of the Middle East
By B.A. Nilsson
River St., Troy, 270-9404. Serving Mon-Sat 10:30-8. AE, D,
15th St., Troy, 273-1170. Serving Mon-Thu 11-11, Fri-Sat 11-midnight.
AE, MC. V.
River St., Troy, 266-9300. Serving Tue-Sat 8-5. D, MC, V.
In culinary terms, Troy is our most Protean city. There was
a time when it was poised to become the area’s fine-dining
capital; for a while it seemed to be attracting funky vegetarian
joints and coffee shops. No single identity has emerged, but
there’s a new one that threatens to become a defining force.
Troy has hosted a selection of superior Italian restaurants
quite well over the years, to the point where it hardly seems
ethnic any more. But the food of other, less-familiar cultures
has been moving in. Shalimar has been a reliable stop for
Indian fare for several years; it has a more recent neighbor
in First Choice Caribbean. But it’s the Middle East that suddenly
has achieved a more determined presence. It began when Ali
Baba, a Turkish restaurant, opened on 15th Street, with the
unlucky timing of opening its doors in August 2001. It withstood
whatever political repercussions may have been floating around
then and has gone on to become extremely popular, especially
on Friday and Saturday nights.
It wasn’t a total change of pace for the venue, which hosted
a short-lived kebab house before. In the case of Marmora Café,
the River Street space was an office before Moheb and Maggie
Habib turned it into a restaurant; he had been running a distribution
business there before he was persuaded to turn it into an
eatery that features favorites from his native Egypt.
Paul Chedrawee, on the other hand, already had a restaurant
at his River Street location before he renamed it Al-Baraki
and switched the menu from pizza to Lebanese fare. It’s a
tiny storefront with a handful of tables, but you couldn’t
feel more welcome when Paul and his wife, Simone, take charge
of your dining intentions and guide you through what will
seem like unfamiliar cookery only for the briefest time. In
summer months, sidewalk tables allow you to soak in the atmosphere
of what’s becoming Troy’s antique-shop district. You can also
rent a hookah ($5) for an al fresco smoke.
Paul or Simone will be quick to encourage you to try a sampler
platter ($6.50 to $10, depending on the size of your party),
which features tastes of the falafel (deep-fried chickpeas),
hummus (chickpea and tahini paste), stuffed grape leaves (they
stuff their own), baba ghanouj (smoked eggplant paste) and
more, served with a heap of pita.
It’s vegetarian heaven here, adding that elusive element of
flavor to meatless dishes. Paul is enough of a fan of garlic
that he not only includes appreciable quantities of it in
his cooking, but also has perfected a recipe for a garlic
paste that’s available as a side dish—it’s a killer spread
on pita—and soon will be marketed to the public. Meat dishes
also are many, featured as kebabs, in pastry and on what amounts
to a wafer-crust pizza. The lentil soup is a treasure, as
is the tabbouli, a salad that for once isn’t dominated by
the bulghur wheat that’s nevertheless a key component.
Soup is also a Marmora Café specialty, and I overheard several
phone calls asking about the day’s blends during a recent
visit. The café is a handsome facility, not overly large but
certainly accommodating, a display of baklava variants dominating
a counter at the rear of the room. Chef-owner Moheb Habib
had long been cooking for family and friends when he decided
to share his skill with the general public, and he is delighted
to explain what’s available and help you choose a soup or
salad or sandwich.
For the less adventuresome, traditional sandwiches are available,
but who wants to eat turkey or ham and cheese with more exotic
fare nearby? Still, the ham and cheese I sampled ($5, ordered
because I needed to know this) was a cut above what’s too
often a bland presentation of too-little meat and imitation
The lunch menu, on which nothing tops $8, also features the
usual suspects: hummus, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves
($4 for each of those dishes, served with pita), falafel (available
as a $7 platter or $6 wrap) and the sandwich of pressed ground
meat and yogurt-based sauce called a gyro ($6) and
pronounced every which way, but too often Americanized into
the one wrong way, “jy-ro.”
At Ali Baba, you don’t have to wrestle with the pronunciation.
It’s called a durum wrapped kebab ($6), and it’s one of the
best you’ll find north of Manhattan. Note the rotisserie in
the back sporting a huge loaf of pressed meats; note the fiery
brick oven, in which loaves of lavash bread puff into huge
The sampler platter features a Turkish twist on hummus, baba
ganouj, etc., and, at $9, is a great lunch or dinner bargain.
Many kebabs and pressed meat dishes are offered; so, too,
is plenty of vegetarian fare.
And there’s pizza. “But it’s not regular pizza,” co-owner
Hakki Cakal assures me. “We don’t have the toppings you might
expect. Our chicken curry pizza is very popular. So is the
donar kebab pizza.” The $17 pies are large and tasty and a
welcome alternative to the usual.
Although the countries represented here—Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt—may
not always be the best of friends, that’s an abstraction of
politics. Here, where it’s also food-related, the owners speak
well of one another, acknowledging that such variety helps
the business of all.
They also have in common that each is a family-run business,
where the customers become an extension of that spirit. And
there’s no question in my mind that when we dine at the tables
of one another, abstractions of hostility disappear.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
recently celebrated the grand opening of Villa
Italia Pasticceria in a beautiful new building
at 226 Broadway. It signals the rebirth of an
institution that served the city for 40 years
from its former space in Rotterdam. The Mallozzi
family (which also runs their namesake restaurant
in Rotterdam) is positioning itself to be part
of the rebirth of downtown Schenectady itself,
characterized by the expansion of Proctor’s and
the expected arrival of several new shops and
restaurants. The new Villa Italia totals 7,200
square feet, five-sixths of which is given over
to the commercial bakery, producing breads, pastries,
fancy cakes and much more; the retail shop also
features sandwiches and homemade gelato. And the
display cases, true to the family’s roots, were
imported from Italy. . . . Remember to pass your
scraps to Metroland (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
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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..