I arrived around 6:30 and asked for a table for 2. The host, a somewhat surly older man, told me they didn't have any tables for two available and it might be "eh, a half hour or so." So I turned around to leave and was just about out the door when he called out to the waiting group that he did indeed have a table for two-- who wanted it? I claimed that table like the last Tickle Me Elmo in a Toys R Us in 1996 and was led to the back of the restaurant.
Now, notice that BL is not in the picture yet. To get the table, I had promised the host that he was "five minutes away." Then when I finally sat down, I initiated a flurry of semi-threatening text messages imploring BL to, ahem, hasten his arrival. Unfortunately, he was in a cab trying to negotiate early December Saturday evening crosstown traffic, which meant he was somewhat more than five minutes away. Alternately texting madly and pretending to be deeply engrossed in the menu, I managed to fend off the host's annoyed glares and keep the table until BL finally arrived.
Once he got there, we were ready to go. The menu is a weird mash-up of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food, the odd Mexican dish (guacamole?), and of course that ubiquitous Swiss standby, fondue. We decided to share a sampler platter of six "Cold Mediterranean Tapas"; in addition, BL went for the Kashkaval fondue and a bottle of hard cider listed on our check cryptically as "other beer."
The sampler platter arrived first. After much agonizing (serious paralysis of choice), we decided on hummus, baba ghanoush, eggplant caponata, roasted brussels sprouts, olives, and artichoke dip. The platter came with a large basket stuffed full of warm, thin pita; while yummy at first, the bread somehow hardened into bizarrely crusted while still somewhat pliant pita. For the most part, the tapas selections were quite good: the caponata was full of soft eggplant and tomatoey flavor; the baba ghanoush was flavorful but not overly smoky; the hummus was good (but once you've had the best hummus ever, nothing else really comes close); the brussels sprouts were well caramelized and quite good; the olives were standard (our assortment came with a bizarre red olive, which upon closer inspection--i.e., consumption--turned out to be a cherry tomato); the artichoke dip was mediocre. It was all high quality and quite filling-- tasty but definitely not blow-you-away fare.
Clockwise from top: Eggplant caponata; brussels sprouts; artichoke dip; hummus; baba ghanoush; olives
Pita bread, in its better moments
Pita bread, in its better moments
BL's kashakaval fondue (turns out kashkaval is a type of cheese) was also yummy. It came in a cast-iron pot perched atop a sterno, accompanied by a basket of cubed baguettes and two of those fabulous fondue forks. I took a bite, and it was quite cheesy and delicious, and it successfully avoided tasting too strongly of wine, one of the most serious and common pitfalls of fondue.
We finished up, and being incredibly stuffed decided to skip dessert and vacate their precious table. Kashkaval is definitely a cute place-- there's a cheese/prepared foods counter at the front with an old-fashioned apothecary feel (with the big glass jars and all that), which gives way to a very atmospheric wine-bar type place in the back (lots of wood, wine bottles lining the walls, etc.). The food is good and relatively reasonably priced but not especially superlative-- most of it is stuff you can find in various other places around town. And Kashkaval definitely has attitude, although once you got past the anal host, the servers were laid-back (read: not especially attentive). While I'm definitely glad I went, I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to go back. If Kashkaval ever decided to take reservations, I'd consider a revist and the addition of one Offset Spatula, but as it stands now it's a pretty standard three Offset Spatula place.
856 Ninth Avenue, between 55th and 56th Streets