Food Review: Alibaba and the 40 Falafels
by Avi - October 21, 2009 at 1:29 pm -
By The Mango Lassie
Alibaba, a glatt kosher Yemenite-Israeli-run falafel restaurant, is housed in a tiny nook of a space on Amsterdam and 85th Street. There is just enough room for a table with six seats and space for customers to walk up to the counter to order. Behind that counter, the kitchen seems even smaller. When the weather is warm enough the staff opens the front floor-to-ceiling window out onto the street. But even when it’s nice, most customers get delivery or take out. My husband (whom I call Empanada Boy) and I sat down after ordering, and I got a good look at the restaurant’s crowded walls. A tiny sink offers a place to wash hands or fill up a plastic cup. Above it hang Jewish and Israeli posters, reviews from magazines and newspapers and lanterns that look like they were purchased in the shuk in Jerusalem.
As the guy behind the counter made our falafel, we got to fill up paper containers at the brightly colored salad bar to the right of the front counter. Beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted eggplants, curried carrots and cabbage were among the many delicious-looking items to choose from. We filled our containers to the brim and started eating the crisp, fresh and flavorful offerings while we waited for our sandwiches.
We both got falafel (though we have since returned and tried schwarma) with everything on it. Empanada Boy got his in the homemade lafah, a large, round, fluffy flatbread. The sauces were delicious— the hummus garlicky, the tahini tangy and the hot sauce remarkably spicy. Roasted eggplant, tomatoes and lettuce added depth, freshness and crunch. And the falafel balls themselves were infused with peppercorns, caraway, saffron, cardamom and turmeric. The top ones were crisp and light, just as I like them. As I got to the bottom, the falafel balls were a bit mushier than I would have preferred, but the flavor was all there. These are falafel balls with the tastes of Israel fried right into them.
The next time I make it to Alibaba’s I’d like to try some of their other specialties like the bourekas, kebabs or melawah (lightly fried dough with crushed tomatoes and a hard-boiled egg). But I can’t promise that I won’t cave to temptation and simply order the falafel again. As Empanada Boy discovered when he lived in this neighborhood after college, it’s pretty hard to resist. (photos by The Mango Lassie)
515 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10024
A version of this post was orginially published on The Mango Lassie.