Troy Schenectady Road (Peter Harris Plaza), Latham, 783-5553.
Serving daily 10-10; lunch buffet Mon-Fri 11-2. AE, D, MC,
Afghan and pizza
price range: $8 (lamb curry and more) to $16 (mixed kabab
who can make okra taste fantastic while presenting butternut
squash in a completely unexpected light is my kind of cook.
And Hayat Osmani isn't simply demonstrating his own skill
at the skillets: He's giving our area its first taste of Afghan
and a half ago, Hayat and three of his brothers took over
what was a pizza joint in the Peter Harris Plaza on Route
7. They maintained both the name-Torino's-and the menu, adding
a few Afghan kababs and promising more. Last week, that promise
was realized. The restaurant's name has changed, the interior
has been extensively redecorated, and the menu now teems with
a variety of native offerings. And you can still get a pizza.
kebabs were enough of a success that the list has been expanded.
Lamb, chicken and ground beef are the core offerings, in varying
combos. The meat gets a marinade of Afghan spices and garlic,
with yogurt added to the chicken chunks, and is skewered and
grilled over charcoal. Lamb chunks, a ground beef loaf (kofta)
and three types of chicken are $10 apiece, on a platter with
rice and sides of bread and salad. Chicken is served in boneless
chunks, as bone-in segments with saffron or in its entirety-at
least to the extent of a half-bird.
ambitious eaters, the chopan kabab ($13) gives you a quartet
of grilled lamb chops, while a pair of "manager's specials"
combines the above ($15 and $16). Kabab meats are also available
worked into salads ($11).
you have flavors such as the lively mix that accompanies the
okra, even a meat-lover like me can be swayed to the other
side. And a number of good vegetarian dishes abound ($8 apiece):
Sabzi is an herb-and-peppers-enhanced spinach dish; gulpi
does the same with cauliflower. The eggplant in badenjan borani
is cooked in a tomato sauce and served in a yogurt sauce,
a wonderful combo.
get the eggplant as an appetizer as well ($4), and you'd be
crazy not to try the kado borani, the aforementioned butternut
squash, marinated with just enough vinegar to give the squash
a tang in addition to its sweetness. A slightly different
yogurt sauce, livened with garlic, accompanies it.
are both characteristic of the cooking of southern Afghanistan,"
says Hayat. Flavors boast complexity without spicy heat, although
you can adjust the temperature either by asking that the dish
be made fierier, or by using the tableside hot sauces (red
pepper or cilantro, two homemade brews).
of seafood dishes include Afghan preparations of shrimp or
salmon ($15 each); they even give a native twist to fish and
Afghanistan shares a southern border with Pakistan, the curry
isn't as spicy as that neighbor's cuisine might have inspired.
An order of lamb curry (kurma palow, $8) has a presence of
tomato and a comfortable balance between sweetness and spice.
A little fancier is the kaboli palow ($9), in which the curry
of chicken or lamb is topped with raisins, carrots and almonds.
Middle Eastern standards as hummus and baba ghanoush are available,
of course, as well as the pastry turnover called a samosa,
familiar from Indian cookery. Mantoo ($9) is a pie stuffed
with ground beef and onions, served with a yogurt sauce; aashack
($9) is a vegetarian version.
do the recipes come from? "I grew up eating this food," Hayat
says with a laugh, "but I also learned much of it from my
uncle, who ran four Afghan restaurants in New York City."
And that's where Hayat put in his kitchen training, 15 years
of mastering the cuisine even as he's been pursuing studies
in computer science and physical therapy.
Adam is likely to be your host, and you might also see brother
Najib. But he, like co-owner Mohammed, also has a full-time
moving up here slowly," Hayat explains. "My uncle came here
seven or eight years ago, and as the rest of us got older
and had families, we didn't want to live right in New York."
of refurbishment has paid off, transforming what was a pizza
parlor into something a little more subdued, with artwork
and keepsakes on the walls and plain chairs dressed up with
handsome coverlets. The most striking feature of the dining
room is the portrait, painted by a friend of Hayat, of Afghan
refugee Sharbat Gula, who was famously depicted in a 1985
National Geographic cover.
the fare at the weekday lunch buffet, a $7 feast offered from
11 AM to 2 PM, featuring a couple of Afghan entrées, a tray
of rice, something Italian (baked ziti was offered when I
visited), salads, spreads and even pizza. What with the many
office workers nearby, the selections change daily for variety's
a steady stream of people stop by to find out what this newly
named restaurant is all about, and those who didn't immediately
stay took menus and promised to return. So I anticipate a
lot of excitement. And it's especially nice, during times
of international political strife, to be reminded of how much
we have in common.