Restaurants, Egyptian Astoria
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Look for the gorgeous mosaic eye marking the door of this relaxing eatery. Chef-owner Moustafa el-Sayed also designed the twinkling mosaics that adorn the walls and tables. Sink back into the pillows and savor nouveau Egyptian creations like sesame phyllo bread, spiced stuffed sausage, garlic-kissed quail and molasses-glazed duck. Indecisive? Put yourself in the hands of the chef with the $30 tasting menu and a bottle of light Algerian wine.


Venue name: Mombar
Address: 25-22 Steinway St
New York
Cross street: between 25th and 28th Aves
Opening hours: Tue–Sun 5–11pm
Transport: Subway: G, R, V to Steinway St; N, W to 30th Ave
Price: Average main course: $15. Cash only
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5 / 5

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I am generally a very adventurous eater, but this weekend I wanted to take my appetite to even more adventurous levels by 1. trying a cuisine I'd never had before 2. in a borough other than Manhattan. That's what lead us to discover Little Egypt in Astoria, more specifically: Mombar, an experience that was worth every second of the extra effort (which was honestly minimal, except for the sudden downpour during our stroll from the N/Q at Astoria Blvd). 

As soon as we entered we were greeted and seated by the chef himself, offered fresh mango juice (more like a whole pureed mango in a cup - so thick it could hardly be regarded as a juice). We were given a moment to take in the atmosphere: cushioned seating strewn with embroidered pillows, collaged mosaics and personal items adorning every inch of each wall, ornate tiling arranged around vintage lighting fixtures on the ceiling, and what I can only assume to have been the chef's parents and wife occupying the back corner table.

He came back to share the daily specials and we offered our compliments on the decor, to which he exclaimed proudly with a huge smile "I designed it!" and added "the tables too - look here" and pointed to his signature, which was emblazoned on every table top. He rattled off offal-driven appetizer specials (Lamb tongue, brain, cheek, and beef or lamb liver), and dinner specials (tilapia tagine, salmon wrap). From the specials we went for the tongue, brain, cheek, and salmon wrap (as described by the chef's wife: "We don't have oceans in Egypt, so this is kind of invented by the's salmon prepared with spices and wrapped in phyllo dough - like a mummy! Which is what makes it Egyptian," she said with a smile). From the regular menu we opted for the restaurant's namesake, "mombar" (homemade stuffed sausages - though to identify any of these as homemade would be redundant, because everything offered is clearly homemade), and lamb tagine. 

I think at this point it goes without saying that this is not your typical New York restaurant. You truly need to plan on spending a long evening dining here (if you're doing it right), because everything is pretty much made-to-order. For instance, once our food selections were placed with the chef it was about 30min before we actually saw any food. But in such a casual environment, where you hardly feel like you're in New York, the sense of urgency usually imposed the city is replaced by a sense of calm and welcoming leisure, with time passing almost unnoticed. 

Lamb cheek was shredded to perfection, the tongue/chickpeas deliciously tender, the incredibly-seasoned fried brain melted on our tongues. Sausage casings snap between teeth and give way to soft rice and warm spices. The pyramid of couscous collapsed slowly as it soaked up the lamb tagine. Steam rose energetically as we cracked open the mummified phyllo shell encasing the salmon. Everything we had was absolutely delicious and unique.

When it came time for dessert, we couldn't resist. The chef's wife offered a traditional baked dessert, and the "chef's surprise", which was literally a surprise that the chef would invent the moment you ordered it (based on if you had any preferences, for instance we asked for a non-dairy surprise). True to the dessert's description, we were pleasantly 'surprised' by a plate full of fried strings of phyllo sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, slices of banana, and chunks of preserved apples. The "traditional dessert" was like oven-baked oatmeal soaked in milk, with the crunch of nuts throughout and the occasional pop of a berry...that description really doesn't do it any justice, as it was truly one of the most delicious and memorable desserts I've ever had.

Our table was often frequented by a 10-year-old nephew of the chef, who chatted us up and tended to our empty plates and replaced silverwares enthusiastically. (I'm sure he was doing it in exchange for a meal - I would do the same!) and at the very end of the night, the chef's brother (chef of Kabob Cafe a few doors down) took up a seat next to us and lingered casually in his brother's restaurant.

I left feeling more satisfied than I have felt towards a restaurant in a long time, which goes far beyond having a full belly. I felt like we had made friends with the restaurant itself (in additional to being full...we were oh-so-pleasantly-full), and the whole experience really put Little Egypt at the top of my list as a go-to neighborhood for adventurous eating.