Plaza, 180 Delaware Ave., Delmar, 439-8800. Serving Tue-Sat
11-3, 4:30-9. MC, V.
price range: $13 (pasta à la Florentine) to $19 (seafood
One of the nice things about my job is my level of veto power.
A couple of weeks ago I joined some friends in a dining-out
venture, and when I murmured my dismay at their choice of
restaurant, they immediately insisted they’d switch to the
place of my choosing. We were in Albany; it had been a couple
of years since I’d last visited the Hidden Café; thither we
I was surprised and impressed by the transformation. It’s
still, as befits its moniker, squeezed into an unseeable corner
of Delaware Plaza; the space still bears the lunch-counter
look of its original occupant. But chef-owner Joseph Soliman
has continued to improve both the ambiance and the menu, fine-tuning
the flavor of the place as his clientele grows.
He was born in Egypt but worked for many years on the other
side of the door in some chichi Long Island restaurants. He
taught himself to cook by copying the dishes he served. “First
time I’d try one: not so good. Second time: better. By the
fourth time: excellent. That’s how I did it.”
When he opened the Hidden Café three years ago, he featured
a variety of Mediterranean dishes, items like spanakopita,
falafel, souvlaki and a variety of kebabs. But the menu has
evolved a more continental face. “I want to cook what pleases
me,” says Soliman, “and what pleases my customers.”
Reduce cooking to its fundamentals and you find any number
of opportunities to give a unique character to a meal. A recipe
may always call for capers and lemon juice, but you decide
the quality and amount of those ingredients; you also decide
when to add them and what other flavor components might be
Soliman’s cooking shows the consistent personality of a chef
who has reinvented the recipes he likes to suit his preferences.
Garlic, for example, is a very good friend. It shows up, sautéed,
simmered or roasted, in many an item.
It’s roasted in the seafood Levernesse ($19), which sweetens
the combo of sautéed shrimp and scallops in a tomato sauce
also flavored with olives and capers, all of it served over
Chicken dishes dominate the entrée list, priced from $14 to
$18. If you like it paired with potatoes, the chicken Mediterranean
adds a delicious combo of roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts
and portobello mushrooms; for a pasta pairing, the chicken
in chicken Sophia is tossed with spinach and garlic, sundried
tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in a tomato-cream sauce and
served over rigatoni.
Philly’s flat iron steak ($18) is a bargain-priced serving
of this boutique cut, paired with a blue cheese cream sauce
that’s redolent of roasted garlic. The mashed potatoes underneath
only enhanced its richness.
My favorite was the lamb kebab ($18). The combination of the
marinade and the charcoal grilling make this a fantastic presentation
of my favorite meat.
Among the appetizers are the Mediterranean classics, like
baba ghanoush, hummus, falafel and stuffed grape leaves. With
little persuasion, they’ll put a bunch of those together in
a platter that could well serve your entrée needs.
During one of my visits to the café, I witnessed what I call
the Olive Garden Phenomenon, a problem that’s more and more
plaguing our better restaurants. When you work in a professional
kitchen, you develop an inner timer. Thanks to my years in
the kitchen, I know when an entrée is ready. It’s become a
joke when I dine with my family: I can predict within seconds
when the meal will appear when the restaurant is running smoothly.
Too much lag time means the kitchen or floor staff is in the
weeds; too little time and your food probably emerged from
cryovac—and that’s the food source of many a chain restaurant.
The result is a clientele with an unrealistic sense of the
wait time for food.
Let me reiterate a point I can’t make too often: There’s no
such thing as a “30-minute gourmet.” Sure, you can sell cookbooks
and TV shows by pandering to the impatient, but those who
would feed you too quickly have no wish to feed you well.
Thus the OGP. I watched a nearby party place an order, fidget
silently, and in what seemed like no time at all, begin to
complain, first to one another, finally to the server. With
utterly unrealistic expectations, their dining experience
turned unpleasant. And it was self-inflicted—with the help
of the profit-hungry fast-food industry.
The server spoke valiantly in defense of prep and cooking
time, and I hope the result calmed the diners—but they were
too busy stuffing themselves to show reactions.
Soliman’s food ought to be enough to quell that level of anxiety.
He’s offering meals crafted around fresh ingredients, with
enough of a Mediterranean sensibility worked in to liven the
flavors in a healthy way.
It’s a friendly place with busy servers who nevertheless are
as attentive as possible (and Soliman invites anyone interested
in working the floor to get in touch with him). He’s obviously
bested the canard that you can’t have fine dining in a strip
Sure, he should be in a prestige location in downtown Albany
or, better yet, Saratoga. He should have tuxedo-clad servers
serving higher-priced food. He should get out of the Capital
Region altogether and find a place where the clientele knows
that real food takes time to prepare. But he’s staying here,
with his family and friends, and we’re the ongoing beneficiaries
of this kindness.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Regional Farm & Food Project presents
its eighth annual fall feast “Through Farmers’
Hands — A Country Prom” from 6 to 10 PM Monday
(Sept. 26) at the Canfield Casino in Saratoga
Springs, New York. The event features farm-fresh
local foods prepared and served by 29 farmers
and chefs, as well as old-time country music and
a live art auction. The event is presented in
collaboration with Putnam Market and Putnam
Wine of Saratoga Springs, who have organized
a presentation of New York State wines to complement
a selection of New York State cheeses. Brown’s
Brewing Company of Troy will be serving ale
and lager. Beekman Street Bistro, Easton
Mountain Retreat Center, Lily and the Rose
Catering, Mrs. London’s, Roadhouse
29, Slice of Heaven Breads and Spoonful
Catering will be presenting gourmet creations.
Divinitea will be serving artisan teas.
And High Peaks Java of Glens Falls will
serve organic fair-trade coffee. One of the goals
of this event is to produce zero waste. McEnroe
Organic Farm will accept all biodegradable waste
from the event at its composting facility in Millerton.
The event will introduce biodegradable table service
manufactured by Biocorp® of Rogers, Minn. Tickets
are $35 in advance or $45 at the door. Buy tickets
online at www.farmandfood.org or at Hawthorne
Valley Farm Store, Ghent; Honest Weight Food Coop,
Albany; Natural Food & More, Cobleskill; the
Open Door Bookstore, Schenectady; Putnam Market,
Saratoga Springs, or The Village Store, Cambridge.
For more information, call 271-0744. . . . The
Saratoga Lake Bistro (511 Route 9P, Saratoga
Lake) presents a Fall Wine Tasting Dinner Sept
29, 30, Oct 1 and 2. The four-course meal paired
with three glasses of wine is $49 per person.
During the Fall Wine Tasting Dinner, rooms at
the inn will be able available at a reduced rate
starting at $75. For a room reservation, call
495-7408; for bistro reservations, 587-8280. .
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..