They say you can't eat atmosphere, but if you could, I'm sure Jaffa's would be tasty. The overall impression is that the decor was done by a theatrical art director. The lighting in this cave-like semi-basement restaurant is subdued. The walls are covered with cheesy paintings which, although not actually executed in velvet, appear that they could be. The various sparkle lamps, mirrors, and plastic flowers combine to create a pleasantly kaleidoscopic background.
Jaffa attracts a chatty, vocal crowd, and when the place is more than half-way filled, the inevitable contest to be heard ensues, resulting in a voluble hum of conversation.
There is an actual smoking section, close enough to the rest of the tables that this entire, relatively-compact restaurant might as well all be smoking. Also, there is a fairly large back patio. The few outside tables at the front of the restaurant have a rather lonely, desolate feel, even when they are all full.
Although this restaurant, and Yaffa's part of Saint Mark's Place, don't have quite the overall toney effect of other neighborhood eat spots such as Pisces, it is quite rare to be accosted by change-sparing folk while sitting on the front deck here. This is probably one of the few sidewalk restaurant patios in the city where you could feasiblely purchase a dime bag of pot with your meal.
The service at Jaffa has somewhat deteriorated over the last few years. As the restaurant has become more established, the staff does not quite strive for excellence as they once did. They do have a very active team of buspersons, so it is generally easy to get water, napkins, and those sorts of things. Unfortunately, the waiters are somewhat scarce, though this is largely due to the size of stations which the management gives them.
As of late, they have taken up the practice of having somebody besides the waiter bringing out the mains. This is an extremely poor practice and really prevents you from getting a minimal level of service. If the waiter came to the table immediately after the delivery of the mains to see if you needed anything, it would mitigate this behavior, but they do not. The second to the last time I ate at Jaffa, the service was particularly bad. When I eat out, I am the star, not the waiter. I don't care if he is an unemployed actor. The last time I ate there the service was more personable, though the waiter erred $20 in the house's favor when adding the check. At least she was loyal.
As you would guess from its name, there is some kind of Israeli tie-in with this restaurant. I believe the owners are Israeli. It used to be common to have Israeli waiters, though the last few times I have eaten here the waiters were American. While there are a few mid-eastern items on the menu, the food is mainly what you could call New York City bistro. This is the kind of place where you can bring a large, heterogenous group of people and find something on the menu which will please each one of them.
The prices at Jaffa have gone up quite a bit recently, though this was after a period of several years with no changes. It is still a good value. I usually have the Jaffa Spinach Fettucine, $7.95 (was $5.95), which is a very generous portion of spinach pasta in a cream sauce with broccoli and mushrooms. This comes with a romaine-lettuce salad (choice of oil & vinegar or Jaffa's excellent carrot dressing) and a couple of pieces of butter-soaked garlic bread (not for people on a strict low-calorie diet). It's kind of like tasty kid food for adult lacto-ovo vegetarians. I like the salad and garlic bread so much that I often order these a la carte if I get something that doesn't include these items ($3.00 for the salad, $2.00 for the garlic bread).
If you like seafood, you might want to try the catfish, broiled, with cajun spices ($10.95). This comes with the same salad and bread, plus a starch (potato or rice) and a vegetable (corn on the cob or broccoli). The shrimp scampi on linguine ($10.95) is very tasty. It also comes with the salad.
I recently had the spinach ravioli ($9.95). This came with a dull, oily red sauce over vegetables (tomato, squash) which were either steamed or sauteed. The sauce completely drowned out the flavor of the veggies. The ravioli itself, with a mixture of spinach and ricotta stuffing, was decent.
Beer is $4.00, whether you order Rolling Rock, Heineken, or Sam Adams (that's about the whole selection). There is champagne and a few different kinds of wine by the glass ($4.50 to $6.00). The waiter's description of the house red was scary ("a mix of merlot and cabernet"). I tried the "organic" red, and it was fine ($6.00). Coffee runs from $1.25 for regular up to about $4.00 for the cappucino-type permutations.
As mentioned above, the menu has something for everyone. Unfortunately, while Jaffa is open continuously, they do not serve breakfast at all times. In fact, breakfast actually ends by about noon, and even omelettes are only served until around four in the afternoon. The selection of salads, most served in very large portions, is extensive, with prices around $6.00. You can add cubes of chicken to your salad for $2.00. There are soups, which I have not tried, and these go for about $4.00. They have some middle-eastern items, such as an appetizer platter for $6.00 with babaganoush, tahini, olives, and the like.
The vanilla cheese cake ($4.25) is quite nice. They also have banana cheese cake, but this comes with a somewhat overpowering Oreo crust ($4.75). Other desserts include three-berry pie, carrot cake, pecan pie, sour-cream/walnut apple pie, and chocolate mousse cake. Apparently they buy these desserts from a baker, but the quality is high.
While the service at Jaffa has become perfunctory, they do not push too hard to turn over the tables. The ubiquitous buspersons will scoop your plate out from under you approximately three milliseconds after you finish your last bite (and sometimes three milliseconds before you finish your last bite), but there is no problem with sitting over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Even when there is a line for the tables (they do not take reservations), they will not rush you at the end of your meal.
If you feel comfortable eating at a restaurant where lots of other people eat, you should be well pleased with Yaffa in New York City's East Village neighborhood. Located on Saint Mark's Place, just east of First Avenue, Jaffa is crowded, moderately priced, and an enjoyable place to eat.
Read all 9 Reviews
Write a Review
Kid Friendliness: Yes
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations Send a Jaffa to your son in the Pashas.
Best Suited For: Romantic Evening