Tag Archives: Restaurants

Wafa’s in Forest Hills: Go for the Terrific Middle Eastern Home Style Cooking

 

Wafa Chami, chef at Wafa's, Forest Hills, Queens. Photo: Laura B. Weiss

There’s been quite a lot of buzz about Wafa’s lately, the homey Middle-Eastern eatery on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills. Mostly, the talk’s been about Wafa’s baba ghanoush, but there’s a lot more to this modest establishment than its savory eggplant dip.

There’s nothing fancy about Wafa’s.  The room is small and plain and it’s mostly families and locals who frequent the place. Wafa Chami, a Lebanese native who came to the US in 1975 when she was 17, presides over the kitchen. And it’s a wondrous kitchen at that.  Covering her blond hair with a baseball cap, Chami hunches over the stove preparing kibbe, falafel and a parade of other dishes.  In fact, out of the small space, more compact than many home kitchens, comes some of the best Middle-Eastern food in the city.

If it feels like you’re eating at someone’s kitchen table, that’s because you are, indeed, eating Chami’s home cooking.

“I grew up in Lebanon, and these are all family recipes from my mother,” Chami told me one night when we decided to stop by Wafi’s for dinner after a stroll through lovely Forest Hills Gardens. “They’re old family recipes, from my mother, from my grandmother, from one generation to the next.”

Not only is the food sensational at Wafa’s, it’s an incredible deal.  Four of us ate a multi-course dinner for under $100. The kibbe, moist and delicately spiced, was a steal at $8.00.  I fell hard for the grape leaves—not your typical dry-as-sawdust cylinders, but moist and so flavorful that at $6.00 for a half-dozen of the succulent morsels, I didn’t hesitate to get two more orders.  Piggy, yes. But they were simply the best gape leaves I’ve ever eaten.

Other dishes that scored high among our group were the fattoush ($8), and the chicken ($12.95) and lamb ($13.95) schawerma. The meats come with two sides.  You can choose from any two of the following: green salad, okra, mujadarah, tabouleh, mousakaha, baba ganoush, French fries, and cauliflower.

The word has spread about Wafa’s.  We got there at 6 pm to beat the mob.  By 630, there was already a scrum of hungry fans waiting for a table to open up.

Wafa’s
100-05 Metropolitan Ave Map.6e70ca7
New York, NY 11375
718 880 2055

 

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Vareli in Morningside Heights is a Welcome Addition to the Upper West Side Dining Scene

Vareli, Morningside Heights, NYC

If you don’t mind wading through clots of soused Columbia Students, Vareli in Morningside Heights is a nice spot for some of the best food on the Upper West Side.

The restaurant, which specializes in Mediterranean-themed small dishes dishes and tapas, is situated on the ground floor of the building that also houses that long-time Columbia drinking spot, The Heights. So if you want to avoid the weekend scrum, best to try this place on a weeknight.

Inside, the decor is plain but the food makes up for it.  It’s very good and it’s consistent. I ate at Vareli’s about a year ago and had a delicious meal then too. Friday night, I selected roasted baby beets with kefalograviera cheese, pine nuts, and pickled onions and red beet coulis. The salad was tasty but the texture was a bit mushy, not what I expect from a beet salad.

Then, I tucked into some of the best grill octopus I’ve eaten anywhere. Unlike many versions of this dishes which can be tough and rubbery, this  preparation was tender, moist and flavorful. It was helped along by Moroccan olives, serrano peppers and a bed of labneh yogurt.

My hubby chose pan seared scallops. He’s very fussy about his scallops.  Mostly, we only eat them on the North Fork, right off the boat.  But these were remarkably tender and delicious.

Entrées are mostly in the $20 range. Small plates are in the single digits or low teens.

Vareli

2869 Broadway, New York 10025

(Btwn 111th & 112th St)

212 678-8585

 

 

 

 

 

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Cascabel UWS: Tacos Disappoint But Other Dishes Shine

Cascabel to open soon on the Upper West Side. Photo: Laura B. Weiss

Before Hurricane Irene, Cascabel on Broadway at 108th Street was one of the few restaurants in the area that was open. That was also true immediately after the storm had sped north to New England. So I wound up eating there twice in two days.

The tiny place was a mob scene, filled to overflowing with Columbia students as well as with locals chowing down before le deluge.

What do you order at Cascabel?  Well tacos, of course!

Day 1 (pre-Irene), I ordered carnitas. Sorry to say the shredded pork was dry as dust.

Day 2 (post-Irene), I went back to Cascabel with my hubby. He tucked into hanger steak tacos and declared them, “great.” I took a bite, and found them dry, as, you guessed it, dust.

But there were winners. We fought over the queso fondido, a molten pool of chihuahua cheese, studded with house made chorizo and roasted poblano. The guacamole was satisfying, nicely hot, but not chunky enough for my taste.

On Day 2, Cascabel was packed with college kids. The service is amiable and the food comes out quickly. Plus, it’s cheap.The taqueria has located itself in just the right place, near starving hoards of Columbia students.

Cascabel (UWS)
2799 Broadway (Broadway at 108th Street)
NY NY 10025
212 665 1500

 

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Upper West Side: Henry’s Signs Up to Support School Gardens

Henry’s, an Upper West Side American-style pub, is one of twenty restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn to sign up for a program to give back a portion of each guest’s check to a citywide school garden program.

The program, which takes place June 24-30, is to support the efforts of Grow to Learn NYC, a government-private partnership to spur the creation of school gardens citywide. Some of the city’s top restaurants are participating, including Gramercy Tavern, Ma Peche, Northern Spy Food Co. and Back Forty. Many will be offering a special Greenmarket menu for the week.

Details follow:

School gardens get a boost in a week-long restaurant promotion.

 

Henry’s
2745 Broadway @ 105th Street.
NY, NY 10025
212 866 o600

 

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The Best Hot Dog In the New York Area

The Truck. North Fork Table and Inn, Southold, Long Island, NY

What’s the best hot dog in New York? Well, you’ll have to travel a bit to find it. For this beautifully-flavored and sauced hot dog, you’ll need to hop the Jitney or rent a car and travel out to the North Fork of Long Island. There, at a food truck operated by the award-winning  North Fork Table and Inn, located in Southold, are some very fine wieners.

These are simply the best dogs I’ve ever eaten.

Normally, you’d have to dish out serious bucks to eat at the Inn, where Gerry Hayden, who used to cook for Aureole, now dishes out excellent locally sourced dishes.  Award-winning pastry chef Claudia Fleming (late of the Gramercy Tavern) oversees the pastry operation. Where possible, the couple relies on ingredients grown by local farmers or fished from local waters

The Lunch Truck shines as the single best place to get some quick quality grub on the North Fork. The Hartmann’s Atisan All Beef Hot Dog, comes plain or with a variety of toppings ranging from house-made sauerkraut to bread and butter pickle relish  to apple cider vinegar-glazed onion. Then, there’s chorizo chili and pepper jack cheese sauce to throw on top. What a decadent meal that would be!

Even piled high with three toppings—we had sauerkraut, bread and butter pickle relish and onions—the hot dog is an affordable indulgence at $4.50.

I’ve heard the lobster roll (“local when available, but usually Canadian, I’m not gonna lie to ya,” says the truck’s sign) is divine.  I plan to try that this weekend. It goes for $16.50.

Still, just the dogs alone are worth the two hour schlep from the city. While you’re on the North Fork, visit some vineyards and shop the abundant farm stands. Right now, asparagus and rhubarb are in season. Strawberries, as sweet as candy, will be coming soon.

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