Lamb and pita rule this Yemeni cafe.

My roommate is always wierded out by empty restaurants.  Surely, he wonders almost every time I drag him in one, they must be empty for a reason?  I usually respond with some variant of my opinion that people are charlatans, but only after we’ve tasted the food.

This time, he probably breathed a sigh of relief.  Inviting two of our friends to Hadramout, recently reviewed in the Voice, we had arrived early and gone for a drink at the nearby Last Exit.  When they called to tell us of their arrival, they had not made it to the abandoned and subterranean Hadramout, but stopped several doors earlier and one floor higher at the rather more generically-named Yemen Café.

Of course, he wasn’t relieved because of the differing location, but rather because Yemen Café was comparatively jam-packed with families, couples, and groups.  Plenty of folks filtered in and out, as well, for a cup of the excellent Yemeni tea, which tasted like cinnamon and honey, though Pepsi proved to be a more popular drink among those dining in.

Of the dishes served to other tables, I can easily say that the leg of lamb was most popular: I saw shank after shank whisked through the dining room.  We didn’t opt for one (definitely on the next visit), but I did have an admirable rack of baby lamb arrive on the side of my salta.  It wasn’t roasted in your grandmother’s style and served with mint jelly, mind you, but the meat was falling off the bone and flavorful without being skanky.  The salta itself, described as the Yemeni national dish, was a stew of various vegetables and a fenugreek puree whipped to resemble egg whites (“houlbeh”).  Despite arriving in an impressive sizzling metal pan, wowing my friends, I can’t say the stew’s flavor was all that distinctive.

Better was my roommate’s “special Yemeni fateh,” a stew made with diced lamb and day-old pita, coated with an orange gravy.  Indeed, Orange seemed to be the theme color of many of the dishes – one friend ordered gelbah, which was a similarly colored lamb stew arrangement (less gravied than seasoned, though), served with a side of rice.  And our other friend, whose refusal to eat lamb was the source of much slightly hilarious commentary, did well with the entrée-sized appetizer of white kidney beans, served with another orange sauce, this time quite oniony.

The best part of the meal was absolutely the pita bread.  Arriving first with the soup course, and acting as an admirable sop for that savory brown lamb broth, the bread was finished nearly-instantly, only to be replaced by another freshly cooked loaf.  This process was repeated until we couldn’t possibly stomach any more bread, lamb, or anything else.  It’s better bread than Bedouin Tent, for sure, and not just because it doesn’t turn rock-solid after it cools.

Between the soup course and the entrees, we were treated to a salad.  Comprising one chunk of feta cheese, a couple olives, and a salad dressing that resembled the hot sauce served with the soup (which you NEED to use, by the way), it was a nice thought, even if it probably just took more stomach space that could have been used for pita and lamb.

I have no idea whether Hadramout’s stews would be more satisfying, but I’ll be back to Yemen Café for a cup of tea and as much lamb and pita as I can stomach.  

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s