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Ali's Kabab Cafe


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#1 macrosan

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 11:07 PM

It seems so long ago now, I just realized with a start that I haven't related one of the more interesting meals of the year. And I don't mean "interesting" in the Chinese sense B)

I flew into LaGuardia airport at 11.50am on Saturday, and had an 11.50pm flight from JFK to return to London. Those times were carefully arranged to allow me to eat before I got to the airport or the plane :P So with the invaluable assistance of my new BAPA (Big Apple Personal Advisor) Abby, the selected eatery was to be Ali's. Well what a great choice that turned out to be.

But before then, that courageous Bostonian Amy drove us into Manhattan for some shopping. A birthday present for Nina (who was joining us at Ali's) plus a birthday cake, a bagel with cream cheese for me to keep the wolf from the door for a few hours, three presents for my grandchildren from Barnes & Noble, and a few bottles of wine for later <_< Amy drove like a New York taxi driver (well, a wannabe taxi driver, anyway) and I felt quite at home.

We arrived at Ali's at 6 o'clock. I started to walk thru the foyer to get into the main restaurant when I suddenly realized this was the main restaurant. I mean, all of it. Five tiny tables, each one sufficient (just) for two people, but with seats for four. Hmmm, this was definitely going to be cosy. Given that I was spending the evening with three highly attractive women, suddenly that didn't seem a bad thing :rolleyes:

There was much debate as to which table we should choose, the main basis for decision wavering between an extra three square inches of table space or the best view of the kitchen. Ooops, did I say kitchen ? I meant to say the griddle behind the counter. We chose the perfect spot, a decision later overturned in somewhat whimsical style by Nina, who decided that a smaller table with a worse view was actually larger and had a better view. Must be all that interior decorating she's been doing lately :lol:

Ali is one big bundle of fun. He allows people mercilessly to take the mickey out of his strong Egyptian accent and his chef's patter, and enjoys it. This guy is just an incorrigible foodie. He describes every ingredient of every dish, and as he speaks you can almost see him salivating as he imagines the taste. There is allegedly a menu somewhere on the table, but everyone ignores it. Ali makes his suggestions for the day, then caters for special requests from his guests, then makes a few more suggestions. Abby and Nina, the Kabab Cafe veterans, kept saying "Very small, very small". It took ten minutes of haggling to agree on our order, after which Nina persuaded Ali to confess coyly that he had some secret dishes which he hadn't mentioned, and so lambs' brains were added to the list. I honestly have no idea if the food we received was what we ordered, but I really hope so :P

Over the next two and a half hours, food just kept arriving, dish after dish, each one unique and possibly unrepeatable. The only one that I wasn't crazy about was the lambs' brains ... kind of bland and too soft a texture for my liking. But the others were great. I hate to say this, but ten days later I can't remember many of the dishes. There was a superb vegetarian salad, excellent quail, very good talapia, and I think oxtail (?). My overriding memory is of variety and ingredient quality, a wonderful blend and balance of flavors and textures.

With Ali's help we finished about four bottles of very good wine ... Italian mostly, white and red, all of which went just fine with the food.

The restaurant was packed ... every seat taken ... and after an hour the place was filled with smoke from the griddle. Somehow, despite the smarting eyes and spluttering coughs, this seemed so in keeping with the style of the evening. This was home cooking for friends, and I felt almost privileged to have been invited into Ali's home for the experience.

How the check for four came to $120 remains a mystery. I'll go there agin :)

#2 Abbylovi

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Posted 17 March 2004 - 03:12 PM

I'm so happy that you came away with a positive experience because that meal definitely was not an Ali "on." It was a Saturday night, and Ali was slammed as I've never seen him slammed before. When we left, there were at least a half dozen people waiting for tables.

Next time, we'll go for lunch. A relaxing four hour meal, and we usually have Ali all to ourselves!
It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.

#3 Cathy

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 04:38 PM

My family is visiting this weekend and I'm taking them to Ali's for lunch on Saturday. Can't wait!!
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

-- Francis Mallman







#4 Wilfrid1

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 05:29 PM

Thanks for the report, Macro. It reflects my experience at Ali's - astonishment that he can turn out such a succession of varied but successful dishes.

Contrast it with Gaia, the new Turkish place on Avenue B (there are some commonalities in the cuisines) - good space, plenty of room, comfortable; they just need someone in the kitchen who can cook.
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#5 omnivorette

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 05:34 PM

My family is visiting this weekend and I'm taking them to Ali's for lunch on Saturday. Can't wait!!

A big Egyptian bird told me last night that you called and said that you are my friend and that he should expect you for lunch :)
"It seems a positively Quixotic quest to defend food from being used as any kind of social signifier, as if it could avoid the fate of each other component of our everyday lives." -Wilfrid

#6 Cathy

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 05:59 PM

Well, I'm never sure he'll remember my name, but I know he remembers yours!
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

-- Francis Mallman







#7 omnivorette

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:10 PM

I had what may be the best dish there ever, last night. Sauteed cuttlefish in an incredible sauce, served over rice. We actually asked for another plate of it. And we had lamb cheeks that were so tender and rich. And his koshary is so unique to him - it's tastes like nuts.

I agree with Abby - it's really not pleasant to go there on Saturday evenings. He has trouble keeping up, and there's no time with him, etc. And I think the food suffers.

Last night we were the only people there the whole night, except for one guy who got something to go. Of course, I wish for him that he should have more business, but it was a really wonderful thing to spend a leisurely evening with him that way.

As far as the meal with Macrosan - I moved us so we could be closer to Ali!!!
"It seems a positively Quixotic quest to defend food from being used as any kind of social signifier, as if it could avoid the fate of each other component of our everyday lives." -Wilfrid

#8 Cathy

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:26 PM

That does it. My kosher stepmom will just have to look on while the rest of us enjoy cuttlefish...if Ali has some in the house.

I love his braised meat dishes most of all, I think.

Om, have you ever taken a taxi there? I'm not sure my dad will be up for the subway ride.
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

-- Francis Mallman







#9 omnivorette

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:29 PM

Sure, many times. Just get the taxi to go over the Triboro. Then you just go straight onto Astoria Blvd, up the hill about 5 blocks, and right on Steinway. Easy.

See if has any of his "Pharaonic Goose" - that's kosher, and mighty delicious and unusual. He's also doing a wonderful stuffed lamb with pomegranate sauce these days. Delicious.
"It seems a positively Quixotic quest to defend food from being used as any kind of social signifier, as if it could avoid the fate of each other component of our everyday lives." -Wilfrid

#10 Cathy

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:42 PM

Great! Thanks. Mmmm, I love goose.
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

-- Francis Mallman







#11 Abbylovi

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:49 PM

I had what may be the best dish there ever, last night. Sauteed cuttlefish in an incredible sauce, served over rice.

What was in this incredible sauce and what made the dish the best ever?!
It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.

#12 omnivorette

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 07:11 PM

Hocus pocus :lol:

It was rich, almost creamy...hint of saffron, garlic, some root vegetable of some kind as a thickener...and the cuttlefish still had some bite to it...
"It seems a positively Quixotic quest to defend food from being used as any kind of social signifier, as if it could avoid the fate of each other component of our everyday lives." -Wilfrid

#13 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 12:23 AM

I've never been to Ali's. I'm beginning to feel a sense of urgency. Does such a treasure have legs?

I'm also beginning to feel hungry.
They're really rockin' on Bandstand.



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#14 Cathy

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 01:06 AM

Robert, you & Mazal must go. Shall we organize a Mouthfuls outing?
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

-- Francis Mallman







#15 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 02:28 AM

Well, Cathy, if it's you organizing and it's Ali's, then you will find at least two willing participants. Seems like a good maiden outing, Mouthful - wise.
They're really rockin' on Bandstand.



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Advocating integrated avatars and sig lines since 2006