08/13/14 11:44am

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…)

12/04/13 11:10am

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…)

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