Tag Archives: Lebanese

NYC Best: Kalustyan’s Ingredient Haven for Foodie Curiosities

4,000 Varieties of Spices, Herbs, Coffees, Teas and More

You’ve settled down on your couch with your largest unsoiled cookbook, determined to test your culinary skills and whip up a spectacularly artful culinary masterpiece. But as you scan your lofty ingredient list, you start to question where one can find avocado leaves or za’atar. Surely the local bodega doesn’t carry these items and it’s likely to be a stretch that even the two-level Whole Foods will stock such curiosities. But before your inner Julia Child is deflated, let me introduce you to Kalustyan’s, NYC’s landmark for specialty foods and spices {and the place to grab a killer falafel}.

Carrying over 4,000 varieties of spices, herbs, sweets, coffee, tea and snacks from all over the world, Kalustyan’s shelves stock pretty much any culinary ingredient your adventurous heart desires . Even the seemingly most basic ingredients, such as cinnamon, presents the option of choosing from 10 different types of stick to ground and Sri Lankan to Vietnamese. Need mustard? I count over 40 varieties on two shelves. Looking for good olive oil? Then you’ll have to start with which country you want the olives to originate from — Lebanon, Greece, Spain, Italy, Syria….

Kalustyan's is a condiment heaven

Kalustyan's is a condiment heaven

But be sure not to get lost amongst the array of choices and shelves of alluringly yellow-labeled packages, because one of the other best kept secrets at Kalustyan’s is the mediterranean deli on the second floor. If you manage to find the stairs between the stacks of airy pita and crisp halva, you’ll be guided by the scent of garlic, spiced meat and salty cheeses. Grapeleaves, falafel, hummus and baba ganoush are just some of the treats you can sample from this homemade hideout. If you’re at a loss for what specialty to select, simply ask the charming Syrian man behind the counter who will share tales of the home country and offer an opinion of his favorite dishes. As someone with a Lebanese heritage, I can assure you this is the real deal.

So whether you’re looking for a unique gift for the food-lover that has everything, or an obscure ingredient from some faraway land, Kalustyan’s is the place that every wanderlusty foodie should travel to.

123 Lexington Ave {btw 28/29th}
New York, NY 10016
212-685-3451

Store Hours:
Mon – Sat 10am-8pm
Sun/Holiday 11am-7pm

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Detroit’s Best: Gemmayze is Gemmayzing

Royal Oak's New Gemmayze: Lebanese Kitchen and Lounge

There is no shortage of Lebanese restaurants in metro Detroit, a region that is the most concentrated area of Arab-Americans in the U.S.  This is quite convenient for someone whose heritage is half Lebanese and loves to come back to Detroit for a traditional meal of grape leaves, kibbe, hummus, tabbouleh and other dishes that evoke childhood memories and are difficult to find as perfectly-prepared as I can enjoy at home. When I do go back to Detroit, there is a shortlist of Lebanese restaurants that my family tends to visit, so it’s rare to get us to break habit, try something new and be delighted by it. But on a recent trip back home, we went to visit a new restaurant in Royal Oak called Gemmayze {pronounced je-maisy and named after the hip SoHo-like district in Beirut,} a kitchen and lounge that is focused on introducing the best of modern Beirut to a community that is already familiar with traditional Middle-Eastern cuisine. The result is outstanding.

The modern atmosphere is a welcomed upgrade to the typically over-decorated, mural-walled Lebanese restaurants we usually visit. With two levels of seating, outdoor dining, a full bar, and an open kitchen with a brick oven for continually produced fresh puffed pita, Gemmayze has created an exciting atmosphere that gives its diners an accessible peek into the secrets of Lebanese cuisine.

But while atmosphere can only get you so far, especially in an area that knows a thing or two about what hummus should really taste like, it’s the menu that really sings an artistic tune.

Gemmayze Hummus

My first point of critique is always with hummus. I’ve eaten my fair share of blended chick peas in my life and there is certainly a wide range of outputs depending on who made it and their chosen ratio of beans:tahini:lemon:garlic. While many fail the hummus taste test, Gemmazye did not disappoint, sending out a smooth and creamy version that is made so by slow cooking the chick peas to tenderize the bean and enable the perfect consistency for flawless blending. There was just the right amount of lemon and garlic to make their hummus a dish that didn’t last long when scooped up with the hot-from-the-oven homemade pita. A successful introduction to the rest of our meal.

Gemmayze Fattoush

We decided to forego ordering any entrees and instead ordered up a varied selection of appetizers. The Fattoush was fantastic — a salad that is typically served with lettuce as the main component, Gemmayze’s version eliminated the leafy green in favor of the other typical toppings: sweet crispy cucumbers, bright red peppers, juicy tomatoes, onions and the all-important crisped pita, all tossed in a lemon-sumac dressing that adds a lovely citrusy-spiced flavor to the otherwise straightforward veg. Amazing.

Gemmayze's Sumac-Encrusted Seared Tuna

The Sumac-Encrusted Seared Tuna was an innovative take on a typical American pepper-encrusted version. It was fresh, light and a welcomed addition what we would ordinarily order when we sit down for a Lebanese meal. A menu must.

Gemmayze's Grilled Baby Lamb Chops

And while we’re on the topic of exciting additions to what we typically think of when ordering Lebanese food, let’s add the insanely succulent Baby Lamb Chops to the list. While lamb is central to the Lebanese diet, it usually takes the form of ground lamb kibbe or kafta. I have never eaten a lamb chop as juicy and flavorful as what Gemmazye served up on their menu. They are available in a small appetizer version — good for a few quick bites, or as a main entree if you’re craving more. These chops are perfect for less adventurous eaters who doesn’t want to try the typical raw lamb dish, kibbe nayee, which also exceeded expectations {a very important thing when you’re venturing into the raw meat world.}

Kibbe Nayee

One of the best surprises on the menu and a menu must: Ara-yes Halabi. Sadly devoured before a photo could be taken, this app consists of kafta stuffed in bread and toasted. Sounds simple, but the spiced kafta in the crispy bread was a new Lebanese dish for our family and we all agreed, it was the best thing on the table.

The Skim: It’s nice to see an innovative food scene on the rise in Detroit. It’s especially nice to see that even though I’m used to mama’s traditional Lebanese food, a place like Gemmayze can take the best of tradition, add a few exciting modern twists and package it all up in an atmosphere that appeals to both the past and next generation of Detroiters. In my opinion, they’ve set the bar very high for Middle-Eastern cuisine.

Map: 310 S. Main St., Royal Oak
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 248.399.4900

In Detroit? Motown Musts:
Best Breakfast: The Chocolate Gallery Cafe
Best Dessert: The Chocolate Gallery Cafe
Detroit’s Slows Bar-B-Q is Quickly Becoming a Motor City Beacon
Home for the Holidays, Having Italian to Write Home About @Bucci
Going Back to the Old Country @ New Yasmeen Bakery

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Going Back to the Old Country @ The New Yasmeen Bakery

Hot, Oven-Fresh Meat and Spinach Pies

I’ve never been to Lebanon, but fortunately Dearborn, MI, which is only about 20 minutes from where I grew up, is home to the largest Lebanese population outside of Lebanon. That means deliciously authentic and fresh Lebanese treats are never too far away and always on the agenda when I make a trip home to Michigan. If you’re inspired by the newest Miss USA, Lebanese-American Rima Fakih, or just want to try some of the best Lebanese baked goods I have ever had, you don’t have to get on a plane to get onboard.

While you can’t enjoy the piping hot meat or spinach pies that come out fresh from the wood burning ovens, you can place an order for some of Dearborn’s New Yasmeen Bakery specialties online, including their fresh pita bread {this is the real stuff people, not the thick dry pita you find at the grocery store} or sweet baked goods, like Baklava or Date Maamoul. Of course if you happen to be traveling to the Detroit area, I highly recommend a trip to the bakery to pick up those meat/spinach pies or some hummus that comes out so smooth and creamy, it’s hard to be convinced its made only from chick peas, lemon, garlic and tahini. Or pick up some fresh za’atar bread for something truly unique {hot oven-fresh flat bread topped with olive oil and za’atar spice which is a combination of dried thyme, oregano, marjaram and toasted sesame seeds}. At the very least, check out New Yasmeen’s website to learn about the legend of how this amazing bakery came to be, or just for a few laughs if you watch the brief cartoon of a camel teaching you how authentic pita bread is made {watch here}. Whatever it takes!

The Skim: Having a difficult time finding better hummus than pre-packed Sabra at your local grocery store? Visiting Detroit and looking for good local eats? It may seem like a stretch on your culinary palate, but you will not be disappointed by the amazing Lebanese food coming out of the New Yasmeen Bakery. {13900 W. Warren, Dearborn, MI 48126}

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