 for it and there's an outcry. And try to get sweatbreads as an app. anywhere for under $10... how 'bout a fresh beet salad, where the beets are cut in front of you and skillet warmed with onions and spices? I just paid $11 for a similar salad at Lunetta on Smith St. I assume there was another entree as well? By the way, I've had each of the dishes you describe so I know what they are. So.... if all the food was good (and I know and respect that you say that the lamb wasnt), exactly what's the problem with a $60-something bill for 2 people??? Clue me in please.... are there great bargain restaurants of this caliber that I am missing?

                              1. re: Steve R

                                Yes, the appetizers were great and I'll happily pay $10 for a great appetizer. The issue is with an over-priced entree... it is overpriced because it was not cooked properly (in fact my stomach is still upset from it). Close to $20 is not reasonable for a dish that is not cooked properly. Just b/c it is "lamb shank" does not mean you charge that much for it...sorry. If the cooking is mediocre--ppl will say it is not worth the price and go somewhere they can pay 20 for lamb that is cooked well. If you can't cook it well, don't charge the same price as those who can.
                                The other dish was the roasted chicken, basically a similar problem and another upset stomach..although she thought it still tasted good, but again around 20 for over spiced roast chicken and rice that is barely lukewarm is overpriced for sure.
                                A small cup of mint tea for $3...again, come on. In Soho this would be considered acceptable, on Steinway street it's ridiculous.
                                For lunch that day 3 of us had 2 apps, 4 entrees, 2 pots of tea and 3 desserts for a sublime $55 lunch at Mina's. If Ali had cooked that, based on his pricing scheme, we'd probably be paying much much more and probably most of it wouldn't be cooked well. If the food at KC was very good, I'd have no problem paying 20 an entree...but it wasn't.
                                When I leave a restaurant I want to feel like I got what I paid for... at KC I certainly did not. At Mina's, I somehow always feel I've gotten much more.

                                1. re: daniellaczar

                                  i should mention that i REALLY loved the feeling of the place...it's very beautiful and unique. and Ali's helpers were very sweet--although Ali seemed in a sour mood, which unfortunately is hard to escape in such a small place.

                                  1. re: daniellaczar

                                    Now you have me thoroughly confused. Would $10 be a better price for a poorly cooked lamb shank that upset your stomach and how much would be a good price for chicken that was over spiced and upset her stomach? If the meal was, let's say, free, would you have liked lamb that you thought was poorly cooked any better? I just cant understand how your perception of the quality of the food you ate equates to him charging less for what he's serving.

                                    And, just to avoid any possible misunderstanding, I do completely disagree with your estimation of his cooking ability & the taste of the food that I've had. I'm sorry we disagree (the world would be a better place if everyone agreed with me on these things), but I have no problem with disagreeing on this. That's why we have the boards... so others can read and decide. The lamb shank I had the other night, and the previous week, was nicely spiced, falling off the bone tender and was plentiful enough for 2. And my stomach was full, not upset, afterwards.

                              2. Kabab isn't cheap anymore, but I don't think it's overpriced. I love the ambiance at Kabab Cafe, and although some might complain that it is cramped and uncomfortable, I'd pay extra to be able to eat at such an intimate and charming spot. I just had a wonderful dinner tonight with two friends. One clinker -- the wild young chicken with pomegranate didn't work. But the lamb's cheeks, the appetizer plate, the leg of lamb, and the kosheri were superb. We ordered some stuff to go, too, but what we ate for dinner was under $30 p.p. before tax and tip.

                                1. I would take issue with the "downhill alert" moniker. A quick perousal of boards past and present will turn up constant claims of erratic and inconsistent meals, and also, as has been the case with Steve, sublime culinary experiences. If anything, "inconsistency alert" might be more fitting.

                                  My own experience: My wife and I, years before we read review or post number one, found this place, and the nearby Mombar (how can you resist an entrance with an eye on the door?) to be very enticing. We went into KC blind, came out - after a disappointing meal - throwing our hands up in the air. I went back, solo, around a year ago, had a better meal, but nothing that would make me sing arias along Steinway.

                                  Re the whole price thing: yeah, no one likes to spend lots of money on a disappointing meal. But it seems to me that the high prices you'll pay, much like the line you're going to wait on at DiFara's, or the high prices you might pay for so-called "fine dining", is a given, something you'll just have to accept going in. Part of the experience. The man is not going to lower his prices. You might just as well yell at the sky for being blue - what's the point?

                                  P.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Polecat

                                    i think we it might seem so expensive is that it looks from the outside and the inside (?) like a hole in the wall falafel/shwarma joint. But the dishes he makes doesn't sound anything like that.

                                    once again, anywhere you go even if they serve crappy lamb is going to cost you 15 bucks per lamb shank dish. even if it is crappy, now if KC serves a good one, then 18 bucks per is really not that expensive, and a whole bunch of places would be probably charge into at least the mid 20s for a lamb shank. (now, if an honest to goodness fast food restaurant serves a lamb shank that may be a different story where they might charge upwards of 8 bucks for the dish, but to tell you the truth i haven't seen that anywhere around town).

                                    1. re: Polecat

                                      I don't see how his prices aren't seen as an abomination given where he's located and the fact that you're paying or 70% ambience and 30% food. I would be interested in going again just to try the lamb cheeks, but I would be very sure that I kept my orders to a minimum because those prices are simply insane for me. 60 dollars for two people is outrageous in Queens (especially given the inconsistency, the quality of his food, the fact that his specials hide outrageous prices which are far in excess of his posted menu, his mood swings, the location, the prices at similar places in the area, etc.) It's comparable to Spicy Mina's in that she has good food, but her consistency is very hit or miss, nothing is life changing (even her Bengali specialties don't come close to an average Bengali mother's cooking) and her prices are an insult given the area (you could get 3 meals of virtually the same quality a few blocks over in JH.) You're paying for a person not a meal.

                                      1. re: JFores

                                        as a queens resident and very frequent diner, i've got to say that $60 for two is expensive, but not an abomination. there are other restaurants around here that will cost you that (tournesol, for instance). but it is rare. the problem is that KC is inconsistent and sometimes just bad and still comes out at the top of the price spectrum. come on, even if the price point for 2 was 45 or 50 bucks, that wouldn't make a bad meal taste better. the problem isn't the price, it's the food (when it's bad.) let's not confuse the two. sure you feel ripped off when it's $60. but you wouldn't recommend the meal if it was lousy and was only $20, either.

                                        1. re: joekarten

                                          part of the shock of the bill was not being served a regular menu or having a specials menu/board with the PRICES. i was expecting the lamb shank to be expensive(read my original post), but i also expect it to be good. i think it's pretty standard protocol for a restaurant to make prices clear from the beginning.
                                          close to 20 for roast chicken that is not much better than uncle georges (which goes for about 6) is really just gouging the customer.
                                          Ali may be a fine chef and I'm sure sometimes he is really on, but if inconsistency is the norm...you really shouldn't charge as if you're a 5 star chef, who can repeatedly turn out exquisite meals.
                                          i work hard for my money and inconsistency at 20 a plate is not worth it for me.

                                          i'm curious(JFores), where do you get meals of the same quality as Mina's in JH? i've tried many places and they don't compare, just wondering where you go.

                                          1. re: daniellaczar

                                            please tell me what 5 star chef charges only $20/entree. I would be thrilled to patronize that place.
                                            I went to Ali's last night and had yet another wonderful meal. One of the people in our party order the Poussin, which was fantastic. Yes, it was $20, and worth every penny. Ali deboned the bird which made it so much easier to eat. Effort costs money...