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Yemen Cafe

In the nearly two years I've lived vaguely near Atlantic Avenue, Waterfalls is the only Middle Eastern restaurant I've visited. I fear that whole strip is going to be gentrified into oblivion within a couple of years, so I'd better start branching out while I can. Yemeni cuisine is one that I could stand to learn a little bit more about.

I took the opportunity during the first flakes of the blizzard. After seeing Cache at that odd Brooklyn Heights Theater on Henry Street, Yemen Cafe was a short (albeit wet) walk down the street (and home, 15 blocks south of that). As I'd suspected might be the case, I was the only female in the sparse, spacious room that was maybe a quarter full. I think that's why I tend to be wary of many of these restaurants: the lack of women. Am I breaking a rule by wanting to try new and delicious food?

Many of the items on offer were highly tasty and not quite like things I've had before. The pita was large, pizza-sized and comes on a platter. It had definitely come straight from an oven, warm with charred, bubbly edges. I didn't order any appetizers because I assumed the entrees were meal enough, which they were. However, the foul madamas and the Yemeni fateh, bread with honey and butter, grabbed my attention. Maybe on another visit.

James had a lamb fateh. I gather fateh means things served atop torn pieces of bread. The gravy soaks into the flaps of starch and creates a chewy flavor combination. I had the house salta, which comes in two parts. I think the salta is the stew, which is laced with potatoes, carrots and zucchini and comes most interestingly topped with a white herby foam called houlbah. I'd never seen such a thing, at the same it's time ancient and avant-garde. You mix the strong flavored swirl into the liquid. I couldn't put my finger on what the bitter component was, but later I deduced that it was fenugreek. A roasty browned, juicy lamb shank comes on a separate plate (you can also get chicken). A lot of picking and dipping is involved.

The foam came as a surprise, and so did the hot sauce they bring on a small saucer. I swear it's a dead ringer for salsa. We were joking that there was a jar of Pace in the kitchen. The components were there: tomato, onion, jalapeno, but lighter on the tomato on higher on the heat. Not chunky, but a puree. This is what I enjoyed about Yemen Cafe, unexpected tid bits like the Yemeni salsa, foamy toppings and pita strewn stews.

Yemen Cafe * 176 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY

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