If you’re on the Upper East Side and in the mood for a change of tune, Hummus 21 delivers pleasant Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Owner Safone Ahmed may seem like an unlikely ambassador for Mediterranean fare—his family is from Bangladesh, and he got his culinary start serving British cuisine at his family’s restaurant in London, at age 15.
Then Ahmed moved to New York and got his first job at a kosher Mediterranean restaurant working under an Egyptian chef. Since the Jewish kosher tradition does not allow meat and dairy to be prepared together, the chef taught him how to replace butter and other milk-derived ingredients in common Mediterranean dishes. At Hummus 21, though the restaurant no longer has kosher certification, Ahmed continues to use spices, soy milk, and margarine in place of dairy ingredients, with delicious results.
Ordering a couple of scrumptious “mazza” (appetizers) for the table to share is a good start. Among the standouts are some dishes that are not commonly found on Mediterranean menus, like the “Briwat” ($6), a Moroccan version of spring rolls, and the “Bureka” ($6), a puff pastry found throughout the Middle East. The Briwat has an incredibly crispy skin covering a savory filling of finely ground beef and herbs that brings a tingle of heat to the tongue. The Bureka has a crunchy, flaky shell, which upon biting into, reveals a hearty, creamy filling of wild mushrooms and potatoes.
The more common dishes are also well executed. The Mediterranean Grape Leaves ($6), for example, are zesty and minty, but with a hint of sweetness you don’t usually find in the grape leaves stuffed with basmati rice and herbs. The sweetness comes from the sauce, in which Ahmed replaces the typical yogurt with soy milk.
The tabouli salad (spelled Tabule on the menu, $6) is refreshing, with the bulgur wheat serving as a mild complement to the parsley, cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, and bright lemon vinaigrette mixed in. It’s a fresh, clean dish that gets your taste buds excited.
As for the restaurant’s namesake dish, the hummus ($11) is dressed with a touch of paprika, olive oil, and parsley, but remains light. If you like your hummus smooth and creamy with a clear chickpea flavor, this version is perfect for you.
Among the entrees, you can’t go wrong with the kebab. On the Wild Salmon ($22) and Mix Kebab ($26) platters, the fish and meats were grilled just right. The salmon is fall-off-the-fork tender, while the meats are flavored with spices that delight the palate. Both dishes come with a variety of grilled vegetables and “mejedra” rice, a Middle-Eastern mixture of lentils and rice.
For dessert, there’s the dairy-free ice cream ($5), the Chocolate Soufflé cake ($6.50), or the restaurant’s version of baklava ($5.50) that’s crispier and less cloyingly sweet than the ones you typically find at pastry shops—all of which make for a lovely ending to a satisfying meal.
But I was more intrigued by the “Malabi” ($6), a Middle Eastern flan-like dessert, made here with soy milk. The result is a light, mild palate-cleanser, with a hint of sweetness from the rose water syrup and shredded coconut on top. The “Kadaif” ($7) is also fun to eat, consisting of a layer of crunchy shredded filo dough, with drizzled honey and a scoop of vanilla cream on top.
1055 First Ave. (between 57th & 58th streets)
5 p.m.–10:30 p.m.