Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Al Safa: Good Food Across the Street

Our first meal as resident New Yorkers was at Mazza Plaza.

We had driven all day from Columbus and were about two hours behind schedule thanks to a traffic jam in Pennsylvania. The Saturn was loaded up with a few odds and ends we hadn't sent with the movers a few days before, along with our two full-grown cats. It was October but very hot -- we grabbed lunch at a rest stop but hurriedly ate it in the air-conditioned car; we just couldn't leave the cats in the heated vehicle while we lingered over a big meal.

By the time we unloaded the car and cats into our new, empty apartment and then found a parking spot, it was nearing midnight. We were tired, and now wasn't the time for exploring. The only spot that seemed to be open was across the street: Mazza Plaza. We downed our Middle Eastern food and watched the Cleveland Indians play a post-season game on a small TV propped on what I remember as some kind of large cabinet. The food served its purpose, but I was so worn out that I couldn't have told you whether or not it was good. All that mattered was that it was edible.

Then, a few years ago, Mazza Plaza was suddenly renovated and replaced withAl Safa. The restaurant got not only brighter, but also busier. The menu seemed similar. Paul had been there a handful of times when I was away for dinner or otherwise looking in another direction, but I had been in the building only once since our first night in New York. I couldn't remember if it was Mazza Plaza or Al Safa that second time. Obviously it was time to try it out again.

We went almost by accident. It was July 4th, and our first two choices were unexpectedly closed for the holiday. It was hot, and we didn't feel like walking. Al Safa take-out was a last resort. It was so good I feel a little guilty even writing that last sentence.

I'd been eager to try za'atar, an herb mixture served on a flat round piece of dough about the size of a personal pizza, folded over and eaten. (Other toppings were also available, and I'm anxious to try those, too.) Paul and I also split a small container of delicious hummus and a side of pita bread.

I'm lucky to have such a good, authentic, inexpensive restaurant just steps from our apartment, and anyone can tell that I don't take advantage of it nearly as much as I should. When I go out to eat, I want to go out, and that doesn't include restaurants I can practically see from the living room window. One of the reasons we love this neighborhood, however, is the number of restaurants and storefronts within walking distance. Now I just have to visit them more often.

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