Dinign Out: Look behind red curtain for Mediterranean flavor

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188-02 Union Turnpike

Jamaica Estates


If you like Mediterranean cuisine, Habustan is a must. Hurry. Habustan offers outdoor wining and dining under umbrellaed tables along 188th Street (which comes into its own when traffic slackens) and also in the green- and white-walled garden area.

There’s a direct entrance to Habustan on 188th Street under the Baron Herzog sign. If you enter at the corner of Union Turnpike, as we happened to, you’ll be standing in Bagels & Co. with dairy breakfast-to-supper fare, and sweets to nosh there or takeout.

Floor to ceiling deep-red velvet drapery curtains hang off the rear. Enter through them and you are in Habustan. It’s a somewhat Victorian dining room with an armoire holding glasses for Baron Herzog wine selections. Ceiling fans rotate lazily among the five chandeliers. You’ll find fresh carnations and candlelight at each table.

Two and a half years ago, Haim Levi, his wife Daniella and daughter Michelle created this Kosher dairy restaurant with exceptional Mediterranean fare and charm.

When we were seated, brined carrots and pickled small cauliflower were presented for nibbling along with the menu. We noted no appetizer listing. Instead, an array of samplings appear — roasted red peppers, an eggplant dip, labane (a fine sour cheese dip), pickled beets and a warm, round focaccia.

There were seven intriguing salads. The Mediterranean-style chopped vegetable salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, red onions, scallions and parsley, seasoned with mint, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper is distinguished by being chopped pinhead fine. The caprezze salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, onions and chunks of fresh mozzarella served with basil and honey mustard dressing would have been my choice, except that the portobello salad seemed a natural with my entrée. And it was. Warm, grilled portobello slices (more, please) plus a fresh tasting olive oil and lemon, cilantro vinaigrette. I detected marjoram, an herb I haven’t had often until recently. It lifted the whole salad up — it added another dimension.

The menu had intriguing Spanish tapas with lasagna sheets layered with roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan. (A great name but is it tapas?) My waiter assured me that the day’s special, an eggplant Parmigiana was far superior. And it was. Here was eggplant Parmigiana raised to the epicurean level- — a round portion with puffy, delicate eggplant and a luscious fresh tomato sauce plus Parmesan.

The dairy menu is divided into salads, pastas and seafood dishes. My dining companion went down to the sea. Her choice, an exciting salmon, rose with an incredible tangy herb and caper sauce. The chef, Simon Mann, is master at seasoning with a Ph.D. in herbology. The salmon is baked on sprigs of dried wild thyme. Filets, rolled up, halved and baked cut side up (resembling a rose or pastry snail) was a gem. Her vegetable was broccoli (cooked to an over-doneness that was once in) and ultra-thinly sliced (with the skins on) sweet potato with lemon and a hint of mustard. (Terrific). I might have been inclined to have Lebanese rice with garlic, onions, pine nuts, cinnamon and mint.

How do I know so much about her salmon rose? Our nice waiter gave me her doggy bag. She even had conjectured, “If he gets them mixed, it wouldn’t be a hardship.” I’ll second that.

As a dairy restaurant, we had a wide range of desserts for choosing from panna cotta to homemade ice cream. I went with the Italian mold of gelatin, creme fraîche and heavy cream but the idea of caramel sauce didn’t thrill me. It turned out to be very complimentary, a knockout of a sauce — thin, pale amber and delectable. Her Bavarian cream was nicely served in a small oval casserole topped with chocolate sauce and finely chopped walnuts. She liked the UBet-like sauce. Coffee for her. Mint tea for me. A glass of hot water arrived with fresh mint leaves afloat and a tea bag — an interesting service.

On the way out we stopped in Bagels & Co. open for bagels and wraps for breakfast, appetizers and salads for lunch. Behind the deep red drapery, Habustan opens at 5 p.m. for distinguished Mediterranean dining.

The Bottom Line

Distinguished Mediterranean, Kosher dairy dining. Nice service. Setting reminiscent of red velvet Victorian. Outdoor dining in garden in season. Baron Herzog wines. Entrance on 188th Street.

Chef’s Choice

Mediterranean Style Chopped Vegetable Salad (very finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red cabbage, red onions, scallions and parsley, seasoned with mint, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper)...$6.95/$9.95

Caprezze Salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, onions & mozzarella, served with basil & a honey dressing)...$6.95/$9.95

Gnocchi Pesto (gnocchi in a creamy pesto sauce)...$13.95

Ravioli Fungi (spinach ravioli served with fresh mushrooms, cream sauce, white wine, fresh herbs and spices)...$13.95

Baked Salmon Rose (served with a tangy fresh herbs and caper sauce)...$17.95

St. Peter-Moosht-(Whole fish grilled with a unique mixture of spices, served with garlic sauce)...$19.95

Creme Bruleé...$6.25

Bavarian Cream...$6.95

Cuisine: Mediterranean Kosher dairy

Setting: Deep red velvet & chandeliers

Service: Accommodating

Hours: D Sun -Thurs. Closed Fri. D Sat 1 1/2 hours after Sabbath. Reservations: Recommended

Parking: Street

Location: Enter on 188th St. under Baron Herzog sign

Dress: Casual

Credit cards: All major. No Discover

Children: Spaghetti

Takeout: Yes. No delivery

Off-premise catering: No

Private parties: From 65 to 70. With garden 150

Noise level: Thurs, Sat, Sun moderate

Smoking: Outdoors

Handicap access: Ramp

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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