BY CAROLYN ONOFREY
Although the small Druze village in Northern Israel where Chef Gazala Halabi grew up is a far cry from the Upper West Side, she makes it her own via her restaurant, Gazala’s.
I had the pleasure of dining at Gazala’s, where I felt as if I were in Ms. Halabi’s own home.
The warm and courteous wait staff made my guest and I feel comfortable in the brick and burgundy colored space, where interesting mosaics covered the walls and small chandeliers accented the high ceilings.
Gazala’s wasn’t very crowded for a Wednesday night, especially when a brief downpour washed away any sign of life dining outside on the small front patio. Noticing those who periodically came in to Gazala’s, I knew right away that they were past patrons, coming back for more of the transporting food I was about to consume.
We started with the Gazala Platter ($33) – a meze platter highlighting most of Gazala’s hot and cold meze offerings. The taboule and lebanee (a homemade goat cheese) highlighted the cold meze selections with fresh, crisp, and bright flavors. The lebanee – a surprising, creamy treat melted in my mouth with a hint of lemon adding to the tang of the goat cheese. The falafel trumped the hot mezes for me, with a burst of garlic and spices once the crisp outer shell was penetrated. My dining companion, who grew up with Middle Eastern food, thoroughly enjoyed the meat and potato cigars, and commented on how fresh and delicate they were. I didn’t want the Gazala Platter to end, with endless combinations of dips, spreads, and things to dip and spread onto the sagg pita.
I managed to control how greedy this food was making me, in order to save room for our waitress’s special recommendation – her personal favorite, the spinach and lebanee boureka. The baked pie was similar to a Greek spanakopita, however the lebanee and pita dough added dimension, subtle whole wheat flavor and a more substantial doughy texture to the oh-so comforting dish.
Next, the moshakal platter ($19.50) – a combination of lamb, chicken, and kafta served with rice and salad. The kafta was flavorful and moist with the perfect amount of char and surprisingly seemed to melt in my mouth.