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Back to Ali's Kebab Cafe

Steve R Apr 10, 2010 10:31 AM

I know that some folks aren't in love with this place because of the prices and the fact that the menu is worthless (he tells you what he has and you negotiate what to eat... the prices are not mentioned and it's not an inexpensive result). And it didnt help him that he closed down for two and a half months to visit his father in Egypt and to do some well deserved traveling and rest.

But, he's open again (for awhile now) and we finally made it back last night. Disclaimer: we know him, we've gone out to eat elsewhere with him and his son and he borders on "friend" status. But we pay full price and, as far as I can see, dont get anything others arent receiving. And, since he is outgoing and friendly with everyone, I dont think what I write isnt applicable to anyone reading it.

So, last night my wife and I had 3 apps., 2 mains and a small dessert. We brought our own wine, but had a bottle of water. We had a basturma (like dried pastrami) "tart", cut in triangular pieces and placed, with cucumbers, around a mound of hummus. Excellent... the tart had egg, onions, peppers (both sweet green and some jalapeno) and had the basturma layered on top. A new dish for us. We also had fresh artichoke hearts simply sauteed with onions and we had the lamb cheeks w/egg dish that I've used as my CH avatar for a year or so. All excellent. The first main was lamb shank w/ rice.... a nice sized portion of lamb, falling off the bone and in a gravy w/onions, etc.... a simply prepared, very nicely done dish that we eat as part of almost every meal there. The second was new to us... a stuffed chicken dish ("mish mish"?) that had a smaller grain rice inside an almost boneless thigh/leg quarter chicken w/an apricot tasting (not sweet) sauce. This was very good. Small portion of a filo dough dessert that he's making himself (previous desserts were not always home made there).

The bill was $80 + tip and, of course, without factoring in the wine byob. Given what we ate, I consider this quite fair. I understand that this price may not be what some folks think that they're going to get in this postage stamp sized room.... but it isnt a falaffel joint (not that there's anything wrong with that either) and the cost is what he needs to survive in business. Your choice... we'll keep going back.

  1. EJC Apr 11, 2010 05:03 PM

    While Chowhound (and Bourdain) raves about Ali, I've always avoided his shop due to price. As a (half) Arabic kid who loves great food though, I've decided that I've got to finally make my way out there sooner than later.

    If the wife and I show up with a bottle or two of wine and $100 we should be ok?

    We were at La Mancha last night, and he has his morcilla back - as you know, one of the best dishes in Brooklyn.

    -----
    La Mancha
    135 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201

    3 Replies
    1. re: EJC
      Steve R Apr 11, 2010 06:42 PM

      I had the morcilla last weekend (at La Mancha, not Ali's) and we were there tonite (Sunday) eating everything else.

      $100 plus your own wine should get you whatever you want at Ali's. If you want to wait a couple of weeks until Ginny and I come back from the West Coast, we can venture out there together. If not, mention our names to Ali... it wont get you anything but it'll break the ice (not that this is needed with him).

      -----
      La Mancha
      135 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201

      1. re: EJC
        bobjbkln Apr 11, 2010 08:18 PM

        EJC, you'll be fine. Ali's is NOT expensive. It just not cheap and it looks and feels like it should be cheap. You walk in and think that you have found the proverbial "hole-in-the-wall" and that you have scored a great meal for $25-30 for two, but discover, when you get the bill that it is over $75. Sticker shock, yes; but really expensive, no.

        1. re: EJC
          EJC Apr 12, 2010 11:15 AM

          Thanks guys, this seems like a no-brainer!

        2. erica Jun 9, 2010 05:09 AM

          After my first visit there last night, I can now weigh in on the Kabab Cafe debate and say that I am firmly in the "positive" camp. Six of us had dinner last night and, with SteveR as our esteemed guide and with, of course, the sage counsel of the wise Ali, we plowed our way through a litany of dishes.

          We devoured the mezze platter----hummus, baba ganoush, and some excellent fave-bean felafel, topped by crisped mustard greens that were fantastic (how does Ali make these??)--and perhaps a few items that I have forgotten. Every last smear was wiped clean with the accompanying pita rounds--both whole wheat and white pitas are offered. A spicy and creamy dipping sauce on every table is addictive, with complex flavors. For the spice adverse: a dry mixture of za-atar and sumac serves as a compliment to the bread.

          Lamb cheeks, made creamy with the addition of cheese, were delicious and probably an essential dish here.

          I enjoyed the artichoke-heart salad, but like most at the table, give a thumbs down to the balsamic-spiked mushrooms and peppers--for one thing, this was served from the frig and was just too cold. But that was one of only two negatives on this night.

          The roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce was among my favorite dishes. Our friend the fisherman pronounced the black sea bass to be excellent--I think this was broiled but by the time it arrived, I was almost too stuffed to focus. Lamb shank was a bit dry and not memorable, to me. There was also a tasty rice dish; I apologize for being a poor note-taker!

          All in all, this place was quite an experience and it was thrilling to watch Ali juggle and weave in the tiny space that serves as his kitchen. Shame on me for complaining about my own apartment kitchen after seeing the wonders that he can turn out behind his cramped counter.

          A trio at the adjacent table were drinking a hot hibiscus (jamaica) tea served in wine goblets--this will be on my table next time!

          The bill was about $45 per person; BYOB. Cash. Closed Mondays. After dinner, we walked a block or so, south, to Laziza Bakery for a mixture sweets. All in all, a memorable night for this New Yorker who had never before ventured into this exotic stretch of Little Egypt along Steinway.

          -----
          Kabab Cafe
          25-12 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

          Laziza of New York Pastry Shop
          25-78 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

          8 Replies
          1. re: erica
            janethepain Jun 9, 2010 09:21 AM

            I actually like the food, but it seems like no matter how much (or how little) you order, even in a big group, your bill comes out to be about $50/person....

            1. re: janethepain
              Jeffsayyes Jun 9, 2010 11:21 AM

              that is a very interesting theory.... I can't disagree.

              does anyone prefer Mombar to ali's? I haven't eaten at mombar ( I will soon), but I know it is different cuisine. but is the experience similar?

              1. re: Jeffsayyes
                y
                Yaxpac Jun 9, 2010 01:09 PM

                I definitely prefer Kabab Cafe to Ali's brother's place Mombar. Mombar is good, don't get me wrong, but it is a completely different experience than Kabab Cafe. In the past few years though, i have noticed that Mombar is offering some of the same dishes as Kabab Cafe (eg. lamb cheeks). that is kind of disappointing to me but oh well.

                Mombar is more of a restaurant if you know what I mean. There is a set menu and many more tables. I have to say, the tasting menu for $30 is an absolute steal at Mombar. I believe it is normally 5 courses but after the 5th he asked us if we wanted to try anything else and we said sure...another round came with no extra charge.

                Ali is an entertaining character who if engaged will liven up your dining experience. I do find that he will make you something special if you specifically ask AND he is not terribly busy.

                -----
                Kabab Cafe
                25-12 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

                1. re: Jeffsayyes
                  g
                  gutsofsteel Jun 9, 2010 05:50 PM

                  I like Mombar a lot. But comparing it to Ali's is apples to oranges. They are both wonderful, and very different.

                  Mustafa is a really good cook, and he's a lovely artistic interesting quiet man who gets overshadowed by his loud and often drunk (and charming) show man brother.

              2. re: erica
                Steve R Jun 9, 2010 10:56 AM

                To add to erica's post: the lamb cheeks had egg mixed in at the end, not cheese. And the rice/pasta dish (w/lentils and some veggies) is called koshery (or some variation on that spelling). Other than that, I agree with your assessment of the dishes... the lamb shank was drier than usual and not up to standard. You left out the homemade dumplings. Ali had a freshly sauteed bowl of mixed mushrooms and pasta sheets and individually made each dumpling, crimping the edges by hand. He served them with a very light tomato sauce that included sauteed onions. Excellent. He asked for $40pp and we gave him $45.

                And I agree with janethepain as well. It's always $40-50pp. It's what he needs to cover the seat. I feel bad for those underordering and getting that bill anyway. Thats why CH is valuable... for these little tidbits of info. :-)

                By the way, it was great to see that he was absolutely slammed last night. Every seat in the house was full and several tables turned over twice. A couple of folks even waited to be seated. It probably accounts for our dried lamb shank but I can live with it... I'm happy for him to be busy.

                1. re: Steve R
                  erica Jun 9, 2010 02:24 PM

                  Ouch! How could I have forgotten the dumplings!? They were, hands down, my favorite dish of the evening and were truly worth traveling for. I don't know how I got the idea that there was cheese in the lamb cheek dish..anyway it was creamy and tasty.

                  And as it turns out, the dish is indeed, Koshery, or Kosheri. Or kusheri. Apparently is is a signature Egyptian dish:

                  http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/koshary.htm

                  Here is a CH thread about it:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/279070

                  Thanks, Steve!

                  1. re: erica
                    q
                    queenseats Jun 9, 2010 06:26 PM

                    Regarding the tasting menu at Mombar, I disagree that it's a good value. We went for a birthday celebration last year with a group and were talked into the tasting menu, with an assurance that if we were still hungry at the end (and that would be unlikely because of the amount of food), we could ask to sample more. Well, the food was NOT enough (and we were there for about 3 hours, with the courses coming out verrrry slowly, though the restaurant was only about half full). When we asked our waiter about trying other things, he stated that we would have to pay for any additional items. We were very disappointed. I have been to Mombar a few times and ordered off the menu and found the food to be OK, but kind of boring.

                    While I preferred my one meal at Kebab Cafe to Mombar, I find the pricing issue at KC to be frustrating. I went with a friend and we ordered minimally (split two apps and shared one entree), and it did end up to be $40-50 each. Without a menu with prices listed, it's hard to know how much you're going to have to spend, and I don't think that it's fair that if you want a less expensive meal you're stuck paying more for a "seat." That issue alone has kept me from going back to KC even though I'd really love to sample more of the menu.

                2. re: erica
                  n
                  NewYorkNewHaven Sep 9, 2010 08:03 AM

                  Besides Laziza, can anyone else recommend places on Steinway for cheaper eats? I liked KC a lot last time I went, but I can't afford it at this point in my college career. I have been to Little Morocco and Al-Sham Sweets, but nowhere else.

                  I really my love my Middle Eastern sweets.

                  -----
                  Laziza of New York Pastry Shop
                  25-78 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

                  Little Morocco
                  24-39 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

                3. njfreqflyer Sep 9, 2010 06:08 AM

                  All I can say is ... "wow!" This was some pretty great food. Two friends and I went for lunch on Tuesday. It was our first visit to Ali's, and in fact, our first time with Egyptian food. We were all really really excited by the selections and taste sensations.

                  The seven pepper dipping sauce is provided early with a basket of pita and the freshness, the layers of flavors, and the spice (heat) are addictive.

                  We had two starters, each of which was fairly large: (1) the assorted mezze platter described above, in which the baba ganoush was a stand-out; and (2) a roasted beet, apple, pear, and onion dish served warm form the oven. The herbs and spices really made this wonderful.

                  For main courses, we had beef kebabs over rice with grilled vegetables, pumpkin dumplings (vegetarian) in a light tomato sauce (yes, these are the ones that Ali hand made when we ordered them), and a baked layered pita "pie" with mushrooms (also vegetarian).

                  As someone else mentioned above, the crisped (flash-fried?) greens were fantastic - there was escarole with the mezze platter, and some romaine with the layered pita and mushroom dish.

                  We enjoyed them all and were still talking about the food late that night. It really made an impression on us.

                  Throw in several glasses of tea and the tab came to almost $80 (without tax, pre tip). Service wasn't a problem for us since we were the only ones there at the time.

                  We'll be back for more, and hopefully some of the other dishes (like lamb cheeks) will be available.

                  Highly recommended.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: njfreqflyer
                    q
                    queenseats Sep 10, 2010 05:31 AM

                    Was that $80 total, or per person? I really want to return to Kebab Cafe but am concerned about how much it will cost as last time I was there, we ordered minimally and the total tab was close to $100.

                    1. re: queenseats
                      njfreqflyer Sep 10, 2010 08:42 AM

                      Total was $80-ish for the three of us...

                      1. re: njfreqflyer
                        q
                        queenseats Sep 10, 2010 04:34 PM

                        Wow...I really can't figure out the pricing here. That your meal, which included several entrees, and fed three people, was less expensive than the meal I had awhile back -- with two apps and one entree for a party of two --- is puzzling. I can't remember if he takes credit cards, so I like to go to such places with a general idea of how much I'll be spending... Ali is an experience and his food seems to have the potential to be memorable, but this kind of inconsistency is the type that I tend to avoid.

                        1. re: queenseats
                          d
                          Dave Feldman Sep 14, 2010 11:32 PM

                          I think the most likely possibility is that Ali screwed up with your check. I've never seen Ali issue an itemized check, but you can usually decipher the series of numbers (prices) if you ask for a check -- sounds like he charged you for two entrees.

                          I've never had any problems with the cost of Kabab Cafe. I've gone to Ma Peche a couple of times recently. The seating is as cramped, the quality of the food is at least as inconsistent as KC's, and there's none of the charm in the setting or service. It costs a good deal more and what do you get for it? David Chang's name, some pretty good food, and close proximity to the great cookies at the Milk Bar above it.

                          1. re: Dave Feldman
                            k
                            kevin Oct 9, 2010 12:57 PM

                            is there any menu at Kabab Cafe or none at all? and does he even serve up say a falafel sandwich or a basturma sandwich at all, even during lunch?

                            or is he not even open during lunch hours? THANKS.

                            -----
                            Kabab Cafe
                            25-12 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

                            1. re: kevin
                              m
                              Mr Porkchop Oct 9, 2010 02:38 PM

                              Seems he does his take on the falafel sandwich for lunch. It's toward the bottom here: http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2010/0...

                              1. re: kevin
                                njfreqflyer Oct 9, 2010 07:17 PM

                                I've only been here twice, both times for lunch, both times within the last month or so. Once on a weekday; once on a weekend. Neither time was a printed menu provided. Neither time was a sandwich mentioned on the day's menu that Ali recited. My distinct impression is that if he doesn't say it's on the menu on a given day, then he's not serving it that day.

                                1. re: njfreqflyer
                                  y
                                  Yaxpac Oct 10, 2010 05:34 AM

                                  I have been to Ali's many times. While there is never a menu, each and every time Ali has given me an itemized check,. The certain items that I have ordered several times are always the same price. While the prices may not be posted they do not change (example, the lamb shank has been $18 for years) Sometimes he may alter the portion sizes of appetizers for different size groups and price it accordingly.

                                  Rarely is an entree more than $20 which if you ask me is a steal for the quality of food that he can provide. He definitely can have some "off" nights as can happen when it is a one man show. But Ali is more often on than off and when he is on it can be very very good.

                                  1. re: njfreqflyer
                                    m
                                    Mr Porkchop Oct 15, 2010 08:30 AM

                                    I think he almost always serves falafel, and I think he'd probably throw it in a sandwich for you if you asked nicely.

                                  2. re: kevin
                                    d
                                    Dave Feldman Oct 10, 2010 02:39 PM

                                    There sure is a menu. Ask for it. You can see half of it if you search on Restaurant.com. For some reason, page two didn't print out properly.

                                    He is open for lunch and that is in many ways my favorite time to go. Occasionally, he is not there, and the lovely waiter from Mombar cooks. He is excellent and cooks in Ali's style (he was a full-time chef for many years).

                                    1. re: Dave Feldman
                                      d
                                      daveyj Oct 14, 2010 05:19 PM

                                      Went to Ali's last night. I received an itemized bill. We had the lamb shank. It was $24.00. Overall an excellent and interesting meal.

                                      1. re: Dave Feldman
                                        Jeffsayyes Nov 1, 2010 08:41 AM

                                        It's important to note that Ali's is on Restaurant.com. 25 dollars off, I just bought one for 2 dollars. They always have sales (reducing from 10 to 2 for the coupons) and don't flood your inbox. I was surprised to see Ali's on there. Also, surprised that kababish is on there - another of my favs.

                                        1. re: Jeffsayyes
                                          k
                                          kevin Nov 1, 2010 12:16 PM

                                          make sure that coupon works and report back, some have said in the past that the coupons don't work i think?

                                          1. re: kevin
                                            Jeffsayyes Nov 1, 2010 02:27 PM

                                            it def works at kababish. they are very good about refunds. I got them when places closed down (euro bistro in maspeth)

                                      2. re: kevin
                                        s
                                        Sage Mar 6, 2011 07:19 AM

                                        I have been for an early lunch and just gotten some foul medamas, which was delicious. It's been a number of years so I don't remember exactly how much it was, but it wasn't expensive.

                            2. k
                              kevin Mar 6, 2011 10:16 AM

                              Can't wait to go there.

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