10/17/14 11:01am
DELIGHT

The most delightful Middle Eastern sweetmeats in Rego Park, Queens.

“That’s Turkish delight,” the gentleman behind the counter at Queens Bazaar Foods told me and my tour group as I held up a box filled with amber colored disks and chunks rolled in pistachio. “Lokum, apricot and pistachio,” he said by way of further explanation.

It was my first time hearing the word lokum. I’d ever seen the confection looking quite like this. I am more accustomed to the gelatinous cubes dusted in white powder. Lebanese lokum is a world apart from those. It puts the delight in Turkish delight. When we left the shop my tour guests and I noshed on a few bites. Everyone agreed the chewy morsels flavored with pistachio, apricot, and rosewater were amazing. We only ate a little bit as we’d just taken down a gigantic xachapuri at Marani. I stashed the rest away, with the plan of writing about the best Lebanese sweets in Rego Park. (more…)

08/13/14 11:44am
labne

Wafa’s labne and zaytoon, my idea of health food.

“Why don’t you weigh 300 pounds?” It’s a question get asked all too often. “I mean with all the good stuff you eat,” the non-food-writer person continues in amazement after seeing me take down an entire order of 15 lamb dumplings and then bewail the fact that I have a dinner meeting in two hours at some temple of meat or another. The number is always 300 pounds—roughly twice my current body weight—never 275, 350, or 412. Depending on who’s asking I’ll either make a crack about ingesting tapeworms purchased on Roosevelt Avenue, roll my eyes, or both. (more…)

12/30/13 2:50pm

As 2013 draws to a close rather than offer up a list of resolutions—less chips more gym, save money, etc.—C+M offers a list of 20 of our favorite posts, a highlight reel of the year that was. Let the mostly Queens-focused cavalcade of offal, sandwiches, mashups, secret eats and deliciousness begin.

Crazy Crab’s Yunnan special sliced pork salad.

1. Best use of Pig Face
Crazy Crab’s Yunnanese pig face salad is a spicy sour, salty, and unabashedly funky showcase for swatches of cool, slightly chewy pig skin.

2. Best Fizzy Water for Gluttons
Apart from being the preferred beverage of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin the selling point of Borjomi, a Georgian sparkling mineral water, is that it “Gets rid of unnecessaries,” or as expressed in more forthright language elsewhere on the company web site, “Borjomi also improves functioning of intestines and supports slag excretion.”

3. Flushing’s Cheapest Veggie Burger
The $1.25 cài bĭng at Super Snack, a counter just outside Golden Shopping Mall is packed with crunchy piquant mustard greens and is as fine a snack as any.

(more…)

12/04/13 11:10am
WAFA-CAULI

Wafa’s cauliflower sandwich is a Lebanese delight.

For the longest time the scope of my Middle Eastern vegetable sandwich knowledge was limited to the mighty falafel. After all what’s not to like? Pita stuffed with the crunchy, fried, cheap, and flavorful orbs got me through  many misspent East Village nights in my twenties. The falafel at Wafa’s is excellent, and even better with the fiery hot sauce made by her son, Youssef, and the addition of crunchy pickled turnips. The last time I visited the Lebanese spot in Forest Hills I decided to broaden my horizons with what family matriarch and chef Wafa Chaimi describes as “something different”: a fried cauliflower sandwich ($6). (more…)

11/11/13 10:03am
WAFAKIBBE

Lamb tartare is a Thanksgiving favorite for Wafa’s family.

I suppose there are some people who are disgusted by the very idea of eating raw meat. I am not one of them. Beef tartare is of my favorite things to eat. Once I even had horse tartare, which was quite good. I am especially fond of other cultures raw meat dishes and relish Korean yuk hwe and Thai num tuk. So when I heard Wafa’s was making a Lebanese lamb tartare I knew I had to try it. (more…)

05/15/13 10:23am
Behold the baklava sandwich.

Behold the baklava sandwich.

For as long as I’ve been living in Queens Laziza of New York has been one of my favorite spots for Middle Eastern sweets. For almost as long they’ve been under new management and have been trying to get a sandwich counter going in the back of the space. The other night I stopped by to see if there were any kebabs to be had. Sadly there were no kebabs or falafel. There was, however, a sandwich, the baklava sandwich! That’s right I said baklava sandwich.

A seemingly infinite variety of baklava is on display in the case that runs the length of the shop. So why shouldn’t Laziza’s permutations of walnuts, phyllo, and honey include a sandwich. The $3 baklava sandwich isn’t so much a sandwich as it is a baklava on steroids. The sticky baton-shaped megabaklava is about four times as big as the typical specimen. It’s also partially wrapped in paper, much the same way a pita sandwich from nearby Cedars Meat House would be. That paper will not keep your hands from getting sticky though. It’s everything you’d expect in a baklava sandwich, flaky, crunchy, nutty, and sticky sweet. Add a cup of espresso and it’ll blow your head clean off, in a good way of course.

When I was leaving I asked the gent at the counter how to say the name of the sweet treat in Arabic. “Baklava,” he replied, “baklava sandwich.” Until I hear otherwise that’s what I’m calling it, too.

Laziza of New York, 2578 Steinway St., Astoria, 718-777-7676

02/13/13 10:23am
Not quite a shawafel, but still a great sandwich.

Not quite a shawafel, but still a great sandwich.

Those who know me well know that I hardly ever cook at home. This is not so much the result sloth as it is the fruit of an unquenchable desire for discovery coupled with the unrealistic expectation that every morsel of food I ingest must be a peak gastronomic experience. I do know how to cook, after a fashion, though. I’ve even burned myself in restaurant kitchens and almost burned down a restaurant kitchen while trying my hand at working the line.

From the moment I put a slice of bologna in an apple as a kid I’ve had a creative culinary streak. My finest creation to date is the shawafel. It occurred to me while eating at the now defunct On the Grill. The Israeli spot had both great falafel, and great chicken shawarma, carved from a gigantic tower of meat as all great shawarma should be.  So it was only natural for a creative genius of my caliber to suggest that the cook take some chicken shawarma and bread it in falafel batter. Thus was born the the shawafel sandwich.  I have not had one since On the Grill closed several years ago. (more…)

02/12/13 9:26am
The  Lebanese lasagna.of desserts.

A gooey mantle of warm cheese awaits beneath the crust.

I’d already eaten a sandwich the size of a stout lad’s forearm, yet I couldn’t pass up dessert. The spectacular Lebanese home cooking of Wafa Chami combined with her warm hospitality always piques my appetite. Ordering dessert was not Wafa’s idea, though. Her son, Yusef, who helps run the restaurant along with the rest of the family told me I had to try the kanafeh ($7). But first a strong cup of cardamom-scented coffee, thick and pitch black.

The kanafeh arrived with a knife and fork. Unlike its daintier cousin baklava, kanafeh is practically a meal in itself, a veritable Lebanese lasagna of desserts. A two-cheese blend of ricotta and slightly salty akawi is sandwiched between layers of semolina and filaments of vermicelli-like kataifi dough. The whole thing is anointed with syrup, strewn with pistachios, and crowned with rose-scented candied orange blossoms. Served warm it is a formidable dessert.  Sweet and filled with just enough gooey akawi cheese and rich ricotta, there’s no need for cream and sugar in that tiny cup of coffee. Actually the high-test brew is a perfect foil to one of the richest sweetest desserts you’ll ever have.

Wafa’s,  100-05 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, 718-880-2055