Last night was the end of an era. It was by only the most fortuitous of chances that we were there for it.
Laura and I had taken curmudgeon to the incomparable Kabab Cafe before, to be entertained, charmed, and provoked by our friend Ali El Sayed's patter and transported by his food. With Laura and me moving soon, doing it again while Curmudgeon was in town was critical.
Turns out it was more critical than we knew. Ali told us, "I'm glad you are here tonight. Tomorrow I will be closed. I leave for 25 days in Egypt." He went on to explain that on his return, he will begin renovating Kabab Cafeagain. He will change the menu, begin serving breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner, and train chefs to take over for him. He will then take his menu over to his brother Moustafa's excellent nearby restaurant Mombar, where he will sometimes cook and sometimes help oversee operations of both restaurants. He will use his trip to Egypt to work out plans for the new venture.
The changes are exciting, since Ali finally won't be tied to his tiny kitchen. But it was also a poignant eveningthe last night of the Kabab Cafe we've known all these years. There were only two other diners there when we arrived, but even with the pick of tables in the place, Ali suggested we sit in the niche near the door so he could talk to us over the counter of his kitchen. We drank too much Argentine Malbec while we enjoyed mixed appetizers of hummus, babaganouj, falafel, fried Swiss chard, apples, pears, and more; a more than appetizer portion of pumpkin dumplings in a spicy sauce; goat chops; beef short ribs; and an amazing dish of sand shark tail. I broke out a bottle of Balvenie Portwood 21yo I'd brought for usAli includedto enjoy along with dessert, which was a plate of selected Mediterranean pastries from the bakery down the street, together with yogurt and various fruits. I had thick coffee too.
And all the time, we talked food and travel and politics and sex and age with Ali, who is the most charming and flirtatious rogue on the planet. I forget exactly how the phrase "waxing one's camel" first came upit was something to do with Ali's plan to spirit my wife away with him to Egyptbut it became the watchphrase of the evening. Well, that and "sharking," which Ali had been told that day means biting someone on the ass. (Urban Dictionary tells a somewhat different story.)
Later on, a young man named Alex dropped in for dinner, and after he had eaten Ali put him to work taping paper over the front windows. (Alex had never heard of sharking either.) When the windows were papered, Ali broke out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label, and he and Alex and I all drank a toast. The women wisely abstained.
And that was it. Godspeed, Ali, and long may your camel stay waxed.