On February 19, 2007, I posted on one of my favorite dishes - Ful Mudammas (click here) - made by First Oasis Restaurant at 9218 Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I travel to get it. The owner/chef, Said Albahari from Syria, previously owned Magic Carpet Restaurant on Carmine Street in Manhattan for over 20 years, where I was a regular customer from its early days. At the time, I was a strict vegetarian. Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine quickly became favorites - both have some extremely good vegetable dishes. I have generally found vegetarian fare from an ethnic restaurant to be much tastier than meals from vegetarian restaurants, where the food is driven more by the dietary restrictions. Ethnic restaurants, on the other hand, have a real culinary tradition behind them with a creative use of spices, condiments and unique preparations. However, even in NYC, authentic Middle Eastern food is not that common. The cuisine is perhaps a little too exotic for the average American palate. A perusal of Middle Eastern restaurant listings shows mostly falafel/shawarma type places. Many of the better places are found in the outer boroughs where there are neighborhoods with concentrations of various ethnic groups and their attendant restaurants. One of my favorite meals is Ouzi - shown in the photo upper left. This is absolutely delicious with raisins, nuts, vegetables and rice in a phylo pastry dough, served with a yogurt sauce (meat and vegetarian versions are available). Moustache (previous posting click here) in Manhattan, also serves ouzi. First Oasis is very authentic with an extensive menu of Middle Eastern specialties like kebabs, mussaka, kebbeh, labneh, hummus, baba ghanuj, stuffed grape leaves, tabuleh, seafood. traditional desserts (halavah, baloza, baklawa, ladyfinger) and beverages (tamarind). The owner takes his cooking seriously - dishes are made from scratch. The food is excellent and inexpensive. Highly recommended ...
Interesting Note: I discussed the dearth of Ouzi and Ful with the chef from Olive Tree Cafe (previously posted - click here). His feeling was that customers were too unfamiliar with these dishes and would not order them. In the case of Ful, the cooks made in regularly for themselves in the kitchen.
Interesting Anecdote: During one of my last meals I had in Magic Carpet in the Village before it closed, I was accompanied by Sara Jessica Parker (of Sex in the City fame) at a nearby table. According to the staff, she was a regular, getting deliveries frequently (she lived around the corner). One of her last comments during the meal was enthusiastic: "This food is delicious."
Photo Note: At the top from left to right: Vegetable Ouzi, Spinach Pie, Ful Mudammas.