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Essence of Flavor

by B.A. Nilsson on May 10, 2012

Garlic Lover’s Corner, 235 North Greenbush Road, North Greenbush, 283-1621, garlicloverscorner.com. Serving lunch 11-3 Mon-Fri, noon-3 Sat, dinner 4:30-9 Mon-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Entrée price range: $16 (GLC chicken Alfredo) to $22 (grilled ribeye)

Ambiance: casual

I like the fact that this restaurant has doggedly stuck with a moniker that celebrates an indispensable part of my diet. I’m enough of a garlic lover that I grow my own, harvesting large hardneck bulbs each fall that make a mockery of the imported supermarket stuff, bulbs with a moistness and sweetness and sharpness that flows into the very tendrils of the food I prepare it with. Sure, I’m crisping it and sweating it through soft sautées. But I’m also roasting the stuff—it’s better than butter on toast—and packing it in a variety of versions of pesto. In a few weeks I’ll be snapping the scapes off the plants for a bounty of string-bean-like veggies with built-in garlic flavor.

So I was secretly hoping that the Garlic Lover’s Corner might have evolved, over the five years since I visited it last, into something akin to San Francisco’s Stinking Rose Restaurant, where every course, every item is polluted with the stuff, dessert included. This is not the case. If you’re nervous about too much garlification of your food, well, you’re missing the essence of flavor. But you’ll do fine in this restaurant. They’ll help you navigate the path of blandness, from which few sinners return.

The restaurant sits in a strip mall on Route 4 (North Greenbush Road) about a mile south of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Chef-owner Nabil Assad opened the place in late 2007, in conjunction with his nephew Joseph Soliman, who now operates the excellent Sage Bistro in Guilderland. They share an Egyptian heritage but put together menus that take in a broad swath of Mediterranean cookery. Take the much-loved chicken. It appears in a Moroccan stew ($17), with a characteristic addition of apricots and cinnamon among an array of vegetables and sprinkling of chickpeas.

It’s also presented alla Toscana ($17), with sautéed spinach and melted provolone; Dijon ($19), in which it’s panko-coated, sautéed and served with a mustard-cream sauce; Pesto ($18), with artichokes and olives over penne pasta, and as a kebab ($19), where it’s skewered and grilled after a long marination. And there’s the dish I ordered, GLC chicken Alfredo ($16). I was in the mood for a creamy pasta dish, and the addition of chicken made it seem less self-indulgently caloric. The meat is grilled and the sauce, which is based on egg yolks and cream, is colored with tomatoes and spinach. A nice balance among the ingredients kept it from delivering the usual carb-heavy KO.

Although the appetizers list sports such favorites as fried calamari ($9), crab cakes ($10) and homemade mozzarella with tomatoes ($10), at its heart are some of the Mediterranean items I most enjoy, like hummus ($6), which is a chickpea purée adulterated into flavorless nonsense in many of its supermarket versions—and one of garlic’s finest vehicles. And baba ganoush ($7), which mashes roasted eggplant into a fragrant paste. And tzatziki ($6), in which cucumbers and sour cream commingle in a dilled, garlicky dip. And falafel ($6), yet another chickpea manifestation, this one seasoned and deep-fried and served with tahini, a sesame-seed paste.

And you can have all of the above, plus stuffed grape leaves, for $12, which is my inevitable starter. Plenty to share, and the warm pita slices served alongside make it simple to taste your way around the plate several times. Like commercial hummus, the other items have gained enough popularity over the years to achieve blandness. Try them at this restaurant to learn what you should be tasting. It won’t surprise you to learn that the judicious use of garlic figures into the equation.

The restaurant has a small banquet table at its front, a neglected bar in its middle and an array of tables towards the back. Pendant lights and muted artwork characterize the decor. Assad does double duty, covering front and rear of the house as his chef, Eric Freitag, keeps charge of the kitchen and a small service staff fully cover the floor. My wife and I visited on a quiet evening and felt well-attended, with the bonus of having Assad on hand to help craft our order details.

Dinner entrées also include veal parmigiana ($19), lasagna ($16), a Mediterranean vegetable bowl ($16, with eggplant, squash, tomatoes and more) and grilled ribeye with caramelized onions ($22). A lamb and apricot stew ($19) is very Moroccan, served over orzo, while lamb or beef kebabs ($19) are served, like many entrées, with jasmine rice and the day’s mixed vegetables.

Among the seafood items are salmon puttanesca ($19) and grilled swordfish ($21), although my wife chose the hibiscus sea scallops ($20) in order to sample the sauce, a reduction of hibiscus tea that settles gently over the plump, pan-seared mollusks, also topped with toasted almonds and grilled asparagus spears.

A fresh green salad is served before each entrée, and the house-made dressings include unusual mixtures like honey-sherry, which is an excellent combo, and cucumber-herb.

The lunch menu offers a similar entrée array in smaller portions and pricing, along with burgers and other sandwiches. I have my eye on the $8 Bedouin burger (served on pita with hummus) for a future visit. Beer and wine is available, which wasn’t the case during our last visit.

I tend to think too Albany-centrically when looking for satisfying dining, so it’s easy to overlook a place like this. But it’s friendly and casual and eager to please, thus well worth the small amount of added travel.