Restaurants, Tastoria's Astoria
Nov 12, 2012

Eye Spy: A Night at Mombar

We are pleased to bring you the next installment of Sue’s adventures in eating around Astoria. This time, it’s Mombar, one of the gems of Astoria’s Little Egypt section of (…)

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We are pleased to bring you the next installment of Sue’s adventures in eating around Astoria. This time, it’s Mombar, one of the gems of Astoria’s Little Egypt section of town. -Meg

Mombar, with its exuberant exterior, enticing aromas drifting out onto Steinway Street, and jovial diners visible through a perennially ajar door, has long been atop my list of places to eat in Astoria, so it felt almost unforgivable that it had taken me two and a half years to finally get there. When on a recent night I arrived, with friends who had ventured down from New Rochelle with the promise of an Astorian culinary experience, we were welcomed like family or old friends into an exceptional dining experience.

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We walked in on a group of 15 or so women, looking to be in their 50’s and 60’s, finishing an epic meal, with voices raised in clamorous conversation. Instantly it registered that Mombar is a place to go with friends, a place to share food and stories with one another. After a warm welcome from both the hostess and chef/owner Moustafa El Sayed, we took note of how Mombar’s intriguing exterior gives way to an equally unique interior. Masks, artifacts, paintings, tea cups, and more jut from every inch of the walls. Our table tops, created by chef Moustafa, a talented artist, were mosaic eyes made from buttons, looking up at us as we excitedly determined what to eat.

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The meal began with a generous, complimentary plate of Egyptian bread known as Feteer. Astonishingly thin, flakey and buttery, this bread alone, served with an addictive za’atar dipping sauce, is good reason to return to Mombar. We shared Mombar’s signature appetizer, the Sahara Mix, which includes an earthy, smoky baba ganouj, a thick, garlicky hummus, and a sharp, spreadable cheese served with fresh pita; all were delicious. We ordered an appetizer special as well, a cozy warm beet salad with apples and onions that proved to be one of our favorite dishes of the night.

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Favorite entrees included the glazed duck with Egyptian molasses. The duck was tender, perfectly cooked, and easily separated from the bone, though the star of this dish was the crispy skin, with just a hint of sweetness provided by the molasses drizzle. We also loved the Shrimp Alexandria served in a delicious, savory sauce with onions, garlic and peppers. The entrees were served with rice or couscous, fashioned into pyramids.

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All of this happens in a tiny open kitchen with chef Moustafa in view, expertly turning out fantastic dishes, as the small restaurant fills up with the smell of garlic and spices. After each course, chef Moustafa made the rounds to see how all his guests were enjoying his creations. We had brought in our own bottles of red wine, and by the end of the night – three hours after we first sat down – as they rested empty on a counter near our table, Mombar felt more and more like a living room buzzing quietly in the waning hours of a party with great friends.

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There’s an openness and generosity to Mombar that reflects the openness of Astoria’s food scene at large with its sidewalk cafes spilling into the streets, communal beer gardens, effusive welcomes from restaurant owners and chefs, and enormous, sharable portions of food. Mombar’s open eye catches the gaze of every passerby, offers an open invitation to each of us, and understands the desire shared by all humans, to be seen, welcomed, and fed.

Many thanks to my dining companions and food photographers for the evening Tiffany DiNome and Gabe Bolivar. Recently married, they alternated throughout the meal, one holding a flashlight app to backlight the food while the other snapped a photo, great partners indeed.

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