Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brand-new Hummus Kitchen is AWESOME

After a brisk fall day spent walking around midtown, I ended my afternoon in my own neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. It was still early, but my stomach rumbled for dinner. There was only one solution: the brand-new Ninth Avenue Mediterranean entrant Hummus Kitchen. So there I went.

Even though it was still early in the evening, the tiny ten-table dining room was nearly full when I arrived. I managed to snag a tiny table for two (or, er, one) along one wall and settled in to taste the magic that Hummus Kitchen could produce. I looked over the relatively brief but entirely appealing menu (included below, as it's not up on their website yet) and made my selection.

While I waited, a server brought over a tiny dish of olives. I popped a few of the briny and flavorful bites into my mouth as I looked around the dining room. It's a cute space, with exposed brick walls, painted tiles on the floor, and chandeliers that look alarmingly like giant tea-steeping balls. The servers ran frantically up and down the center aisle, shuttling hot dishes to tables and scuttling back to the prep area to refill water glasses.

Complimentary olives!

After about ten minutes or so, my selection arrived. I had ordered the "Mixed platter" of mazze, which allowed me to taste most of the delightful appetizers on order. Because it's the restaurant's "Grand opening," they threw in a gratis dish of hummus and plate of pita.

The mixed sampler consisted of two oblong falafels; a sample of roasted cauliflower (in this case, just one large floret); couscous taboule; babganush; shredded feta and beets; green tahini; and a bureka (a triangular puff pastry stuffed with "feta cheese, eggplant, and dry tomato").

The Mixed Platter of deliciousness

I started with a bite of falafel, which was flavorful, tasty, and deeply fried. Then I moved on to the bureka. The pastry tore apart into flaky layers, and a bite revealed a spiced, somewhat greasy crust encasing a flavorful filling. I dug the rest of the filling out with my fork, skipping the pastry (don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but just a bit too greasy for my stomach). The cauliflower was next: It was fork-tender with a standard cauliflower taste. It improved with a smear of the green tahini, which tasted deliciously of sesame.

So much visible spice

A forkful of the couscous taboule revealed a burst of minty flavor, which was mellowed somewhat by the surrounding tiny grains of couscous and bits of tomato. A dollop of tahini mixed with the taboule made an irresistible combination.

Yummy green tahini makes everything taste better

Then came the babaghanouj. It was intesensely smoky with a delightful creamy texture that was highly complementary to both the cauliflower and the pita. Finally, the beets and feta were delicious-- the beets were sweet with a tenderly cooked, while the feta was definitely fresh and not overly salty.

Smoky eggplant and sweet beets

But the hummus-- ohhh, the hummus. It came swirled in a tiny dish and topped with chickpeas, paprika, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley. The accompanying pita bread was warm and fluffy, with an airy thickness double that of the cardboard stuff you buy in the store. A scoop of the warm, impossibly fresh hummus on top of a torn bite of pita was heaven-- the creamy, flavorful hummus lovingly clung to the bread, carrying perhaps the odd bit of warm whole chickpea. Forgive me for becoming rhapsodic here; this was seriously, seriously outstanding hummus.

Best hummus I've ever had

Fluffy, airy pita

Since Mediterranean food can sometimes be very heavy, I didn't intend to finish the dish of creamy hummus, but I couldn't help myself. Before I knew it, the dish was empty and wiped clean with a final bite of pita; the rest of the mezes had also been packed away. And yet-- I didn't feel stuffed, I felt incredibly, happily satisfied. And I wasn't the only one who was happy: When my server stopped by mid-meal to ask how things were, I replied that the hummus was spectacular, and she beamed. Literally BEAMED. It is clear they take incredible pride in their hummus here (which, incidentally, is made fresh in-house nearly continuously).

While in typical new-restaurant style, the place is clearly still getting its footing service-wise (there often seemed to be some backups with prepared dishes at the pass, for example, and the large number of servers seemed almost to be bumping into each other), but it was all in good fun-- people seemed happily harried, if that's even possible. And I must add that the food is incredibly cheap: my mazze sampler was the most expensive thing on the menu at $8.50. Since the food is so fresh and so delicious, it's an impossibly good value for the money, which elevates Hummus Kitchen to the rare non-upscale four Offset Spatula restaurant.. If you like hummus-- or if you're even willing to try to like hummus-- I implore you to stop by Hummus Kitchen. It will change your outlook on the chickpea.

Hummus Kitchen
768 Ninth Avenue (between 51st and 52nd street)

1 comment:

Kate said...

This was the best hummus I have ever had, truly amazing. They forgot my extra pita in my delivery and came immediately back with the delicious pita AND a complimentary piece of one of the best baklava I have ever had. Hope this one lasts!!