Fine Dining and Falafel

After an enjoyable visit to NYC, I made some mental notes about my dining experience … so, here goes:

Let’s start with the supporting actors: First and foremost my husband, who’s a Foodie. Not only does he like to try new restaurants and cuisines, he cooks as well! Yes, I know, all of you female readers are envious, and you should be.

Then there’s my first born. How I ended up with a son who is so passionate about food, who knows so much about chefs, cuisines, restaurants etc. is beyond me. Maybe it has to do with his years in Italy, but I’m still amazed at his zeal and devotion to the science of food and its consumption…

And then there’s me, the main actor in this NYC trip – who was told by the supporting actors that we MUST visit certain restaurants, or otherwise this would end in tragedy and bloodshed.

Let me first share with you some of the early gastronomical background of the main character – i.e. me, where I was introduced to simple delicacies from the streets of Netanya, my home town in Israel.

Hot corn on the cob sold by street vendors, pulled right out of their boiling cauldrons. No butter – just some salt. And, cold prickly pear (aka sabres) sold by the brave souls who manage to get them off their cacti without being stung, so that we weaker mortals could eat the juicy delicacy, bending forward to prevent the juice from dripping on our clothes. Then there’s the cold watermelons sold by the slice in hot summer days when the red meat of the fruit tastes heavenly.

But then there’s the pièce de résistance , the quintessential street food … the one and only … The Falafel. And, even in those days when the term Foodie didn’t exist, there were heated discussions (even when I was a teenager), as to the best falafel in town. Unquestionably, and ultimately – perfection depended on the quality of the falafel balls, and [drum roll….] the salads and condiments accompanying this king of street foods.

So knowing all of that, let’s go back to NYC a week ago where there was a frenzy about finding the perfect dining place…

Both my husband and my son corresponded about where to eat, and why – and some friends kindly added their two-cents. However, it took a lot of effort and diligence to find the restaurant where we might actually get a reservation for a Sunday night since – as some of you may not be aware, there are restaurants that do not only excel at being very expensive, but are so popular that one has to make a reservation at least 10 days in advance!

10 days? If I didn’t find it so absurd, I’d equate it to getting an audience with the Pope (oh, sorry, I have to wait for the next one). In spite of this, my dedicated and persistent son scored, and we got a reservation to ABC Kitchen, one of the most popular and highly rated restaurants in NYC.

Now, I don’t know if this has happened to you before, but I swear to you I was already anticipating the ensuing scene:

You go to a place like ABC Kitchen and inevitably you get some food that is mediocre. But, because you’ve paid a lot of money and the restaurant is highly rated – you feel compelled to find some amazing qualities in food that’s really just OK.

But knowing me as I suspect some of you do by now, I refuse to buy into some sort of Foodie mystique despite my star-struck dinner companions’ insistence on the unique characteristics of a piece of fried chicken breast, which in my house we called schnitzel, and believe you me, it tasted better. So after all the efforts to eat at ABC Kitchen, my review is three stars out of five, nice ambience and interesting decor. Save your money!

Then there’s Momofuko.

Momofuko is David Chang’s empire of bars, restaurants and casual dining that enjoys cult-like reverence. Here I do have to bow down in obeisance, as I’ve never tasted such unique and imaginative food, and I readily admit that I would love to visit Momofuko’s SSam Bar again. Moreover, the price was right – however forget about ambience!

But … and there’s always a but …

We stopped by some of the food trucks which are around every corner and I got a simple falafel. This was not a great falafel, just a somewhat mediocre falafel. I was limited in the choice of salads accompanying the chick pea balls, and limited in the choice of Middle Eastern sauces – since, as the vendor explained, the cart owner being from India, didn’t know of Tahini sauce. (A barbaric falafel felony!) So to make a long story even longer, I am not embarrassed to say that with the exception of one and a half restaurants, I would rather have falafel any day.

Now you might think me gastronomically unrefined, culinary challenged or rather simple. Possibly.

I would rather think of myself as less prone to BS; unwilling to spend hard earned money on hype without substance – and I would like to think that I am, food-wise, discriminating.

You see, in a good falafel you combine the slight sweetness of a fresh pita bread, the crunch of the falafel balls with the variety of the numerous salads if you so happen to frequent a serious falafel maker. And you top it off with some sauce , mostly made out of tahini or hummus and if your taste goes towards spicy, you put on a dollop of schug – a red spicy Yemenite concoction that is evocative of chili, but is actually different. Just imagine all these ingredients blending together: the crunch and softness, the spice and savory, the myriad of salads that go together and you get a full symphony in your mouth!

So do you still want to argue with me about the best food in the world?


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Cuisine, Food, Restaurant and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Fine Dining and Falafel

  1. Jackie Rosenson says:

    Good work, Rachel! I applaud your candor. When I have to go to some “extraordinary” restaurant, I am usually underwhelmed, feel kind of ripped off, and develop hives from the
    over zealous service. One of the best meals I’ve had recently was shared with friends at
    a VERY popular corner falafel dive in Jerusalem. We were all very quiet, tahini dripping down
    our chin, eyes rolling in pleasure, and having the religious experience that we all came
    to Israel to have!

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks Jackie. Good to hear from you. Yes, there are many religious experiences in Israel, if and one wants to. Eating a good falafel is one of them:)

  2. lylekrahn says:

    So glad you didn’t get swayed by the price and reputation but called it straight. There is also a certain satisfaction in not following the crowd!

  3. ShimonZ says:

    A good falafel can easily keep me going for a day. But not without tehina sauce.

  4. Marck Smith says:

    See Rachel, you’re a foodie after all! We just needed to get the discussion into the realm of your core competence… with food that is near and dear to your heart, you speak as eloquently about it as any “food porn” writer I’ve ever read. LOL Personally, I rarely eat chickpeas because they make me…. eh, falafel, but I’m dying to try that schug condiment you mentioned, and Momofuku too. ;-P

  5. Amy Ebert says:

    This blog is hilarious & I can completely relate. 🙂 I also feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you of a little, inexpensive hole-in-the-wall here in L.A on Fairfax called The Pita Bar & Grill (in case you haven’t already been there). Their falafel is tasty and the pita bar has a nice variety of crisp salads & fresh condiments (tahini, schug, etc.). Their pita is my favorite (so far) in L.A.
    Glad you had a fun trip in NYC! 😀

  6. Martha Carr says:

    Yummmmmmm! Delightful and savory experience! What you describe sounds similar to the experience of seeing what amount to a cotton T-shirt in a name store for over $125. Really? Which brings up the question: Do fancy restaurants ever have “sales?” I’m just free-associating here. But I’m getting hungry…….

    • rachel bar says:

      Of course they do, when they are not so busy. Some have special menus on Mondays and if you’re on their mailing list you would get coupons. As to the T shirt, I couldn’t agree more!

  7. Maurice Labi says:

    When I get the check from these these high-priced restaurants, I reach for Alka-Selzer. When I indulge on Israeli falafel at its best, I reach for Alka-Selzer as well. The difference? $40 per plate vs. $4 for the falafel – makes the bubbles and fizz go down smoother.

  8. pgarey says:

    I’m equal-opportunity. I love street food; and I love high-end food; I love diner food … I love food.

    I don’t pay for the food as much as I pay for the overall experience- and sometimes the cost is trivial, and sometimes not. There are hotdogs that I will remember for years … just as there is a single $20 bite of sushi I will remember for a life-time … and of course there are the disappointments. To Jackie’s point, we can always count on your candor. Keep it up!

    • rachel bar says:

      Unfortunately for you, I hardly ever remember the food, but I do remember the company. I do remember though the first time I had Mu Shoo. I thought I’ve reached the gates of heaven. But that was then.

  9. Gill says:

    Oh yum scrum, I absolutely love falafel and now I know how I should be eating it! Totally agree about overpriced restaurants 😉

  10. Aah. One of the advantages of separation is saving the money that was previously spent in lavish dining (more his choice than mine) – and now I wonder what all that meant. I am with you in “I hardly ever remember the food, but I do remember the company” and now dine out only when there is going to be some sort of real connection.

  11. aFrankAngle says:

    Nothing like an honest restaurant review while being surrounded by foodies. (Cheers to your husband and son!) Gotta love street food delivering local flavors!!!

  12. When my wife and I visited Paris in the late 1990s we were walking through the Marais district and came across a restaurant called l’As du Fallafel, i.e. Falafel Ace. Plenty of people were waiting outside, but we joined the line and eventually worked our way up to the counter where we could pick from the many things that we wanted put inside our pitas. Then we followed the folks who went outside, found a place to sit, and ate our meal-in-one. We liked it well enough that we returned another day.

    Here’s an article about the restaurant from the New York Times:

    • rachel bar says:

      When we were in Paris a couple of years ago, we ate there too. I must say that as a falafel maven I thought I died and went to heaven…
      Thanks for stopping by and for the New York Times review.

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