Late Nite Bites In New York: Casa La Femme

Years ago, there was an oasis of innocent late night debauchery at Casa La Femme, perched then at 150 Wooster. There were elegant tented dining tables, pulsating belly dancers, and hookah smokers all wrapped around a myriad of Middle Eastern cuisine with full flavored Egyptian beer flowing into the wee hours of the morning... and then it was gone.

Thankfully, Casa La Femme has returned! Charismatic owners Medhat Ibrahim and Anastasios Hariatidas have brought back the true fun and mystery in an Egyptian-inspired late night restaurant on Charles Street. You enter the room and you'll find a lavish bar spreading around the room, followed by a sunken dining room featuring a circular fireplace that illuminates its surroundings. Some tables are shaded with cloth, and when your sit in these harem-like positions you'll feel like some kind of a New York Lawrence of Arabia.

Casa la Femme is loaded with late night revelers and fashionistas alike, all noshing and cramming for a view of the belly dancer that gyrates her hips around the room nightly. Medhat and Anastasi buzz around the room greeting guests and strangers. They're soft spoken, extremely warm and likeable, and make you feel special. As for the food, it's elevated Middle Eastern and goes perfect with their inspiring signature cocktails. Try the hummus, a chickpea spread that is seen everywhere, as well as some spiced up harissa — delicious!

You could do the "White Tent Pri-Fixe" for $55, where you choose from such exotic bites as the Salata Gargeer, a crisp baby arugula salad with watercress and mint, or the Warak Enah, traditional Egyptian grape leaves will rice, dill, parsley, and coriander. Also, try the goulash bil ghibnah, light pillowy pastries stuffed with earthy mushrooms, leeks, and fresh herbs. Casa La Femme is lively, while you're eating, glance across the room and people watch — there is a lot to see!

For crab lovers, try the crabmeat koftas, very tasty. For the main, try the firakh mashwaya, grilled sumac seasoned free-range boneless chicken served over molokhya rice, one of the better chicken dishes. The gamberi mashway was decent too, whole-grilled prawns charred to a delicate pinkish hue served over Sayadeya rice. One thing you can't leave Casa La Femme without having is the riash mashway- tender grilled lamb chops that are melt-in-the-mouth good, and the tagine — a North-African dish named after the earthenware pot it is cooked in. Here they do it with a crabmeat stuffed white fish or fresh market vegetables.

Casa La Femme is more than just a restaurant or a late night hangout — it's truly an institution of food and lots of good time memories (for the people around for the original) whether you can remember them or not — if you can't — fortunately you can always start new ones. It's truly a great late night bite experience not to be missed.