Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post
515 Amsterdam between 84th and 85th Streets (kosher) Tel.: (212) 787-6008, http://www.alibabany.com Yemenit Israeli Moshe Harizy came to New York 19 years ago, opened a stationery store, and started an Upper West Side Yemenite-style minyan, where he graciously served three free meals every Shabbat to anyone interested. When the Staples office-supply superstore moved in a few blocks from his shop, a local rabbi encouraged him to open a shwarma place instead.
“Food is something spiritual,” says Alibaba’s Harizy, who quotes Torah verses and discusses Kabbalah as my 3-year-old daughter and I sample a wide range of Yemenite dishes. Harizy, who imports the freshest spices from Israel, Canada and Europe, prepares such childhood favorites as jachnun (rolled oven-backed dough served with crushed tomatoes, chiles, and a recommended hard-boiled egg) and kubeh (meatballs wrapped in semolina dough), dishes he perfected out of necessity – “Mother was sick all her life, so we learned to cook,” he says.
“Can I ask you what this is?” a curious customer asks as I savor my melt-in-your-mouth flaky-dough melawah with tomato pure ($6.95). I decline the hard-boiled egg, also recommended for this dish. I move on to the mejadarah, a rice-and-lentil mixture topped with fried onion slivers ($2.95, $5.95 or $8.95, for a single, double or family portion) and habis (fava beans stewed with cumin and soaked with tehinah, humus and egg). They are delicious, as are the matbuhah (cooked tomatoes, peppers and garlic) and shakshukah (eggs, fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and green peppers).
At the year-old Alibaba, an intimate 12-seat space strategically located in the heart of the the Upper West Side, with its young Jewish population, you can also just grab a quick felafel ($4.50 in a pitah; extra $1.50 in a lafa, a large round Mideastern bread) or shwarma ($6.95) and heed the warning on the door: “Come, Eat and Go!” But if no one is clunking you with their backpack or dripping tehinah on you as they return to their table from the free, all- you-can-eat spicy salad bar, you are welcome to read the newspaper and sip a mint tea.