the Middle East
Central Ave., Albany, 463-4161. Serving Mon-Thu 11:30-10,
Fri 11:30-11, Sat noon-11. Lunch buffet Mon-Sat until 3. AE,
D, MC, V.
price range: 4 (vegetable wrap) to $8 (beef shawarma)
Avenue’s restaurant row covers a diverse range of ethnicities,
the only significantly American eateries being the fast-food
joints that spring up as you head west. Indian, Caribbean,
Mexican, Italian and so many more, a world tour requiring
no tickets or travel agents.
This isn’t a high-end journey, and for the most part you’re
traveling steerage. But that also means it’s not very costly,
so it’s worth your while to explore.
When Saleem Khan decided to open a branch of Aashiana on Central
Ave., he already had a successful Indian restaurant on Schenectady’s
Jay Street. But the Albany location would be cheek by jowl
with Shalimar and Ghandi, so he decided to veer the cuisine
in another direction, opting for a Middle Eastern menu of
wraps, salads and simple entrées.
Following the evolutionary process common in restaurants,
as they pass from one family member to the next or simply
change hands, Khan unloaded the Schenectady branch (it’s now
called Taj Mahal) and is concentrating on his Albany eatery.
It’s a very small venue, with only a handful of glass-topped
tables (the number varies according to how many have been
combined to accommodate large parties), paper napkins and
a simple menu.
Lunchtime visitors can opt for the $6 buffet, with a changing
roster of items that always includes a couple of meat dishes
(one of which is usually some form of lamb), several vegetarian
choices, bread, salad and dessert.
Once the staple of low-budget weddings, the buffet has supplanted
most traditional Chinese restaurants and given us places like
Old Country Buffet, a fat-guy paradise (provided you don’t
require such details as flavor).
Aashiana’s buffet, like that of other ethnic eateries, allows
the lunchtime crowd to get in and out quickly and for a reasonable
price. It’s also an excellent way to meet the cuisine; I’ve
introduced many a doubter to Indian fare this way.
Here, the emphasis on Middle Eastern fare offers a different
opportunity for exploration. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern,
I should say, with a selection that ranges from a Greek salad
($4) to pungent skewers of beef shawarma ($8, for a platter
that includes rice and salad).
My wife and daughter and I were seated at one of the few tables
in this oh-so-casual room, enjoying the evening, enjoying
our family—so plugged in to the rituals of fine dining that,
as if by instinct, we went for the appetizer-entrée approach,
even though it’s not at all the way we dine at home.
A plate of olives and pickles was served to each of us, a
fine-dining touch that suggested we weren’t so crazy. My daughter
recently had turned up her nose at a chickpea-based dish I
made, proclaiming the legume useless; I talked her into the
hummus appetizer ($3) and she revised her opinion. Now she
demands only that her chickpeas be mashed.
($4) is one of four salads available (tabouli,
Greek, and grilled chicken are the others, same price range),
and probably the most complicated, offering a minty, vinegary
dressing over chopped lettuce, crisped pita and accompanying
Aahiana’s three soup selections ($4 each) include a mix of
chicken and couscous, as well as a traditional lentil brew;
fasoulatha, which I sampled, is a Greek recipe that
combines white beans with carrots, celery, tomatoes and parsley
into a hearty blend.
Their five chicken-based entrées are $8 apiece, the meat variously
cubed, ground, marinated and otherwise reimagined. Kebab
mashweh gives you four skewer-grilled, sausage-shaped
patties of spiced meat served with rice, salad and a yoghurt-based
sauce. Much of the appealing flavor coming from the sauce’s
Another ground-meat dish is kibbah ($8), toasted pine
nuts added to fried beef patties and served on a similarly
rice- and salad-garnished platter.
Looking for a quick sandwich? Wraps of veggies, falafel, grilled
or ground chicken, and beef shawarma ($4 to $5) are always
available, and thanks to some nearby customers I can attest
to their generous size.
If you prefer the vegetarian route (as my wife does every
so often to stake some kind of moral high ground over me),
four $7 entrées offer a good variety. She chose nivik,
a full-flavored, spinach-based casserole cooked with chickpeas
and tomatoes. Other selections include zucchini or eggplant
in tomato sauce or a green bean casserole called lubyi
I can’t help coming back to the point that there’s nothing
fancy about your surroundings here: The luxury is all in the
food and in the attention owner Khan pays to the kitchen and
dining room. The food is tasty and inexpensive, and arrives
quickly enough to engage your senses. What more could you
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
events abound, so keep your eyes peeled for what’s
happening in the neighborhood. Which, if it happens
to be downtown Troy, includes a Spanish-themed
dinner at Carmen’s Café (198 First St.)
from 6:30 to 9:30 PM tomorrow (Friday, Sept 14),
featuring locally grown produce. Enjoy beef and
pork tacos, salsa and guacamole, salad with mango
and avocado and much more, including Carmen’s
signature homemade flan. Suggested donation is
$20, and you can reserve a seat in this tiny place
by calling 272-3011. . . . Honest Weight Food
Co-Op (484 Central Ave., Albany) is hosting
seasonal events this month, including a sampling
of the wares from Organic Nectars, a local producer
of raw, vegan and organic culinary components,
including snacks and desserts. This takes place
from 11 AM to 3 PM Saturday (Sept 15); a week
later (10 to 2 on Saturday, Sept 22), meet Amsterdam,
N.Y.-based author Anita Sanchez, who will read
from her new book The Teeth of the Lion: The
Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion.
She will also share her research experiences and
memorabilia related to the dandelion. More info:
482-2667. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to
Metroland (food@banilsson dot com).
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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..