Lebanon With Love
Central Ave., Albany, 464-4444, phoeniciansofalbany.com. Serving
11-10 daily. AE, D, MC, V.
Lebanese and Mediterranean
price range: $6 (falafel wrap) to $20 (lamb kabob dinner)
small and homey
matter how big of an Albany booster you may be, you have to
admit that the view along Central Avenue gets tiresome. After
spending a pleasant hour in the Phoenicians, which is about
a mile west of Wolf Road, I was unprepared for the sight of
that street again.
The dining room is fairly humble—a dozen tables, glass-topped
over red cloth, with the service counter and kitchen taking
up about half the space—but the decor is bright and unexpected.
The white upper walls and ceiling are covered with custom
renditions of Lebanese points of interest, current and historic.
There’s Heliopolis, the legendary Bekaa Valley site, and nearby
Zahle; Cedars of Lebanon, as depicted on the country’s flag;
and, taking up an entire corner, a lovingly-rendered picture
of a Lebanese family gathering.
I got to witness the latter in real time, as owner Robert
Rahal and his wife Rindala sat with family and friends for
a late lunch at a neighboring table. By this time, the gregarious
Robert already had made my acquaintance, so it was only natural
that they should send over an item they were enjoying, something
that’s not on the menu (at least not yet): a delicate, tasty,
warm compote of lentils and rice.
It was almost too much. I’d already gone through a couple
of appetizers and was contemplating the voluminous mixed shawarma
plate ($17), which I ultimately couldn’t finish.
I’m a sucker for those rotisserie-cooked loaves. Two types
are featured here: chicken and a beef-lamb combo, rendered
flavorful and juicy through the traditional technique of filling
the rotisserie spit and seasoning the meats. It’s the same
meat that goes into a Greek gyro and a Turkish doner
kebab, and too often it comes out of the freezer rather than
off the spit. You can have it in a pita wrap (chicken $7,
beef $8), or as a full-fledged dinner served over rice with
a serving of fattoush (a salad of tomatoes and mixed
greens with Lebanese seasoning, hummus, pita slices and a
thick, pungent garlic sauce known as toum). The garlic
sauce is so popular—not to mention, addictive—that Rahal says
he goes through 10 gallons of it each week.
Make the meal whatever size you like starting with meza
(appetizers): nearly a dozen different small plates that
include stuffed grape leaves ($7), hummus ($5), baba ganouj
($6), moussaka ($7), a baked spinach pie called fatayer
($4), a meat pie called sfiha ($4), kibbeh ($5),
and even a generous sampler for two ($17). I sampled the falafel
($5), a generous serving of four delicious deep-fried chickpea
patties topped with tahini and served with salad.
Lentil soup is always available ($4), and the salad selection
includes the aforementioned fattoush ($6), the well-known
bulghar-based tabouleh ($6), a yogurt-cucumber mix
called laban bi khyar ($4) and a marinated mix of artichoke
hearts ($5). There’s a special salad with grilled chicken
Have a pita wrap for a lighter meal. It’s a sandwich that
costs from $6 to $8, and can include falafel, shish kabob,
a ground-beef mixture known as kafta, grilled chicken
breast and, of course, the shawarma meats. There’s also a
veggie option, one of the many, many vegetarian options that
are marked as such on the menu.
Dinners, as described above, are a more complete plate, and
Rahal guarantees you won’t leave hungry. Have chicken or beef
carved from the rotisserie, or try the kafta kabob
($17), a filet mignon or lamb kabob ($20 each), a veggie version
($12) or a falafel platter ($14). The restaurant also offers
a hot or cold vegetarian platter for $16 with a wide selection
Rahal has owned the jewelry store across the street for many
years, and eyed this building as it changed identities over
the years. Once he committed to acquiring it, he spent another
four years on its refurbishment, doing much of the work himself.
When it opened as a restaurant five months ago, it was thus
a long-anticipated culmination.
love people,” he says, explaining his interest in a business
he’s never before run. “I love the one-on-one. That’s why
I talk to the customers when I’m here. I love the conversations,
and want to be sure there’s that personal touch whenever anybody
With Rindala supervising the kitchen and his daughter working
the floor, it’s very much a family-run business. And he wants
to keep it family-oriented. “A woman called me last week to
ask if she can bring her children. I said to her, ‘How can
you ask that?’ She said that she talked to another restaurant
that told her children were not allowed. Of course she can
bring children here. When I go out to dinner, if I can’t bring
my children, I don’t eat there.”
Business has been going extremely well, he says. Last Saturday
was busy enough to prompt a line at the door. “There is so
much support here for Middle Eastern food,” he says. “Much
more than I anticipated.”
He describes the Phoenicians as just “the tip of the iceberg.
I have many more plans.” And they’re food-related.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Capital Region Wine Festival at Proctors,
dubbed “Romancing the Grape,” takes place this
weekend (Feb. 27-28) at the theater in Schenectady
and includes the onsite participation of more
than 70 wineries. The festival kicks off at 7
PM on Friday with a lavish dinner prepared by
Yono Purnomo of Yono’s Restaurant, who will present
a menu that features his award-winning French-Indonesian
specialties paired with Joseph Carr wines by sommelier
Dominic Purnomo. The cost for dinner is $125 per
person, and reservations are required. The festival
continues on Saturday from noon to 4 with the
Grand Tasting, during which participating wineries
will present hundreds of wines alongside culinary
delights from some of the area’s best restaurants
($50 per person). Also offered on Saturday will
be a series of seminars: The One-Hour Wine Expert
with Kevin Zraly, Sherry and Tapas with Andy Seymour,
Cheese and Wine Pairings, The New Renaissance
in Tuscany, and A Wine and Food Romance with Yono
and Dominic Purnomo. Seminars require a $25 paid
reservation. For more info, visit proctors.org
or call the box office at 346-6204. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland.