All photos by Scott Lynch
Jun 6, 2022
Nabila’s brings lebanese home cooking to Cobble Hill
Owner Michael Farah seeks to recreate the legendary dinner parties of his mother, Nabila, on the corner of Court and Kane Streets
Michael Farah, the owner of the new Nabila’s in Cobble Hill—and, even more relevant to your dining experience here, the son of the namesake Nabila—has harbored a pair of years-long dreams: 1) to get out of his career in finance and open a restaurant and 2) to bring his mother’s home cooking to Cobble Hill, where he’s lived for almost two decades.
“I know the New York dining scene and I love it and I know how brutally competitive it is,” Farah told Brooklyn Magazine this week. “But I always felt like I had something in my back pocket, and that’s my mother’s cooking.”
Not that Nabila Farah’s cooking has been a secret. After fleeing civil war in Beirut in 1978, Nabila and her family lived in Egypt, the Bay Area (where Farah was born), and Saudi Arabia before winding up in Washington D.C. where, in addition to hosting epic diner parties, Nabila has run a successful catering business for the past 20 years.
“I always felt like there was something special in my mom’s food,” said Farah. “I think the reason she’s had success in D.C., where there are a lot of expats, is that she serves ‘home cooking Lebanese,’ which is different from ‘restaurant Lebanese.’ Even in Lebanon it’s different. This is the food we ate growing up, it’s just really soulful, and beautiful, and complex, and I think it has a different level of deliciousness than your usual grilled meat.”
And while Nabila herself isn’t in the kitchen here in Brooklyn, Farah and his chef de cuisine Luis Ahuet spent many months with the matriarch prior to the opening, turning her lifetime of culinary experience into replicable recipes. “Nabila was born with this food on her tongue,” said Farah. “Her mother taught her to cook, her grandmother taught her to cook, the dishes are age-old.”
Ahuet, who was born and raised in Veracruz, and whose New York cooking career includes stints at Meadowsweet, Nix, and Eleven Madison Park, is no stranger to Lebanese food. His grandfather, an immigrant to Mexico from Beirut, made sure that Middle Eastern mainstays like kibbeh and hummus were on the table throughout Ahuet’s youth. “Nabila loves Luis,” said Farah. “She’ll be the first to say it, she’s never met anyone who’s really mastered her cooking like he has. He really nailed it.”
Nabila’s is one of those hybrid counter-service/table-service restaurants with a non-traditional twist: All of the day’s dishes are set out before you on the counter, in baking pans and on platters, as a kind of a visual menu.
“For me the most visceral memories of my mother’s cooking were her dinner parties,” said Farah. “She would throw these spectacular dinner parties, and the whole D.C. Middle Eastern community would look forward to them. I had this idea to create a model that sort of emulated that, because part of what was always important at her parties was the reveal, when you would walk into her dining room and there would be this beautiful, abundant spread, so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
At Nabila’s in Cobble Hill you order up front, grab a table in one of the nifty little nooks near the counter, or in the bright, spacious back dining area, or out front on the sidewalk, and a server will bring you your feast.
The impressively lengthy menu is structured for maximum versatility. If you just want to get some snacks and maybe a glass or two of wine, Nasila’s has three pita-and-dip options (the mouhamara, made from roasted red pepper, walnut, and shatta for some kick, is excellent).
There are also five “small bites,” which are sold by the piece so you can assemble your own hors d’oeuvres tray. In the latter category, the meaty kibbeh and sfeeha, and the dense, spinach-stuffed fatayer, are particularly satisfying.
The above can also be combined with room-temperature salads like tabbouleh, couscous with black-eyed peas, a bright and lively eggplant creation that co-stars pomegranate, and harak osbao, made from green lentils and plenty of garlic.
Six entree-sized plates are also available, including sheesh barak, which are doughy beef dumplings spooned over a yogurt sauce; malfouf, which are stuffed cabbage mini-rolls filled with beef and rice; and a very good freekah and lamb dish.
Nabila’s ambitious menu extends into dessert, with a half-dozen choices ranging from bite-sized loukoum (more commonly known here as Turkish delights) and date-filled maamoul cookies to an elaborate knafeh ashta with layers of shredded filo and Lebanese custard.
“I was adamant that I would only do this in Cobble Hill, because this is my home,” said Farah. “To me it’s a very personal project, an ode to my mother’s cooking–and it really is her cooking here, not just thematically her cooking, it’s her cooking—so it was important to me that Nabila’s felt connected to my community.”
Nabila’s is located at 248 Court Street, at the corner of Kanre Street, and is currently open on Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with lunch hours promised soon (347-689-9504)
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