N. Allen St., Albany, 437-3537. Serving Tue-Wed 11-6, Thu-Sat
11-9. AE, D, MC, V.
Lebanese Entrée price range: $8.50 (falafel
plate) to $15.50 (mixed grill) Ambiance: deli-ish
The menu notes that the food is prepared with “the freshest
ingredients possible” and according to traditional Phoenician
recipes, saluting Lebanon’s ancient heritage.
Phoenicia may be best known as the country that invented the
alphabet, but it also was an important center of trade; not
surprising when you hug a thriving waterway like the Mediterranean
Sea. And, like all Mediterranean countries, it developed a
cuisine based on the ready availability of wonderful ingredients,
beginning with what’s still a staple: olives and the oil olives
Troy (we’re now talking Capital Region, not ancient Greece)
was bidding fair to become the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern
restaurant center, but the appearance in uptown Albany of
Rita’s redresses the balance on the Hudson’s west side.
remember this place,” murmured my friend John, surveying the
cozy dining room. “When I was a kid, this was the Courtesy
Mart, and my family did all of its shopping here.” Look beyond
the walls and partitions and you can picture an old-fashioned
grocery store, part of a vanished tradition that once tied
together a community. Now we shop in the suburbs and don’t
know our neighbors, a wrong that still can be righted by a
friendly, thriving neighborhood restaurant.
And there’s no reason a Lebanese place can’t serve that function,
especially one as accommodating—and with as tasty a food selection—as
this one. Italian restaurants have long been such loci, but
there’s no reason why we can’t ease around the Mediterranean
and swap baba ghanouj for brasciole.
Before I abandon this soapbox, consider also the amount of
money and effort expended by our so-called leaders to vilify
much of the Middle East, a cause that succeeds only if we
sit, sheeplike, before our TV sets and avoid actually befriending
anyone of a different culture. I submit that just a few bites
of kibbeh sineyeh is enough to melt away such butt-headed
By the end of my recent meal at Rita’s, I’d made a number
of new friends, including Rita Rahal herself. Already I’d
met her daughters, who took orders and delivered food, and
it was one of them who surprised us with the invitation to
enjoy dessert on the house—because we’d visited on Rita’s
birthday, “and there’s lots of leftover cake.”
I said. “And I’ll have a Lebanese coffee.”
you won’t,” my wife insisted. “I’m not going to let you keep
me up tonight while you moan that you can’t get to sleep.”
I enjoyed a slice of unremarkable (store-bought) birthday
cake with a cup of decaf, and Rita explained how she opened
this place six months earlier with no restaurant experience
but a lot of years catering parties for friends. It’s a familiar
story, what I term the anti-CIA approach, where the culinary
training is a family legacy.
Wisely, she keeps the menu brief and the hours relatively
short. The same fare is offered for lunch and dinner, and
the latter is offered only the three busiest nights each week.
Order a sandwich—falafel, marinated beef, chicken,
kafta or kibbeh—for $5.50 and you’ve got a lunch
as inexpensive as any chain or fast-food joint can offer.
Add a side of rice and a soda and it’s still under 10 bucks.
Or make a meal out of one or more of the cold appetizers,
all of them vegetarian. Hummus, baba ghanouj and
tabouli are what I think of as the Big Three Mediterranean
apps, and a serving of each (which includes pita bread) is
$5.50. They are, respectively, a chick pea-sesame seed paste,
ditto but with roasted eggplant in place of the chick peas
and a salad of bulghur seasoned with parsley, mint, tomatoes,
onions and more.
Excellent rice-stuffed grape leaves are presented on a $6
plate, or you can do as my table did and get ’em all for $12.50,
a sampler that feeds plenty. Garlic is a key to the first
two items: It needs to be there in a sufficiency to proclaim
its presence—hand then a little bit more to add spice to the
dish. I’m delighted to discover that Rita is a dab hand at
The fatoush salad ($5) is another garlic-rich way to begin
(or complement) a meal, with the flavors of cinnamon and sumac
rounding out the mix of greens and veggies. Cinnamon also
flavors the rice that’s served under the kebabs, which are
twin skewers of beef, chicken or kafta ($13.50 each), the
last-named a compote of minced, seasoned beef. Or take a single
skewer apiece of all three (as I did) for $15.50. It’s a lot
of dinner, but immensely satisfying. And served with a side
dish of garlic paste, more satisfying still.
My daughter, having grown up amid a variety of restaurants,
loves to explore new flavors. And Lebanese cuisine is among
her favorites. “I hope they have meat pies,” she declared
en route—and there they were, listed as an appetizer ($6),
but a dinner-sized collection of four triangular pastry shells
filled with seasoned beef and tomatoes.
Avoiding factory-farm beef is one of my wife’s new imperatives,
so she was happy to find an entrée so rich and satisfying
that one never minded its meatlessness. Mjadara ($8.50)
is a kind of pilaf that mixes lentils and rice. As with everything
we sampled, it’s nicely seasoned; served with a side of fatoush
salad, it’s a filling meal.
Likewise with kibbeh sineyeh ($9.50), a baked dish
with a crust of ground beef and bulghur and a filling of ground
beef and onions. There’s nothing hamburger-like about this,
and even the least adventurous diner should find it a treat.
By the time we finished our meal, we felt like family. We’d
return anyway, but that makes Rita’s even more compelling
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
André Begnaud, who served as executive sous chef
at two of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, will cater
the Ninth Annual Music Haven Community Gala
celebration in Schenectady’s Central Park
from 5:30 to 7:15 PM on Monday (Aug. 28). The
menu includes smoked brisket, barbecued chicken,
green beans with pecans, corn maque choux, Cajun/Creole
potato salad, Louisiana slaw, and dessert beignets.
The Gala marks the last concert of the summer
series, which features zydeco master Geno Delafose
and French Rockin’ Boogie on the Music Haven stage
at 7:30 PM. The Gala’s $55 ticket includes VIP
seating for the concert, the pre-show Louisiana
bayou-style barbecue with dinner entertainment
by the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers (Michael Eck &
Greg Haymes), and post-concert café du monde dessert.
The concert itself is free to the public as usual.
For more information, visit www.music havenstage.org
or call the Central Park office at 382-5152 or
the Chamber of Schenectady County at 372-5656.
. . . Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford
Bridge Rd., Saratoga) is hosting a SPAC Food and
Wine Fundraiser at 6:30 PM on Sept. 7 at the restaurant,
which perches picturesquely on the northern inlet
of Saratoga Lake. The event includes not only
creative food and wine pairings but also Latin
music and a complimentary dance lesson. The menu
includes mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola and
sausage, paired with Sheldrake Chardonnay from
Australia; coconut-crusted halibut with a Thai
curry sauce, together with a Joseph Carr Sauvignon
Blanc from the Napa Valley; and coulat steak with
a morel cherry sauce paired with Joseph Carr 2002
Cabernet Sauvignon. The price is $110 per person,
inclusive, and you can reserve a seat by phoning
the restaurant at 581-3928. . . . Remember to
pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail:
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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..