Monday, September 30, 2013

New York: Grill 212

Today I set out to try to understand the difference between Yemeni and Yemenite food and if they are the same.   Previously, I asked one of my Arab Yemeni friends and he said that "yemenite" is the feminine version of the word "yemeni." I asked a Jewish friend and she said that "yemenite" and "yemeni" are the same. So what is it?

To try to get some clarity, I decided to try out a Yemenite restaurant, Grill 212. According to their website, they serve a "specialty Yemenite Soup, made with only the finest fresh ground spices from the Middle East and guaranteed to rock your palate!" They use "ancient family recipes infuse you with a taste for Old World Yemen where Jews have lived for thousands of years unchanged." Their menu lists some Yemenite soups, including one called "Yemenite Marak Regel," which sounded suspiciously like the Yemeni maraq soup that is a starter at Arab Yemeni restaurants.

I was lucky to be able to visit with an Israeli friend which made everything much smoother. She explained to me that the soups are the main dish of Yemenite cuisine. This seems to be a major difference as in Arab Yemeni food, the soup is just a small starter.

Anyway, so we tried to order the "Yemenite Marak Regel" soup at Grill 212 but it turns out that is just a winter specialty. Instead, the kind woman recommended the "Yeminete Meat Soup." We decided to split the soup since we didn't know how big it would be. That was a good call as the soup was huge! The soup was thicker than the Yemeni maraq and also contained meat and vegetables. Clearly, this is a meal on it's own.

We also got some salad with tahini dressing, hilba schug, and kubana, a Yemenite bread.  The hilba schug seemed to be hulba mixed with sahawiq.  The kubana bread was soft and fluffy.

As we were leaving, I also asked the kind woman working there what the difference between "yemenite" and "yemeni" is and she said it is the same.  So far I think there is some overlap regarding the maraq soup, hulba, and sahawiq.

Grill 212 
212 W 80th St 
(between Amsterdam Ave & Broadway) 
New York, NY 10024 
Neighborhood: Upper West Side 
+1 (212) 724-7455 

Monday, September 23, 2013

New York: Hadramout Restaurant

Yemeni friends all have the consensus that Yemen Cafe (Matam Al Yemen Al Saeed) on Atlantic Avenue is the best and most authentic in NYC.  Maybe if you are Yemeni?  After trying Yemen Cafe many times now, I just got fed up with the rude service and high prices.  Time for a change.

I was very pleasantly surprised with Hadramout Restaurant (Hadramout is a region in Yemen).  Honestly, the food tasted the same as Yemen Cafe but the atmosphere and Yemeni staff were so kind and it was a perfect lunch experience.  So far in the US I haven't found Yemeni food tasting like in the Middle East except for in Detroit which has the largest Yemeni community.  Thus Hadramout Restaurant was pretty good and I think a much better experience than Yemen Cafe.

The maraq soup was good and came at the beginning of the meal as it should.  I also particularly liked the salad at this restaurant and it had a really simple and delicious tomato sauce on top.  The sahawiq (Yemeni salsa) was sufficiently spicy.  The khobz bread was freshly baked and soft and fluffy.  Still haven't found my favorite Yemeni pastry bread, called malawah, outside of the Middle East.  I'll keep searching!

We had mandi lamb and chicken ogda.  Both were good, but the chicken ogda had bones in it and was a little less soupy than it should be.  The rice was particularly perfect and fluffy.

The Yemeni tea was good and seems to be popular in NYC.

However, really what made this such a nice experience was the really kind staff.  It was so nice to finally see the famous Yemeni hospitality.  We were having trouble cutting the lamb so our kind waiter helped us cut it.

This leads me to probably the best part of the meal which was the Yemeni dessert, masoob.  If you haven't tried masoob, you definitely should.  It's something to be split with the group since one or two spoon fulls is plenty and really heavy.  There are a few types but pretty much it is bread, dates, banana, cheese, cream, and Yemeni honey.  Wow, it's amazing.  So when we were ordering this, the Yemeni guy asked us if we really wanted it hesitantly, and we said "oh yeah!!" as we've had it so many times in Qatar and love it.  He said okay and then I saw him run out the door and come back a few minutes later with a container of honey!  He was so sweet and went and got the honey for us!  Yemeni honey is so good and the masoob was perfect.

Of course I'll be checking out all the other Yemeni restaurants in NYC but for now, Hadramout Restaurant is at the top of my list in NYC.  $60 for 5 people, including tip & tax.

Hadramout Restaurant
172 Atlantic Ave
New York, NY 11230
Neighborhood: Cobble Hill
(718) 852-3577