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Posts from the ‘Middle Eastern’ Category

Newborn: City Kitchen

Hopefully, this will not be the state of affairs in practice.

Not indicative of actual lunch crowds (I hope).

I’m pretty sure that I recently said 2015 was going to be about embracing the personal, not the service-oriented. How does a new food court, more Gotham West/Berg’n than Riese Organization, fit into this rubric? Well, City Kitchen is two blocks from my office in Times Square’s sad lunch zone. So, yeah.

Imagine these full sized

Imagine these full sized

Open to the public today, the second floor collection of stands includes established favorites like Luke’s Lobster, Dough, Sigmund’s Pretzels, offshoots like Ilili Box and perhaps most notably, Kuro Obi, an Ippudo spin-off with noodles that are supposedly resistant to take-out.

Whitman's Upstate PB&B (bacon and peanut butter) slider

Whitmans’ PB&B (bacon and peanut butter) slider

Also, there will be breakfast tacos (at Gabriela’s Taqueria) which I would be willing to trade for my usual hard-boiled egg (I know) every now and then, as well as beer, wine and sake, for lunch hour tipplers. (Though if you’re a serious day-drinker, you’ll probably be better suited to Smith’s across the street when it re-opens courtesy of Hayden Panitierre’s dad.)

 City Kitchen * Eighth Ave. & 44th St., New York, NY

Where to Eat Emirati Food in Dubai

Late last year I was in Dubai, for the second time in less than a year and a half, which seems ludicrous in retrospect. I haven’t written about everything I intended to for varying reasons, mostly un-dramatic. 2014 has been quick and full of fits and starts that have demanded focus and left little time for tying up loose ends. I didn’t leave the country once this year. I also spent my life savings on an apartment you’d never see featured in “The Hunt.”

It goes without saying that Dubai is kind of a weird place and not a place that is on anyone’s food radar like Singapore, also a substantial flight away in another heavily malled city in love with air conditioning and luxury goods.

There is a food culture, though. I’d like to say that it’s on the verge–and it is being tapped into, for sure. Just last week Andrew Zimmern was Instagramming visits to camel farms (there is no way camel meat won’t be a bizarre eat) and fish sauce makers, and Penny De Los Santos, a Saveur photographer, was posting shots of fish markets and chai vendors. I imagine the angle will be Dubai behind the glitz, a.k.a. a taste of the real Dubai.

I could drum up very little interest when pitching in earnest earlier this year. Americans don’t go to Dubai and would need someone well above my stature to convince them otherwise, and foreign publications prefer local stringers. My fascination was and is more along the lines of what is local food when there aren’t many locals? Emiratis make up just roughly 13% of the seven United Arab Emirates’ 9.2 million population.

So, what is Emirati food? It’s not hummus or pita or shawarma, though those Levantine staples in the form of Lebanese food, specifically, enjoy great popularity in the UAE and have blended into the culture. There are definitely flatbreads, rice and grilled meats and seafood. Traditionally, the cuisine isn’t elaborate, especially considering that it’s born of nomadic desert-dwellers pre-oil boom.

emirates shrimp machbous

Shrimp machbous, akin to a biryani and using loomi, a dried black lime powder, and an Arabic spice blend called baharat, served in Emirates business class (the most amazing, unexpected, free upgrade I’ve experienced in my entire life) is a traditional Emirati dish. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend anyone judging anyone’s cuisine based on airline food.

There aren’t a lot of restaurants that bill themselves exclusively as Emirati–whether because the food is considered home cooking, the small number of locals, or that it’s not assumed to be of interest to tourists or expats–though that’s starting to shift. There also doesn’t appear to be a strong urge to appeal to outsiders, and especially not women on their own.

A half week here (during Ramadan, no less) and ten days there is not enough to call myself an expert. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few first-hand suggestions for the curious.

al fanar harees

Al Fanar is probably the best known example and goes as far as calling itself “the first and only” Emirati restaurant in Dubai. It also recently opened a new branch at Town Centre, Jumeirah. The one I visited at Festival City is in a mall like most things and a little kitschy with an outdoor tableaux of camel statues and 1960s vehicles meant to evoke an older, simpler Dubai. It also happens to be near a Trader Vic’s and a Jamie Oliver restaurant. Harees, above, is a stiff porridge made from cracked wheat and lamb stewed into oblivion, then accented with clarified butter. I was warned against it being “like Quaker Oats,” which it isn’t really. Previously on Al Fanar.

Milas is a newer entrant (in Dubai–the original location is in the more conservative emirate to the north, Sharjah) and slicker. It’s located in a ground floor section of the Dubai Mall devoted to denim that’s called…wait for this…”The Village, Denim District at The Dubai Mall.” This was the middle of the afternoon, not prime dining time, but I was the only patron sitting “outside.” Lack of diners was a common occurrence everywhere I went. (And some establishments like Bait 1971 seemed to keep hours based on whims–I was only able to try Bait Al Bahar, the more generic Middle Eastern restaurant on the beach.)

milas ipad menu

The menu is not just on an iPad but is presented in a wooden case propped up vertically. Yes, that’s harees on the screen. And yes, two harees experiences (I’d also tried it at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding) was plenty for a short time frame.

milas amuse

A chickpea and pine nut salad appeared with sesame-seeded, za’atar-spiced oil and what I want to call pita but the menu in English says is Oriental bread.

milas mbahar deyay

Mbahar deyay, which I ordered because it was the signature dish and one person can only eat so much, is very close to an Indian korma. The chicken breast is served in a lightly spiced, creamy sauce with saffron rice garnished with fried onions and cashews. This also came with green and red chile sauces on the side that weren’t Indian in the least and closer to the flavor and consistency of Sriracha. For the record, outside of resorts food is not prohibitively expensive in Dubai even at a relatively upscale mall restaurant. This entree cost about $16.

milas quad

I was kind of digging the purse hook, gold flatware and toothpick caddy (and that palate was used correctly on the website). Oh, and you are brought perfumes at the end of the meal, which are meant to emulate the hospitality you would experience at someone’s home. I would not know because I don’t think just anyone gets invited for dinner at an Emirati’s house.

klayya exterior

Klayya, a cafe in a smaller shopping center that looked to only be a 20 minute walk from my hotel but ended up being a trauma because the sidewalks literally end a few blocks outside of the central cluster I was staying in, was the source of one of my favorite meals. Once again, I was the only customer.

al barsha quad

In case you wondering, no one walks in Dubai even in the winter when the high is only 79 degrees. The way to Al Barsha Mall by car quickly led to lots of sand and dirt for pedestrians, as well as enormous home compounds covered in flags that may or may have not been a result of the National Day celebration.

bateel counter

Where Emirati food might excel, in my sweet-and-savory-obsessed opinion, is at breakfast. Maybe I just really love dates. (Bateel, a chain whose counter is pictured above, is where one satisfies that urge–I love that even a predominately Muslim country will package confections in a Christmas tree shaped box for the holidays.)

klayya breakfast

From 8am to noon, you can order breakfast combos like this ryoog yerana, described as an omelet, with three breads and karak, a local version of chai. Clearly, it’s not an omelet but hard-cooked eggs (I have no idea if runny yolks, my preference, are not standard) sprinkled with cumin seeds and sitting atop a slew of caramelized, charred on the bottom dates. It’s a lot of food–and only $9.50, by the way.

klayya duo

You can’t see all three in this photo, but the tin of breads holds chebab, which is almost exactly like an American pancake, khameer, the Emrirati answer to pita, and regag, a dosa-like crepe.

klayaa duo interior

Candied flavors paired with protein are kind of love or hate. If you like bastilla or sweet and sour pork or monte cristo sandwiches, you will be on board with Emirati breakfasts. This wasn’t technically my first one. Jetlag bolstered by two days of heavy drinking (big resort brunch, then small town hotel bar crawling) almost killed me (I say only in half-jest). My friend’s sister who I stayed with in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s second city, on my third night, reported back to her sibling that I might be dead because I hadn’t moved from the couch long past what seemed like a reasonable amount of sleep. When I was finally able to pull myself together that afternoon, I was made a dish involving scrambled eggs, crumbly white cheese and date syrup. It was amazing. I also credit it with reviving me.

mama tani exterior

Mama Tani is a little new school and specializes in using khameer, the traditional flatbread, in less traditional ways. And I almost hate to point it out, but look, no one’s there.

shake shack entrance mercato mall

It’s not a matter of cuisine or name recognition, I’m afraid. This same shopping center, Mercato Mall, along touristy Jumeirah Beach Road also houses one of Dubai’s five Shake Shacks and there were certainly no lines there either.

mama tani khameer

I chose a savory version stuffed with cilantro, cream cheese (not American cream cheese, but a white processed spread* that became a source of obsession) and toasted walnuts, and a rose pista, which is like a thin, icy milkshake made with rose water and pistachios. There are also sweet khameer with saffron, rose and cardamom creams. Oh, and camel hot chocolate.

mama tani doggie bag

I appreciate the attention to design and branding. A British family did stop in while I was there and got food to go, or rather “takeaway” as they say in the rest of the world including Dubai and the UK, which made me think that asking for a doggie bag wouldn’t be a big deal (it’s not). The cardboard Fed Ex-like package kept my khameer safe (who needs refrigeration?) while I continued on my food ordering while not particularly hungry journey. Envelopes are the style, apparently, because I encountered another later.

local bites cafe counter

Local Bites Cafe is on Jumeirah Beach Road like Mama Tani, but seven blocks south, i.e. not walkable as I quickly learned. Distances are so hard to judge because there are two main drags that everything is clustered around and the rest is desert, a bit like Vegas. Because of the city’s vertical nature when represented cartographically, the scale is off and what looks like two inches on Google Maps is close to ten miles.

Local Bites Cafe had customers. A tourist laptop guy and two Emirati women who sat behind me and wanted to order their driver something with cheese while he waited in the SUV outside. Despite the strangeness of having a chauffeur (this isn’t Saudi Arabia–not only can women drive, there are female taxi drivers) it was nice seeing two women out and about with neither men nor children and I don’t mean that to sound condescending.

local bites cafe balaleet

Balaleet is a pretty traditional breakfast that also does the sweet savory thing. It’s vermicelli cooked with saffron, rose water, cinnamon, sugar and cardamom, emphasis on cardamom, and topped with slices of omelet, in this case an adorable cut out heart.

local bites cafe arabic coffee

If you dislike these spices, you’ll be in big trouble if offered Arabic coffee. And you might be. It’s another gesture of hospitality, usually presented with small no-handle cups. My non-Western chain hotel had a pot in the lobby for the taking. Served in a curvy dallah, important enough to appear on the one dirham coin and serve as Local Bites’ logo, the coffee also gets blended with cardamom, saffron, rose water and cloves. It’s not necessarily something I’d want to drink daily on its own in the morning, but it pairs well with dates and these sweetened egg dishes.

emirati cheese spread

*While writing this, I received a very important Facebook alert from my friend in Abu Dhabi coming home to South Carolina for Christmas. Cheese spread processed in the UAE!

Six Cuisines in Five Hours: An Old Dubai Crash Course

Four hours,  forty-nine minutes and thirteen seconds spent sampling food from all ends of the Middle East does not an expert make, but it’s a pretty good crash course, nonetheless. Beyond the obvious Levantine favorites like hummus, tabouleh, shawarma, and a few long ago forays into Atlantic Avenue’s Yemeni restaurants, I’m stunted when it comes to regional specialties.

Dubai is funny in that there are still perfectly accessible vestiges of the pre-glitz era, entire neighborhoods even. Just cross the creek into Deira and you’re in the Queens of the Emirate. Any eating that required being outside for more than three minutes was nixed on my previous Ramadan-hindered visit, which meant no strolling and no chowhoundy missions. Plus, who has an appetite when it’s 112 degrees? (Boo to Celsius. Tell me it’s 20 degrees or 40 degrees and I’ll comprehend nothing.) Even during the winter there aren’t many pedestrians minus the occasional sun-burnt Brit. Lest you think I exaggerate, the bus stops–many sponsored by Tim Hortons–are air conditioned. I’ve yet to master exposure on photos in the dark with bright blown out signs, so evidence deleted.

Arva, a food blogger who grew up in Dubai and still lives in Deira, started a food tour business called Frying Pan Adventures this year, and it’s become popular for a reason. While I’ve always shied away from guided group activities while traveling (and in life, generally) it’s very useful in a city where it’s easier to read up on ventures by ’90s chefs like Gary Rhodes or find the latest American import than where to get the best kunafa or find lesser known items like Iranian sangak.

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Rashed Ali Cafeteria

threeshovelFor a country where drunkeness–public or otherwise–is seriously frowned on, the United Arab Emirates certainly produces one of the most mind-bending late night snacks I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard to imagine a brain on mocktails coming up with something so ingenious.

Rashed Ali Cafeteria is in a strip mall in Al Ain, the second-largest city in Abu Dhabi, which didn’t seem all that large. It’s open 24 hours.  At 2am on a holiday weekend Saturday, there were still cars pulling up and doing the classic honk-and-order. Drivers in the UAE turn any business (including liquor stores where leaving your tinted windowed SUV could draw undue attention) into a car hop with a few short beeps.

rashed ali cafeteria

The order: four San Franciscos, 5 dirham apiece or roughly $1.35. I have no idea if that’s the official name–or the price– because I didn’t see a menu and my driver who I’d met the day before, an expat sister of a Brooklyn friend, speculated that was the “white girl price” because it had been cheaper before. (There was also paranoia that the server was being rude and wouldn’t give us change from the 20 dirham note because he suspected we had been drinking.)

rashed ali san fransico

Four originally sounded excessive but these sandwiches that a New Yorker would call gyros are petite. What they consist of I can only guess. Presumably, the main ingredient is hot chicken, orange-ish, hinting at tandoori spices. The bread isn’t pita or khameer, an Emirati pita–there is a whole canon of Arabic breads I’d never encountered before–but chewy, pliable and buttery like a roti or what they would call paratha (which I kept hearing as “burrata” because P’s are pronounced like B’s). I’m pretty sure it’s a paratha.

so much liquid cheese

What sealed it for me was the processed cheese (not burrata).  Numerous  brands–Borden,  Kraft, and something called Puck–vie for shelf space (sometimes it’s refrigerated, sometimes not) for their plastic squeezable containers and small glass jars. Called spreadable cream cheese, it is not that. The taste and consistency is more akin to white Cheez Whiz, obviously an angelic version.

rashed ali san fransico bitten

And it is the gooey, salty schmear that elevates the San Francisco to greatness. The heavy layer of un-crushed wavy potato chips doesn’t hurt either. I ate two, one on the car, one back in the apartment, conked out, and didn’t wake up until the next afternoon.

Rashed Ali Cafeteria * Slemi, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Zizi Limona

threeshovelIt didn’t seem right to lump Zizi Limona in with the recent Williamsburg batch. Partially because even though the newish Mediterranean-plus restaurant got
the Hungry City treatment and a Brooklyn Heatmap nod, whenever I pass by–maybe at the wrong times–I see a candlelit expanse of diner-less tables. And that’s just not right.

The above-mentioned plus is that it’s not just a falafel joint, something it might be getting unfairly pegged as. Recently when deciding where to eat with a group, I suggested Zizi Limona because it wasn’t likely to pose a seating trauma on a Saturday night. It was shot down with the supposition that a friend of a friend didn’t want kebabs because she’d just spent the past few years in Iraq. No arguments in this case–Williamsburg is rife with all-American food; fried chicken, burgers and bbq for miles–but the not wanting kebabs argument could be a problem. For what it’s worth, there are seven items in the section called Classic Big Zi’s (as opposed to less traditional Big Zi’s, Small Zi’s and salads) and only one involves kebabs, served with a mysterious sounding black babaganoush.

Zizi limona tershi

I may try the lamb eventually, but other dishes give a fuller picture of the border-crossing style. Take the Tershi, Jewish by way of Libya, a naturally sweet, gingery pumpkin mash grounded with cumin and stewed chickpeas. I don’t know anywhere else in NYC that serves it.

Zizi limona sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

Or the bourekas, called here Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar, flaky pastry cylinders stuffed with non-traditional mozzarella and basil and moved eastward with almonds and honey.

Zizi limona chicken liver

A special featured chicken liver, rich, unadorned (I thought it might be coated and fried) and served with Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke, if you rather) two ways: pureed as a base and slivered and fried to a crisp as a garnish gone wild. Hit with thyme and Santorini vinegar, like a less sweet balsamic, this was about as far from a kebab as you could get.

Zizi Limona * 129 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Hello, Myrtle Avenue

I took so many photos at Sapolo that I decided to
give it its own post.

Chinantla. I'm excited to have what feels like a
secret taqueria (there is a full-on restaurant in the back of this bodega, not
just a counter with a seat or two) only six blocks away. Mini-chains Calexico
and Oaxaca have their fans, but they just weren't cutting it for me. The pork
enchilada (as in chile sauced, not the dish with the name) probably wasn't the
wisest pick. The meat was pounded to schnitzel thinness and sauteed till lifeless
and tough enough to start bending the flimsy metal knife I was given. With a big
scoop of refried beans, mountain range of Mexican rice and slices of avocado
and nopales, it was a lot of food for $9, though. I'll definitely return for
something simpler and more fool-proof because I want this place to be good.

Tepango trio

Tepango. is four blocks closer to me and courts a
broader audience with things like hard shell tacos and what they call a Super
Taco, a $5 fat rolled corn tortilla filled with meat and enrobed melted cheese
like a taco-burrito-quesadilla hybrid. These are just regular $2 tacos, the al
pastor sweet with lots of pineapple chunks and grilled onions. They deliver,
but it's worth stopping by in person to see the hand-drawn anime and fantasy
Aztec art that decorates the walls.

Zaytoons pitza

Zaytoons. The only Carroll Gardens/Clinton Hill
crossover, I think, and not the only neighborhood Middle Eastern choice (Damas
Falafel House still needs to assessed). It's byob, five mezzes are only $8.50
(I'm always impressed with how good the boring sounding lentils and rice,
moujadarra, is–it must be all the oily fried onions mixed in) and while maybe
melted cheese and lamb weren't meant to go together, I often end up with a shawarma

Maggie Brown. There's nothing really notable about
this solidly neighborhood restaurant/bar (there is nearly an equal amount of
small space devoted to eating as drinking). The burger is pretty solid
(medium-rare is honored) and there's a nice backyard. My only knowledge of
Maggie Brown up until now was when it got the Under $25 treatment eight years
, and I was surprised to see a Clinton Hill restaurant making The Times. It
still feels a little 2004, which is to say good enough for a transitional area
but not in line with the current crop of new nearish restaurants (Lulu &
Po, The Wallace, Prospect). And that's ok.

Clinton hill white castle

White Castle. For the second time in my NYC
existence, I live a block from a White Castle. This time it's directly across
the street and the view I'm treated to when peeking over the terrace. I don't
think I will ever be tempted by the sign advertising their new parfaits, but
the also-new jalapeno and cheese sliders (I have not been wild enough to try
the version with crispy fried onions yet) are not a bad 94-cent snack for those
who dig gooey processed cheese and chiles as much as I do. I hope this doesn't
become a habit.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Double Dandelion Greens & Falafel Three Ways

Levant duo

Levant I never ever used to order delivery, maybe more due to social anxiety (I hate ordering by phone–there's always a misunderstanding) than an abhorrence for convenience. But Seamless has won me over lately because it cuts down on all that messy interpersonal interacting. I was a little bummed when Palmyra went belly up, but turns out it was ok because they were replaced with another Middle Eastern restaurant with better food. Or at least more variety–there's not just falafel but Jordanian (chickpea and fava), Egyptian (fava) or Syrian (chickpea) falafel. I had the standard all-chickpea fritter in my five for $13 mezze, along with labneh shateh (spicy), muhammara, mukhalal (pickled vegetables with a whole preserved lemon tossed in) and mousa'a, a steaming hot stewy eggplant dish not pictured. The pizzas, a.k.a. manakeesh are only $6. The lahmeh bi ajin was topped with ground beef, onions, pine nuts, and was a little salty. I'm curious about the one with blue cheese, dates, honey and walnuts.

Paprika selection

Paprika Despite its existence on St. Marks for 12 years, I don't recall ever noticing this Italian restaurant. There are just too many Italian restaurants in NYC, I'm afraid. That's why owner and chef, Egidio Donagrandi, has gone back to his roots and revamped much of the menu to reflect the cuisine of Valtellina, a Northern Italian region bordering Switzerland. It's also why I was attending a preview dinner. Gone is most of the red sauce (there are still meatballs–lamb, by the way) and a different type of hearty food has taken its place. Buckwheat plays a role the tagliatelle and the lasagna with leeks and fonduta (pictured), Northern Italian cheeses like new-to-me, Bitto, enhance the polenta, also given a little heft with buckwheat, pickled vegetables frequently show up as with the oyster mushrooms atop the bresaola. Also shown here is black kale with pickled onion and almonds, a dandelion salad with pickled radishes and creamy crescenza cheese, and beef crudo with beets and chicory. (Obviously, there are substantial mains, too, but the light waned and I didn't have my real camera on hand to adequately capture them.) Maybe my end-of-2011 prediction that Alpine cuisine would be a break out, will prove true. What happened with Harold Dieterle's The Marrow, anyway?

Frankies 457 Now that Pok Pok exists, waiting an hour for a table at Frankies seems like nothing. Technically, I'd already eaten enough snacks earlier to constitute a meal so post 10pm dinner was fine. But to counteract the already-eaten food, I went healthy and ordered a dandelion greens salad with octopus instead of pasta (well, I also shared a charcuterie plate). It was a bit too healthy, like giant bowl of tart, nicely dressed weeds accented by charred octopus tendrils. I would recommend sharing this unless you're the type who can regularly eat a whole forest of kale in one sitting.

Brick house cocktail listBrick House Tavern + Tap I've mentioned this suburban breastaurant (which seems to be decreasingly breastaurant-y) before. I only want to mention that a short cocktail list with a Manhattan twist and a drink using Firefly sweet tea vodka seems to be in at these corporate-type establishments (Is there a company or consultant who designs lists for restaurants? I feel like I should know.) Brick House has a Woodford Reserve Peach Manhattan (which I ordered) and a Carolina Spiked Tea (which I would never order because I hate sweet tea). Though I can't find any cocktail lists on their websites, both Republic Gastropub and Bricktown Brewery (no relation to Brick House) Brewery in Oklahoma City also had prominently featured a sweet tea cocktail and a fruity Manhattan.


Back on Good Friday, it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that we were the only ones in the restaurant not celebrating Passover. And even though I didn’t technically have the day off like everyone else seemed to, I still took the opportunity to cut out of work early and head out of town for 24 hours.

Zahav got skipped on my last Philadelphia visit, so this oversight needed to be rectified. I don’t speak passionately about Middle Eastern food much (I mean, I have practically every Asian cuisine separated out as a category but lump everyone except Turkey under the Middle Eastern umbrella) and though I certainly love grilled meats and rice as much as the next person, what I’m crazy for is mezze. I could eat little dishes of pickled things, roasted vegetables, dips, salads, along with unleavened bread every day.

But Zahav is more of what I’d call modern Israeli, which is to say you can drink fun cocktails like the Marble Rye (pumpernickel and caraway-infused rye topped with celery soda) which yes, tastes like rye bread, or even Israeli, Lebanese, and Moroccan wines, and mezze isn’t tabouli or muhammara, but dishes involving grilled duck hearts, veal tongue vinaigrette, and during this time of year, those ubiquitous ramps.

Zahav hummus & laffa

The $38 per person tasting, the tayim, is a crazy good deal. You’ll get a selection of salatim, hummus and laffa, two mezze, one al ha’esh, the main, and one dessert.  And no single dish is over $12 if you want a la carte, which is why it pays to get out of NYC every now and then.

Zahav salatim

The salatim, which I didn’t do a great job of showing in its colorful entirety, included a garden’s worth of eggplant, okra, cucumber, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, and carrots, some sweet, some vinegary. There was also a trio of condiments: sumac-and-sesame-heavy za’tar, harissa, and shug, the spicier green chile paste.

Zahav crispy haloumi, walnuts, apples, dates, squash

On my visit, the crispy haloumi was accompanied by still-wintery squash cubes, shredded apples, walnuts and sweet date puree. Just two weekends later, I see the mild cheese has been transformed with green peas, pine nuts, and ramps, so there’s definitely a hyper-seasonal approach.

Zahav fried cauliflower, labaneh with chive, dill, mint, garlic

Everyone knows that fried cauliflower is the best cauliflower (next to roasted cauliflower). The tender-crisp florets could be swiped through the labeneh flavored with mint, dill, and garlic.

Zahav sweetbread schnitzel, carob, cauliflower, tehina

I still don’t fully understand the Israeli schnitzel connection (see, Holy Schnitzel for more evidence) but couldn’t pass up schnitzel-fied sweetbreads.  This time the cauliflower was pickled, presumably red from beet juice, and served with a carob syrup, and tahnini. I’m not sure that I tasted the carob, but then, I haven’t had any since the ’70s when it was de rigueur at my aunt’s house instead of chocolate.

Zahav house smoked sable, challah, fried egg, poppy

Zahav sable, challah, egg interior

Never say no to anything containing a fried egg, especially a hidden yolk waiting to burst. This thick slice of challah, almost akin to what you might see drizzled with condensed milk at a Taiwanese cafe, was topped with house-cured sable, and a scattering of poppy seeds. Perfect for anyone who likes eating breakfast for dinner.

Zahav beef cheeks, potatoes, caramelized onions, paprika, celery

Thankfully, the mains were small plates, because I’d ruined my stomach’s capacity by eating snacks earlier at The Dandelion.  The beef cheeks came in compact crispy-edged squares like kibbeh, and were accented with celery, tiny onions, and paprika.

Zahav duck kebab, pistachios, saffron

The ground duck kebabs actually tasted like the rich poultry they were (I recently had a ground duck slider that just tasted like mushy generic meat) and paired well with the not untraditional combination of saffron rice with pistachios and pomegranate molasses sauce. Both mains were good, but the mezze felt more exciting.

Zahav apricot rugelach, almonds, turkish coffee ice cream

A dessert each seemed excessive  but that was a part of the bargain, so there was apricot rugulach with Turkish coffee ice cream.

Zahav halva, pomegranate, chocolate, pistachios

And halva with chocolate ice cream, pistachios, and a pomegranate sauce.

The biggest question I was left with was why do we not have a restaurant, not only along these lines, but of this caliber, in NYC? With that said, I haven’t yet been to Balaboosta, probably the most similar in ethos to Zahav. I mentioned this to who I assumed was a manager checking in with each table (and threw us off my asking our names–if this was a Jewish-gauging test, I don’t think I passed) and he said there was a possibility of a branch opening here, but that it would be Kosher. I guess there is more demand for that dietary requirement in NYC than Philadelphia? I’m not 100% sure what that would mean for the menu–I’m guessing the haloumi would get the boot–but I would be excited, nonetheless.

Zahav * 237 St. James Pl., Philadelphia, PA


Dining at 10pm on a Friday in the Carroll Gardens environs isn’t as easy as you’d think. I wanted Middle Eastern but not Zaytoons, and that still left plenty of Atlantic Street options. Normally, I would head to Waterfalls but they close at 10:30pm. Yemen Café, another favorite, didn’t strike me as a promising candidate either. I felt remiss in never having tried Lebanese Tripoli, which on the surface is the grandest of the lot.

But not so grand that bringing a bottle of Charles Shaw Shiraz caused much shame. Honestly, I thought the bargain wine was a better than decent, fruity compliment to the rich food. We all conceded that it was more likeable than the random red "Vinos de Madrid” we’d been drinking earlier that cost three times as much.

Tripoli appetizer plate

This was an appetizer plate shared among three. There was plenty of everything: salty cheese cubes, olives, hummus, babaganouj, falafel and my favorite, pickled beets.

Tripoli kibbee mishwiye

I was expecting the kibbeh, or as it’s called here, kibbee mishwiye, to be cut in squares like at Waterfalls, but these were dense ovoid lamb patties. Beyond cracked wheat and onions I’m not exactly sure what rounds out the ground meat mix. That’s fine, it’ll keep me coming back for more. I saved the second blob and some salad for later, and with a smear of hummus, it made a great sandwich enrobed in toasted multigrain bread (pita would’ve been ideal but I didn’t have any).

As to my never fully explained phobia of being the last diner in a room, it still came true. I thought we’d be safe with an 11pm closing time but we still ended up victims of lights being turned off and chairs being shuffled. Either I need to get over my irrational concern or find later night restaurants in the neighborhood.

Tripoli * 156 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY


3/4 On my first and last visit to Tanoreen a few years ago, I was underwhelmed. Not majorly, I just had high expectations and I think much of the so-so-ness had to do with poor ordering. I hate to say it, but misguided picks befell me again this weekend.
My main reason for heading to Bay Ridge was to satisfy a craving for Middle Eastern lamb that arose while reading an article on Turkey in this month’s Gourmet (I’m still in denial that there’s no alfresco photo spread). No, Tanoreen isn’t specifically Turkish. If I’m correct the owner is Palestinian and the restaurant’s cuisine borrows from all over the region.
But I knew they would have lamb, and specifically a lamb shank special. I had a precise image of the type of mutton I wanted, though I couldn’t place exactly where I’d had it before. It had to be on the bone, definitely not kabobs, and not a chop either. Nothing dainty.

It was with the appetizers that I went astray. There are tons of choices, both hot and cold and part of the regular menu and specials list. I got a little overwhelmed. Muhammara was an easy choice. I’d made the roasted red pepper walnut dip before but had never actually tasted how it’s supposed to be made. Tanoreen’s version was chunkier and nuttier than mine. I could see this rich, sweet spread as an ‘80s suburban canape layered atop a swath of cream cheese on a Ritz cracker. Who says I’m not classy?
James ordered something (I can’t recall the exact name) described as a pie topped with shankleesh, a Lebanese cheese, off the specials. This seemed ok, too.

Where we tripped up was deciding to share the lamb shank at the last minute (at $24 it’s the most expensive thing on the menu) and instead of getting two full entrees each to try a third appetizer. Normally, I never ask staff for suggestions because I’m a decisive person. Maybe I’m the weird one, but I can never figure out diners who spend five minutes asking their server questions. I should’ve just gone with my instincts and picked the Brussels sprouts or one of the many eggplant preparations. Instead, I asked our waiter what he’d recommend and was offered something called musakhan with chicken and almonds. I was a bit thrown off since it sounded so much like moussaka (which apparently, they also do) but I’m down with nuts and poultry.

The musakhan turned out to be kind of an Arabic pizza. Something about chicken on a pizza seemed kind of California Pizza Kitchen, but the spicing and almonds were very un-chain-like. This appears to be a modern interpretation of traditional dish using chicken, pine nuts and lavash.

This is the appetizer James ordered, also a pizza. Hmm…I didn’t really need to eat two pizzas for dinner, not that they both weren’t good and distinct from each other. I’ll admit that I’m not a Middle Eastern cuisine know-it-all, I rarely ever cook it, and this innocent looking pizza was complex. It took me a while to figure out that the tartness was coming from sumac. The overriding flavor was pungent and floral goat cheese, almost creepy (to me, because I don’t like flowery tasting things) in its funkiness. One notch stronger and the taste might’ve been offputting but it was just enough to encourage another bite to figure the combination out. I’m fairly certain that the brown hue, which makes the topping look like ground meat, was za’atar, a spice blend that includes a lot of everything with thyme and oregano shining through.

Ah, the lamb. If you ignored the accompanying rice and preceding dishes, you could almost picture yourself sitting down to a British Sunday roast, carrots, potatoes, parsley and all. The meat was moist and almost too juicy, a fine specimen but not what I was looking for, no fault of the poor lamb shank. I was thinking of something less saucy, maybe stringier and kind of charred, closer to what I’ve encountered at Yemen Café and A Fan Ti.
This was a strange case of perfectly good food that didn’t satisfy my particular craving. We definitely encountered more interesting items than on our first visit, and perhaps three times will be a charm.

Flaky, not syrupy-sweet baklava taken to go.

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