Restaurant Review

Kafe Kabul

Middle Eastern rugs and pillows, beaded curtains, cracked goat’s-hide lampshades—you’re in for Middle Eastern food, right? Not quite. Apart from a few Middle Eastern sides, Kafe Kabul serves European and North American bistro fare. The idea, a sign explains, is to celebrate the spirit of ancient Kabul when it was a cultural crossroads on the Silk Road that linked trade between East and West.

Kafe Kabul sits just off the dining room of Rat’s, the upscale flagship of the 35-acre sculpture park and museum that is Grounds for Sculpture. You can request the pricier Rat’s menu, but you needn’t. Kabul’s own menu has its pitfalls in the more ambitious dishes, but the appetizers and basics are reasonably priced and well executed.

From the scimitar-shaped bar comes a host of bracing and inventive cocktails. Try the Frivoli-Tea, a ginger-infused variation on Long Island Iced Tea, or the Southern Man, a salute to the haunting Neil Young song of the same name. “Better keep your head,” the song (and the menu) advises, but that won’t be easy given the drink’s seductive combo of bourbon, sweet vermouth, rhubarb-infused syrup, and rose water.

A satisfying starter reworks poutines, the Québécois bar snack of french fries, cheese, and gravy. Replacing the traditional curds (a cheddar byproduct) with a rich cheddar amplifies the texture and flavor, as does a sprinkling of diced red onion. Most entrées come with a choice of salad or fries. Go with the latter, virtue be damned. They were consistently crisp and appetizing in a way the overdressed and underwhelming salads were not.

A buttery foie gras pâté, served with deliciously tart preserved plums, was a winner, but rubbery wok-fried squid in a mess of soggy Asian greens was misbegotten. The assorted tapas, however, were mouthwatering, with plump green olives, eye-opening slices of pickled lemon, meaty grilled anchovies, marinated mushrooms, and spicy lamb sausage.

Main courses, as mentioned, were uneven. Salmon and strip steak were well seasoned and expertly grilled, but neither was particularly fresh or flavorful. A credible Cuban sandwich featured rich pulled pork and crunchy, briny pickles, but croque monsieur was barely grilled, and a vegetable risotto came out dry and bland. A burger ordered medium-rare arrived barely rare; luckily, the first-rate organic beef was enjoyable even without a char.

A fresh peach crisp took advantage of delicious seasonal fruit, and a slice of Big Fat Chocolate Cake, while not very big, was dense and flavorful.–SP

On Long Beach Island in the off-season, traffic lights blink yellow over empty streets. Most shops and restaurants go into hibernation, but Beach Haven’s Gables Inn and Restaurant remains open on weekends from September 17 to May 17, when it reopens full-time. The atmosphere is beckoning, with silver and glassware sparkling on white tablecloths under the warm light of chandeliers.

But the solace of the setting is outweighed by overpriced and inconsistent food. Gables has been called the best restaurant between New York City and Washington, D.C. That was under chef Adolfo de’Martino, who departed in 1999. Under executive chef Paul Simon, who started last Valentine’s Day, Gables doesn’t carry the same cachet.

Slices of house-made raisin-walnut bread, though excellent, were ill-suited to the accompanying hummus, olive oil, and olive tapenade. Chorizo added a pleasant smokiness to excellent steamed mussels in citrus-lobster broth. Also good were mixed greens with marinated goat cheese, green apple, and shallot vinaigrette. But three diminutive grilled shrimp were served with an underwhelming trio of sauces—a decent basil crème fraîche, a bland saffron sauce, and an insipid banana sauce, which, along with two crispy pieces of prosciutto, seemed like an afterthought.

While entrées are enormous, none are priced under $30. The $45 grilled New York strip steak was a trophy of prime beef, but the Parmesan-barley risotto with it was gluey and incredibly salty. Gables serves the excellent scallops of the Viking Village fishery in nearby Barnegat Light, but the accompanying truffle demi-glace was salty as seawater. A tender, meaty, pan-roasted lobster with savory coconut rice and Napa cabbage slaw was wasted under a harshly citric almond-orange emulsion.

Desserts, like the breads, are top-notch and made in-house. But by the time you taste the ethereal chocolate mousse, the imposing carrot cake Napoleon with caramelized pineapple, or the delicious homemade ice creams, it’s too late in the game, whether or not it’s late in the season.

Reviewed November 2007

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    Middle Eastern
  • Price Range:
    Moderate
  • Kafe Kabul
    16 Fairgrounds Rd
    Hamilton, NJ
  • Hours:
    Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 am to 9 pm
    LUNCH: Saturday, 11:30 am to 3 pm
    DINNER: Tuesday through Friday, 5:15 to 9 pm; Sunday, 11:30 am to 6 pm

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