Our Review of Kebob Cafe in Astoria Queens

Probably few people know about the tiny neighborhood of Little Egypt, nestled within the much larger neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. To say Little Egypt is tiny, is actually quite an understatement; it consists of one block of Steinway Street, between 28th Avenue and Astoria Blvd, excluding, of course, the two thirds of that block occupied by non-Egyptian related businesses. So, when we say that Little Egypt is a tiny neighborhood, we really mean to say that it’s a collection of seven hookah bars, three restaurants and a store that sells phone cards and Moroccan pop music.

When I first moved to Astoria, many years ago, I took frequent trips up to this block. It was right after 9-11, so the idea of exploring a predominantly Muslim area carried with it a mystique of being accepting of other cultures and taking full part in the brotherhood of humanity. Sure, those back in Georgia might fear or hate the swarthy Middle Eastern immigrants, but here I was ready to buy cigarettes in their delis and sample their cuisine. This soon stopped. Not because I wasn’t interested in promoting the brotherhood of humanity, but because traveling to Little Egypt left me feeling like a black man at a lunch counter in Selma, Alabama circa 1952.

Let’s just say that these Middle Eastern men were not interested in serving white Americans, or treating them with the simple respect due a money-laden customer looking for hot falafel and kafta kebobs, or with looking me in the eye, or acknowledging my existence. Let’s just say they were about as interested in serving me some food as a laid-off Detroit auto-worker is interested in the new line of Toyotas. Dutifully, I would go up to the counter, ready with my order, only to be completely ignored. Arab men, in their over-sized Yankee jerseys and saggy jean shorts would show up after me, and would be served instantly. A few times I would just get frustrated and leave, other times I would stick to my guns and insist on being served my food, only to stand there sheepishly waiting while others came in after me, ordered, took their food and left while I still stood waiting for my lamb goodness.

Finally, and that is to say after about three months of this, I never bothered going in to those shops again. Yes, I voted with my dollars and took my business elsewhere; explored the Columbian, Brazilian, Greek and Eastern European fare to be had. It actually gave me a little satisfaction to see one dining establishment that had snuffed me, El Manara, closed one day as I walked by. And thus, for years, I ignored that block, ignored Little Egypt, and what might have been of its culinary offerings.

Until yesterday, when I was persuaded to give Kebob Café a chance. I’d probably walked by the place a thousand times, but I assumed it was like the others and never bothered to go in, try it or even give it a second chance. Yes, I was horribly, horribly wrong.

To say the Kebob Café is small is another one of those understatements, like saying the universe is ‘roomy.’ There’s enough room for about twelve people to enjoy a meal, though only for six of those to sit comfortably. Other than the size of the place, my first impression was of the smell; exotic and unearthly spices for the highs, heavy with frying meat to the lows, with just a hint of pounded dough and fruit to round out the middle. Secondly, I noticed the numerous pieces of figurative art on the walls, tucked in between antique lamps, esoteric decorations and quietly hidden iPod playing traditional Mediterranean music. Wait a second. Figurative art? Must not be too strict of Muslims I thought. This thought was seconded, voted upon and passed unanimously when the Chef came over and offered us something to drink, pointing out the numerous wines and beers he had on hand.

Barely had I begun to notice how different Kebob Café was from the run-of-the-mill places, the Chef came over, sat down with us and began to go over some of the various menu items he was preparing that night. Not through rote memory, but rather on a journey, he recited the various dishes he was capable of preparing.

Now, I’ve been to places that had the gimmick of not having a menu. Either they offer only one or two entree choices, or they force you to just kind of guess from the waitress’s speech. But, this was different. There’s no menu at the Kebob Café, because I think the Chef doesn’t like it being so clinical. He, and his helper, are the only staff, there are no waiters or busboys or dishwashers, no hostesses or line cooks. And with so few diners per seating, it’s an intimate atmosphere. So intimate in fact, that after he gave us a few options, he saw our bewilderment and stated quite plainly “I have to go prepare someone else’s meal right now, you drink your beers and then we’ll talk through this, find something you’ll like.”

After a few minutes he did come back, returned to his seat and plainly asked “What do you like?”

We rattled off a few notions and he took the bait, hook, line and sinker. Immediately, he began to prepare a meal in his head and describe it to us “First we’ll get you some falafel and some hummus, and a salad. What do you like better: beets or artichokes? Beets? Okay, we make you a beet salad with some peppers and onions- you don’t like onions, it’s okay I know the Chef, we put in some other stuff then, mix that up with a little oil and vinegar. Then you need something like a main course; you like meat, are you vegetarian? Meat, eh?”

Then, he proceeded to rattle off the numerous meats he could prepare for us delicately roasted and served over a bed of rice; a zoo, a menagerie; beer, lamb, chicken, duck, fish (of various types), rabbit, quail, yes quail, and, while I’m not certain, he may have mentioned kangaroo, bald eagle and ibex. Indeed the Chef is half of what makes Kebob Café worth visiting and returning to. Like an old Vaudevillian, you know in your heart his banter is well rehearsed, heavily practiced and that with you, it’s the fifteen thousandth time he’s done it. But it’s good, it’s professional, and he’s a master so you can’t help but appreciate it.

You know you can trust a chef when in the close atmosphere of their restaurant you can watch then nibbling at the food they’re cooking. Once you’ve seen them do that it’s okay that they come over to your table and pick up individual pieces of a dish and show you, with their fingers, how best to combine them. When this Chef picks up, with his bare fingers, a piece of food off the platter, dips it into the sauce for you and puts it on your plate, you’re appreciative of the suggestion.

And the food. Oh yes, this is a restaurant review, so what about the food? Kebob Café is one of those places where they bring you huge plates of various foods and while you may not be able to accurately identify what exactly the particular food item is, specifically, you don’t care. It’s just big heaps of delicious food. Our meal consisted of a beet salad (beets mixed with other things we couldn’t quite identify), a huge plate of hummus, baba ganoush, fresh apples, roasted peppers, steaming hot pita bread and various other touches, which again were not identifiable but were nonetheless delicious. To top it off, we had roast lamb, stuffed with, yes, more lamb. The inside lamb was finely chopped and mixed with walnuts, spices and again, various other bits. Did we know what they were? No. Were they good? Yes. And was it lamb stuffed inside of other lamb? Yes, and it was quite good.

Kebob Café is an excellent spot for delicious food and in a good atmosphere, cooked by a Chef who knows how to make a meal a great experience. It’s intimate, it’s good, you’ll laugh, you’ll get stuffed and, if you can get a chair, you’ll have a great evening. It’s a little pricy, but well worth it. And I recommend it, because, hey, I know the Chef.

Kebob Cafe
25-12 Steinway St., Astoria, NY 11103
N or W to Astoria Blvd.

A Review of Musical Recordings: Ashlee Simpson’s “I Am Me”

ashlee simpson

by Richie Van Der Loe
(as taken from the Village Vocalization, Katharinetowne, WD).

The title of this work conveys to the listener the obvious; there exists, between the substantive and the existential, a moment of reinforced clarity at indifferent odds with our psychological urge to commence a fugue-driven abandonment of the self. When forced to confront the self, one cannot with certainty know, that is to say even understand, the self; whether it is the all-embracing truth we accept of ourselves and our place in existence or whether the self is the archetypal monster in the shadows from which we hide. Perhaps expression is not the battleground, but rather the battle itself, for when we express ourselves, we create and in that act attempt to forge a new self as a protective junction against reality. But, this all obvious, especially made expressly obvious by Ashley Simpson’s chronicling of her own journey, i.e. battle, in the wondrously titled “I Am Me.” It is at once obtuse and obduce.

“I Am Me” is a rich meta-statement, replete with intriguing queries into the modern understanding of both the psychological being and the place of gender-mode thought in society. It presents not only a definition of the self, but also places the self outside the boundaries of bimodal gender philosophy. Indeed, the present tense situation describes not a reflection, but a statement of defiance. Yet, is also positive declaratory statement which addresses the concepts of division in society by deliberately side-stepping sexual-based pronouns, instead utilizing the neutral form. Gone is the “She is Her” mode of sexual buccaneers such as Courtney Love or Joan Jett, replaced by the affirmation of equality and questioning of morays heralded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is a rich statement that at once upholds and challenges. Instead of merely accepting the modernization and mechanization of the twentieth-century philosophy of humans as machines, it redefines the idea of humanity for a twenty-first century holistic worldview which, while rejecting the notions of classical humanism, still allies itself with the post-modern view of human as psychological animal in the midst of a mechanically operating universe. The self is neutral, yet positive.

Arguably, the post-Soviet American hegemony parallels the post-Empire United Kingdom, that period of traumatic and disillusioning zeitgeist in which the punk movement arose as a counter-point to contemporary conflicts between economic schools of thought, i.e. Marxism versus Capitalism. Contemporaries of The Clash, as had been shown, followed a philosophy which gave voice to the notion of “We are Us,” presenting themselves as a counter-force, or third faction, in the traditional economic conflicts. While it would seem that “I Am Me” would reflect a certain Reaganary world-view, Simpson’s cry echoes the monetary hedonists of the 80s while incorporating their trade-marks into the 90s spiritual hedonism and the 00’s intellectual hedonism. When the mainstream represents a non-progressive ideology, it becomes necessary for artists to issue more open and enlightened contexts for the discussion of the self. This is clearly heard on the album “I Am Me” but is also completely evident in the title itself.

One could assume that Bachman Turner Overdrive, Rush, or even Styx had already explored everything that the musical palate could form in a way ready for human mental consumption. While these groups, or bands, did enable humanity to redefine itself in terms of social parallax, they were never able to produce a statement as profound as Ashlee Simpson’s “I Am Me.” After giving this record a listen or two, it’s easy to agree. Truly, Ashlee Simpson is Ashlee Simpson.

What’s a Telenovela?

When I give you my money / I wanna hear you say what I want you to / And act like you mean it baby / or I won’t believe you.
Telenovela Star – Le Plum Deux

music review

I was not paid to write this review. It might seem that way because it’s glowing, but the truth is I really dig this record and I think you will, too. Now, most local bands I find intriguing see me at virtually every show they perform. Not so Telenovela Star. In the two years of their present incarnation, I’ve seen them twice; once at their debut in the trash can that is the Sibera club’s basement and once this past January at The Delancey, a wonderful club that also just happens to be in a basement.

Four years ago, when you could still enjoy a musical revue and a cigarette at the same time, I caught the previous iteration of the band, Telenovela. At the time the trio was two scruffy dudes on guitar and drums, and a chick with her hair in her face on bass. By the time I grabbed a friend for that Siberia show, two years had passed, they’d tacked “Star” onto their name and dropped the dudes. Here now was Telenovela Star with bassist and vocalist Hanna Klein, Nikkie McLeod beating the skins, and Maggie Argyros on guitar and vocals.

This past January, with a free Saturday in my pocket and braving arctic temperatures, I caught their Delancey show. There, one year after its release and directly from the band I received my first hard copy of their music: The Telenovela Star EP. Since then those tracks have accompanied me everywhere I go. I’ll tell you why.

Their vocal stylings aren’t spectacular and they’re not a flashy ensemble with themed outfits at every show or musicians who spout some bullshit concept when asked about their music. But, Telenovela Star is the epitome of “band.” Each member is a talent in their own right. No, they’re not virtuosi, but they are incredibly good. Few groups, live or recorded, possess their ability to play together, to sound like one instrument with purpose.

At the same time, their songwriting and musicality enable them to showcase one another individually. They’ll give the guitar space in one song, or emphasize the bass-percussion unit in another, or blend the instruments and vocals in such a way as to highlight the best of each. In many ways, each woman as an instrumentalist takes the styles of music prevalent around them and carries those styles forward in startling directions.

Often current guitarists are boring and uninventive. With this beautiful modern history of amazing players to learn from, you still don’t often hear great melodies or a good riff. Modern rockers present neither adaptation nor ornamentation. If you want to go local and find out for yourself, just search the rock section of MySpace, or turn to your favourite major music outlet and listen to what’s popular. It’s pathetic.

Maggie is none of these things, plus she’s from my own neighbourhood of Astoria. It’s sad that technical ability would be something notable merely for its presence, but I find it truly impressive. She’s not flashy, but her style is perfect both in and out of the context of the band. Her full-on guitar lines are hard and always to the point. And another thing: distortion. She doesn’t overdo it, she does it just right. I love distortion done just right.

telenovela star

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A Musical Revue Review

music review

Serena-Maneesh, Dirty On Purpose, Bardo Lake, and Woven Hand

Greenpoint, Brooklyn – At the behest of a friend, I headed out to the Warsaw in the Polish National home to check out Serena-Maneesh. They were the last act of the night, reasingly drew my attention throughout the show. That and, even as a heterosexual male, New Bass Player was the evocation of rail-thin, modern hotness. While playing beautifully, he worked the crowd admirably. I’m surprised no woman in the audience was overcome with faintness. WhileI had mixed responses to Serena-Maneesh, there’s definite growth potential and I look forward to more from them as they mature.

A pleasant surprise was Brooklyn quartet Dirty On Purpose, who preceded Serena-Maneesh. Members DJ Bourdreau, Joe Jurewicz, George Wilson, and Doug Marvin were joined in their performance by Ann Brewster (from Sea Ray) on cello and a young slip of a girl named Holly on backup vocals. While certainly of interest to a much-castigated and moody trendnik set, Dirty On Purpose is a fun, heavily-melodic act worth seeing.

I’m happy that the Dirty boys have a nice give-andtake between the genders in their live set, and will be adding them to my listening repertoire of bands such as Yellowish, Elysian Fields, and Stars. The song they’re promoting heavily on the internet right now is “No Radio” and the live version is far beyond the recorded one. Covers are usually a crowd favourite, but their fast-paced, lazy-vocals rendition of Real Life’s “Send Me an Angel” didn’t seem to send the audience into much of a tizzy. Still, the crowd was bopping its way through the rest of the eight song set.

Nevertheless, their version of “Send Me an Angel” is worth bootlegging, especially Holly’s wonderful melisma towards the end of the tune. While Ann Brewster’s cello couldn’t be heard on this song due to a mix of interfering tones from the bass and a lack of throughput on the PA, she was an integral addition to the other songs in the set, something the rest of the band very much appreciated.



Woven Hand
Woven Hand is David Eugene Edwards playing acoustic, electric, mandolin and sampler. A very powerful male voice, his work on this project is unimpressive. Parts of some songs would have a place in television shows such as Deadwood or Jeremiah, but his reliance on drones made from vocal and string samples and much-too-lengthy stretches of pedal tones make for an uninteresting live performance.

Bardo Pond
Michael Gibbons, John Gibbons, Isobel Sollenberger, Clint Takeda, and Ed Farnsworth give me glimpses of what should be my type of music, but never get there. The noise aesthetic is controversial, but can be enjoyable. This was not such an instance. Singer Isobel has an attractive voice, but needs to get her diaphragm in gear to provide the power her Morrison-like vocals hint at. Some moments of great rhythm, guitar passages reminiscent of Meat Puppets, but keyboards which mainly sound like seagulls on barge day and prolonged sonic laziness made me pray that this Keith Jarrett show without the musicality would end soon.

For More Information on These Musical Acts, Feel Free to Research Them on Your Local Interconnected Network of Computers. See the Uniform Resource Locator Codes Below.


Dirty on Purpose

Bardo Pond

Woven Hand

Somebody’s Miracle: On the Subject of Liz Phair


Back in high school, I knew of Liz Phair and I knew of her music but back in high school I was a young and foolish boy; one who wasn’t particularly interested in hearing the opening shots of post-feminist rock fired across the bow of the ship of the dying 80s music scene. It would take another few years before a girlfriend of mine formally introduced me to Exile in Guyville; which was one of about twenty CDs that she owned. Eventually, owing at least in part to a 1000 mile solo drive I took, that album grew on me and stuck like a barnacle.

What is it about Liz Phair? She’s not as sultry as Shirley Manson, not as rambunctious as Gwen Stefani, not as sullen as Fiona Apple and not as black as Missy Elliot. When I sat down to compile a mix of the seminal songs by the twenty most important women in rock history, I eventually had to abandon the project; it was impossible because in such a compilation Liz Phair would require a disc all her own. In a word, Liz Phair is amazing. Essentially, this status of amazing is bestowed due to three distinct concepts Liz Phair embodies in a manner that one else ever could.

For one thing, it was Liz Phair who first made me realize that girls, even women, could really be interested in sex. Remember that I discovered Liz Phair’s music when I was a stupid teenager. Back then sex was more like a war; it involved a constant battle and girls were well defended in their indestructible bunkers of pure defense. Back then, every girl seemed to be saving herself for something or other. The plain fact was that they were all around fifteen or so, which with 20/20 hindsight I must say is way too young for sex. But still, we boys wanted what we wanted. And then, there was Liz Phair. There she was saying it blatantly in her songs. She wanted sex, she fantasized about sex, she actually enjoyed sex. It was a revelation. Women could be just as crazed as men. Now, looking back, as I sometimes do, I realize that Ms. Phair was in fact creating a character that would allow her to break out of her naturally shy shell. That didn’t matter when I was seventeen. Sometimes it doesn’t matter now.

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