Tag Archives: mediterranean food

Cafe Istanbul

Cafe Istanbul is a brand new middle eastern joint in Astoria that offers late hours, belly dancers, hookahs and great food.

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The owner, Sonny, is from Bombay, India. His love of food began when his mother inspired him to cook at age 15. Owning and operating a restaurant was his dream.

Chef Fathi hails from Egypt. Prior to Cafe Istanbul, he was a 13-year veteran of another popular middle eastern restaurant in Astoria. His cooking style is a blend of Mediterranean, Egyptian and Turkish cuisine.

The air in Cafe Istanbul is filled with delicious aromas and the sweet smells of hookah smoke. The best move is to get a few different teas and order a hookah right off the bat, that way you can sip and puff throughout the entire meal.

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I tried three teas: Moroccan, Egyptian and Turkish. My favorite was the Egyptian, which was similar to a sweet black tea. If you want something more mild, then go for the Moroccan tea, which is similar to a green tea variety.

We started the meal with some baba ganoush and  hummus, both of which were fantastic.

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I, in particular, really enjoyed the baba ganoush. I’m generally not an eggplant fan, but it was creamy, smooth and flavorful.

We slurped on some garlicky lentil soup as well, which was really warming on such a frigid winter night.

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We tried a duo of these wrapped “cigar” apps too. One was filled with melty, stretchy cheese, and the other with ground, spiced chicken. Both were good but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the cheese.

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This simple chopped salad of lettuce, tomato, cukes, herbs and dressing was certainly my speed as far as salads go. I don’t like overly complicated salads with unidentifiable greens lurking within.

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We tried three entrees. First, the Istanbul steak:

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This was a thin cut boneless rib eye steak that was coated with a variety of very interesting spices – like sumac – grilled up, and then sprinkled with finishing herbs. At just $21 this is a good deal, and the robust and unique flavor profile is a great way to dress up a cut of choice beef. Ours was cooked to medium, which was appropriate for this particular cut. As it turns out, the eye portion was slightly more flavorful than the cap, which is an interesting anomaly for me to note for future reference.

Next up: lamb chops.

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The platter contained a mix of both lamb T-bones and rib chops, all seasoned in a similar manner as the rib eye steak above, with sumac and interesting middle eastern spices. I think I actually enjoyed the lamb more than the steak! I know – blasphemy – but these guys really nailed it with the lamb.

The final entree was actually my favorite of the three: shrimp tagine.

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You guys must think I’m losing my mind: the steak guy, not only liking the lamb better than the beef, but liking the shrimp above all! What can I say? It was perfect. The shrimp were cooked just right, and the sauce in the tagine was a nice, thick, tomato-based stew that really hit the spot.

And the rice! I usually despise rice. It’s boring! But here, it was really tasty, and I found myself just spooning it into my mouth over and over, all by itself.

Dessert was fun. We did some more teas, and a trio of nice end-of-meal selections.

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Baklava: This still retained a crunch while also benefitting from a good coating of syrup/honey and flavorings.

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Creme brulee with assorted berries on top:

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This was much lighter and fluffier than all the creme brulees I’ve had in the past. I liked it a lot! Sometimes custard can be heavy at the end of a meal, but this was the opposite.

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And almond rice pudding.

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This was actually my favorite of the three, because it was the least sweet. It was just right after a good meaty meal; delicate and mild.

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Definitely give this place a shot; especially if you’re out in Astoria on a regular basis. Heck; from midtown it was just a quick 30 minute subway ride and walk combined. Right now they’re open from 2pm to 2am, but in the future they will be open for lunch, and eventually breakfast as well.

Note: I was invited to dine as a guest of this establishment and received a complimentary meal. This was not in exchange for a positive review; all opinions expressed are my own.

CAFE ISTANBUL
25-47 Steinway St
Astoria, NY 11103

Korali Estiatorio

With a name that means “coral,” it’s only fitting that Korali Estiatorio, a neighborhood gem for authentic Greek food on the upper east side, features a variety of fresh seafood fit for the gods.

Owner Gregori Politis hails from Lefkada, in the Ionian Sea. After 20 years in the hospitality business, he now brings the authentic recipes of his childhood to the masses of NYC. Chef Peter Tsaglis headed up prominent New York City kitchens. Peter focuses on seafood, and has a passion for amazing ingredients and flavors. His upbringing and travels across the Greek islands influenced his style of traditional cooking blended with modern and contemporary fare.

The interior was designed with Mykanos in mind, a seaside town on an island of the same name, which is known for its bright white architecture.

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The bar is stocked with Greek spirits and wines from rare varietals that are uncommon here in the states, like Assyrtiko and Agiogitiko.

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With Greek music playing on the sound system and the invigorating scent of fresh seafood in the air, you really do feel like you are being transported to the Greek Isles.

Okay so let me get to the food… We started with some tzatziki and pita bread. The yogurt this joint uses is so thick, rich and awesome. This had just the right amount of spices and flavorings added, so that our mouths were spared of garlic overload. I really enjoyed this.

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In honor of the joint’s focus on seafood, we did not delve into any meats. I know: blasphemy for me! Perhaps next time I will go hard into the lamb dishes, though.

For our meze courses we had grilled octopus and stuffed calamari. The grilled octopus was so tender and perfectly cooked. It came on a bean puree and was seasoned gently with olive oil and lemon, and sprinkled with capers. Really delicious, and probably one of the better octopus dishes I’ve had in a while. And it was a good sized portion, with about two large tentacles chopped up on the plate.

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I couldn’t resist ordering the stuffed calamari.

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When I was a kid, my family would do the traditional Italian fish dinner for Christmas. My grandparents were the main drivers of that meal, and I would help my grandfather clean all the shrimp, scungili and squid for prep. But my grandma would take the time to make stuffed calamari. She would take the cleaned squid tubes, fill them with a cheese, breadcrumb and meat stuffing, and literally stitch the ends closed with a needle and black thread. Then they went into a skillet for browning on all sides before getting plopped into a low simmering tomato sauce that was filled with crab legs and other shellfish. Before serving, she would pull out the black thread and the calamari would stay pinched closed, holding in the delicious stuffing. It really was a painstaking and amazing effort, and I’ve never seen anything like it since. Until now, until Korali.

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This Greek version is stuffed with spinach and feta, but still served in a tomato sauce. Rather than a traditional stewed style Italian red sauce, this one contained mainly sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. It was a really exciting profile of flavors, and this was hands-down my favorite dish of the night. I highly recommend this!

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For our entree, we ordered a whole grilled fish for two that was on special: “pink snapper” from the Mediterranean Sea.

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The skin was crisp and savory, and the meat was tender, flaky and cooked nicely. It was simply dressed with olive oil, lemon and Greek seasonings, and then topped with capers.

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We cleaned this baby off entirely, even busting into the face to get some of that delicious and succulent cheek meat.

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This fish for two also came with two sides. We picked garlic sauteed spinach and Greek fries. The fries were crisp and had a nice herb and garlic flavor.

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The spinach was sauteed just right, retaining that great “green” flavor without over-wilting the leaves. Also, the garlic was again not overpowering and added just the right amount of flavor to the dish. These guys know what they’re doing in the kitchen!

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For dessert, we got to try an assortment of three items: Greek yogurt with honey and berries, baklava and semolina custard in phyllo (Galactoboureco). By far my favorite of the three was that delicious, thick and creamy yogurt again. This sweet version was the perfect way to bookend the meal after starting with the savory tzatziki version at the beginning of the meal.

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But the baklava was the best my wife and I have had. Usually this dessert is soaked with honey, and that just kills the texture and flavor of the nuts, making everything too sweet and soft. Not here at Korali! These had a cookie-like crunch to them, and I found myself smearing some of the yogurt onto them to make it a double whammy dessert. So damn good!

Overall this was a really great meal, light and satisfying. This is a great place for the UES neighborhood. I don’t live nearby, but I would definitely go back in a heartbeat.

One thing that really got my attention about this place is that you can pre-order a whole roasted goat every Friday, which is locally sourced from upstate. I will definitely be back for this with my crew from The Carcass Club.

In addition, Korali now offers a prix-fix lunch deal Wednesday through Friday, as well as brunch on weekends, with a choice of starter, entree and dessert.

Note: I was invited to dine as a guest of this establishment and received a complimentary meal. This was not in exchange for a positive review; all opinions expressed are my own.

KORALI ESTIATORIO
1662 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10128