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Lebanese Restaurant Pairs Middle Eastern Flavors with Craft Beer

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | January 3, 2013 7:45am

QUEENS — A Forest Hills restaurant celebrated for its traditional Lebanese dishes is pairing its  flavors with craft suds.

Wafa’s Restaurant, which opened at 100-05 Metropolitan Avenue two years ago, serves Middle Eastern favorites including tabouleh, fattoush, shish tawook, okra, kibbe, chicken shawarma and rosto, which contains chopped beef and lamb, garlic, nuts and parsley.

It recently started serving craft beers to wash them down.

Bitburger, a German pilsner, would taste best with falafel, green salad or tabouleh, according to the menu. Ommegang Witte, made in Copperstown, NY, is recommended with babaganoush, cheese pie, fattoush or any white fish and Abita Light, a beer produced in Abita Springs, Louisiana, would taste best with grape leaves, mujadarah and shish tawook.

The pairings are suggested by Union Beer, a Brooklyn-based company specializing in distributing craft beers.

The restaurant has also started serving Lebanese wines from Chateau Ksara, a wine company in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and will soon offer a Lebanese beer, Almaza, said Houssein Salameh, 31. He owns the restaurant with his mother, Wafa Chami, and his two brothers, Youssef and Charif.

The restaurant's menu is also growing, said Salameh, and has recently expanded its offerings to include bazella, a hearty stew that contains beef, chunks of lamb, green peas, carrots, corn niblets, homemade tomato sauce, cilantro and garlic.

Traditionally, bazella is served with white rice, but Wafa's serves it with basmati rice.

“It's a winter dish,” said Youssef Salameh, 32. “It’s very hearty and it will keep you warm.”

Soon the restaurant will also serve za’atar, a Middle Eastern herb traditionally eaten with pita; labneh, a strained yoghurt; makdous, which is baby eggplant stuffed with walnuts and red peppers; and ful medames which consists of fava beans, chick peas, olive oil, fresh lemon and garlic sauce.

Salameh's mom, who is the chef, promises to wow patrons with her unique recipes, which she learned from her mother and grandmother while growing up in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

“Every dish has a secret,” said Chami, 54, who immigrated to the U.S. in the '70s.

For example, Chami adds ground coffee to her grape leaves, following her grandmother’s unique recipe.

All dishes except the pita are made from scratch.

She even grills eggplant for babaganoush herself, while many restaurants prepare it using grilled eggplant from a can, she said.

Chami, who started her business more than four years ago as a small take-out place on 72 Avenue in Forest Hills, said she starts cooking each day at 8 a.m.

She said her secret is that she "loves cooking" — especially while listening to Lebanese music.