USA, New York, New York, Queens, Astoria… Kabab Cafe. Hands down the best offal restaurant I know. It’s definitely hard to find offal in NYC, and even harder to find GOOD offal. Chef Ali does it best in his tiny gas-canister-stove kitchen. I’m not even joking, his kitchen consists of one burner from those portable grills, and an oven. That’s IT. Obviously a fridge for perishables but his utensils and vegetables kind of strewn about in a random fashion everywhere. The minuscule restaurant is decorated in a similar fashion, the same paintings and knick knacks that have been hanging there from the first time I was there years ago. Every surface is a bit sticky and there’s a distinct patina on anything that should be shiny or reflective. Walking into this place feels like something out of Spirited Away or some other Studio Ghibli movie.
This time I ate EVERYTHING. I brought backup in the form of my siblings and we just ordered everything there was. When we sat down, they couldn’t believe THIS was my favorite restaurant of all time. And once we started eating, they understood. Everyone understands… except the three people that walked in halfway into my meal and ruined my dining experience. More on that later.
We started with the mandatory humus, falafel, babaganush plate with fried chicory and warm pita. The falafel is an egyptian falafel made of split fava beans instead of chickpeas, a different more pronounced flavor than the regular falafels. I say mandatory because there are no waiters here, it’s the chef and sometimes one more person to help him out. While he prepares the food, you have to eat the humus plate or else you die of hunger. We were lucky enough to be the only ones there when we got there and having known the chef, he even spooned some humus onto each of our plates. I’m telling you this so you understand why the pictures are so blurry. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture of the plate before chef Ali was already spooning it or dipping stuff into other stuff. He also gave us a platter of roasted cauliflower with dill and other spices/vegetables.
We didn’t have to wait long for the lamb brain dish that my sister was so hesitant about. “It’s so fatty and mushy”, she says. Once she tried it, it was a game changer. The fattiness of the brain is so perfectly paired with the acidity of the lemon sauce he poured on it. The bits of pepper, onion, and garlic giving a nice contrast of textures. The bone marrow, and I always love bone marrow, was great to poke out and eat with the pita, slathering the tomato-y sauce with the peppers and carrots. We were already satiated but wanted to try more. The next dish, the goat kidney, was probably my favorite of the night. The bite from the kidneys, regarding the texture and the taste, was excellent with the vegetables and sumac/zaatar mixture. The sauce on this one might have just been the juices from the meat with a few spices but it was rich and delicious.
The plates were piling up, but that didn’t stop us. Lamb cheek ragu had such a depth and it was so full of flavor, it had to be eaten with pita, lest we be victims of an umami induced shock. Right as we were finishing the ragu plate, he pulls out a lamb shank, osso bucco style. Delicious but not what I came here for. The change in spices from regular osso bucco made it a great new dish, but still, not what I’m here for. The liver dish, on the other hand, is definitely what I came here for. It had a miso sauce with a little spicy paprika sprinkled on top. The char on the meat was a perfect contrast to the texture of liver and the miso gave it a nice tanginess to it. We were so full by the end of this. I know, 4 people, that many dishes? We have always been able to put away food. We were definitely not ready for the next two dishes he put in front of us.
My memory is in a bit of a haze as to how good the rabbit and the duck were. Both roasted but I can’t remember what they were roasted with. I remember the rabbit being the most tender rabbit meat I have ever had, and the duck being delicious, as ducks almost always are. We were all too full, too tired, too everything. Speaking of which, I almost forgot to write about the annoyance of our new table neighbors. I won’t go into detail but a few things that came out of their mouths: “Why don’t you have lamb chops?” “I don’t think we eat that” “How do we know what we want if you don’t have a menu?”