Friday, June 24, 2005

Restaurant 42: Alfanoose

The World Trade Center Memorial near Alfanoose; Chicken Pie; Baklava; Falafel Sandwich.

LOCATION: 8 Maiden Lane
DATE: June 20, 2005
FOOD: Falafel Sandwich; Chicken Pie; Vegetarian Kibbeh (Shared); Baklava (Shared)

BEVERAGE: Bottled Water
PRICE: Courtesy of Danny, courtesy of being a para-legal

If you’re going to make the claim you have the best falafel in New York City, you better have the chick peas to back it up. And if you’re then going to choose to locate your restaurant in the culinary wasteland that is the Financial District, your food had better be damn near revelatory. Alfanoose, despite initially handicapping itself with these (possible) limitations, manages to surpass expectations, serving falafel that would leave any skeptic speechless.

Falafel must be fresh. Fried food that sits in a basket hours before being consumed becomes as disappointingly lifeless and unappetizingly sodden as Paul Bowles’ spoiled, drifting characters, desperately searching for answers in the North African desert landscape in The Sheltering Sky. Each order of falafel at Alfanoose is made as the customer orders. The chick pea mounds are scooped like ice cream, shaped, and then placed in a fryer. Before being placed on pita bread, the falafel drops are slightly squished, so that the intense spices can mingle with the sharp tahini sauce and crisp vegetables. The innovative addition of pickles, added an intriguingly sour and wonderfully successful contrast to the sandwiches already complex taste.

Alfanoose’s website advertises their falafel as New York’s finest and has the word of New York Magazine to back this up. I certainly haven’t tried nearly enough of this city’s falafel to know whether such a proposition is valid and unlike Bill O’Reilly, I try not to speak on things I know very little about. But I will assert that Alfanoose’s falafel is by far the best I’ve had, in this city or any other. It is the incredible mix of spices that make this an exceptional item. Coriander, garlic, cumin were all present, but so too were many more subtle ingredients I couldn’t quite place. The shell is crunchy, the inside soft, but with enough stiffness to prevent the falafel from subversive mushiness. If the pita had been heated instead of rolled at room temperature, this sandwich would have been perfect. Unless you’re dealing with a prostitute donning a Ph.D, seldom does something with this intricate web of complexity come with such a cheap price-tag – five dollars to be exact.

But Alfanoose is about more than falafel. The menu is surprisingly extensive for a restaurant primarily dedicated to the take-out orders of Thomas Pink shirt wearing investment bankers. The chicken pie, filled with tender pulled chicken in an aromatic yet mild red sauce, was to chicken pot pie what Manhattan clam chowder is to the creamed New England soup. The flaky crust was more bread than pie, but delightful regardless. Less well known dishes also make an appearance, proving that no restaurant is too small or inexpensive to successfully challenge established palates. The vegetarian kibbeh reminded me of Havana Chelsea’s stuffed corn tamale, though only in texture, as the seasoning of the kibbeh was entirely Mid-Eastern in origin. The blending of bitter swiss-chard, slightly sweet pomegranate juice, and tart lemon and mint, awakened dormant taste-buds. Hesitant at first, I became more and more enamored by this novel, grain based minced “pie”. The nonchalant baklava was bland and run of the mill, but the only negative of the entire meal.

I’ve lived in the financial district for nearly a year now. Suffering through the desolated weekend sidewalks, wind-tunnel Wall Street hurricanes, and eerily quiet evenings, I’ve had more than my share of complaints with the area. But now, just as I’m moving out, I’ve discovered a reason to stay. While Alfanoose’s sublime falafel couldn’t quite induce me to change my plans, it did cause me to reconsider them, if even only for an instant. In a wilderness of steeled metallic skyscrapers and their towering, isolating glassed facades, Alfanoose is a soulful reminder of authenticity in an area generally lacking in such visible integrity. I’ll still be moving, but at least I now have a reason to come back.

RATING: 8.0/10

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