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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Best for Shaw

By B.A. Nilsson

BFS Restaurant

41736 Western Ave., Albany, 452-6342. Serving 11-9 Mon-Sat. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Entrée price range: $10 (various wraps) to $23 (Mediterranean sampler)

Ambiance: cheerful

We needed an antidote to Thanksgiving madness, which in my house is a festive blowout of a meal. Even while sidestepping some of the traditional courses, I felt weighed down by turkey and potatoes and a casserole array, so I sought solace in Mediterranean fare, as prepared and presented by BFS Restaurant.

I’ve been writing about the place long enough to know it wasn’t always thus. Before there were comfortable seats in a nicely appointed restaurant with a deli counter, there was—just a deli counter. Twenty years ago, owner Shaw Rabadi purveyed his own popular concoctions alongside an array of other specialty food. He’d been an accountant, but his friends thought his career move a good thing—suggesting that it was “Best for Shaw,” he told me way back then, “or maybe that I’d offer [the award for] Best Friendly Service.”

Fifteen years ago, he opened the present location, which provides table service in two rooms. What’s remarkable about the current state of the place is that it looks as fresh as it did back then, which is part of the attention to detail that also informs the food presentation.

For example, I started with a Greek salad ($11), nothing surprising in itself, sporting olives, feta and cucumber over greens, but those greens were surprisingly fresh and attractive looking. Rabadi later explained that much of his salad work is done by a woman who also works as a seamstress, “so she’s very detail oriented.”

Nutrition is also a focus of his, and the menu highlights such heart-healthy selections as hummus, baba ghanouj, taboleh, fattoush salad, roasted zaatar or Moroccan chicken and several seafood items.

Many of the appetizers have meal-in-themselves potential, such as the Lebanese Mini Maza (salads or servings of hummus, baba ghanouj, taboleh and cucumber tomato, $10), spanakopita ($8) and a sampler plate called mezedes that includes a spinach pocket, stuffed grape leaves, hummus and a kibbe ball ($12). There also are items like baked brie ($9), crabmeat-stuffed shrimp in puff pastry ($8) and grilled portabella mushrooms ($9), which we sampled, and which included goat cheese in addition to the marinated mushrooms, on a nicely assembled salad.

The salads list includes Caesar ($9, toppings $4 extra), Greek ($11), antipasto ($11), spinach ($11) and a meat-rich chef’s ($11). Also look for the Lebanese salad ($11), which features lemon and mint, and a falafel salad for $11.

For a lighter meal—or if you’re dining with a portion-fussy spouse—a list of wraps ($10 each) covers all imaginable meat and veggie bases, from tuna salad to several chicken preparations to grilled eggplant, portabella or veggie array. Sliced leg of lamb is paired with garlic sauce. Lentil sauté includes red pepper hummus and feta. The “Little Italy” is a mixed-meat array, and battered eggplant, our visit’s spouse- pleaser, is a fat pocket that includes roasted red peppers and mozzarella, served with a small side of pasta salad.

Vegetarian items are an important component of the BFS menu, and are highlighted as such, but some of the highlights are the entrée-sized spanakopita ($19), served with grilled vegetables and baba ghanouj; a dolmas platter that puts stuffed grape leaves over greens with hummus and pasta salad ($18); eggplant parmigiana with homemade marinara ($18); vegetable lasagna ($18); and eggplant kabobs ($18) with skewers of eggplant, peppers, mushrooms and onions.

It wouldn’t be Mediterranean without pasta, so look for $19 entrées with the macaroni prepared with grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers and feta; alla pesto, with grilled chicken; with sun-dried tomatoes and capers, or alla puttanesca, with a bitchin’ array of fresh tomatoes, calamata olives, artichokes and garlic.

Seafood entrées include swordfish, tuna, sole, salmon and shrimp in the $21 range. We enjoyed the baked shrimp casserole (karides kusadasi, $22), which is served over spinach and features fresh tomato, artichokes and feta. Its casserole-ish-ness notwithstanding, it showed the same attention to presentation detail as everything else we ordered.

As much as I’d like to sample my way across the menu, I always come back to the same entrée, the Mediterranean sampler ($23). It really is a best of everything, with a slice of crunchy spanakopita, two contrasting hummus preparations, a lamb-rich chunk of kibbe that contrasts with the creamy, béchamel-topped moussaka, a couple of stuffed grape leaves, and a few different salads as underpinnings, so to speak. Even with my ferocious appetite, I couldn’t get through it all. Otherwise I’d go for the roasted zaatar chicken ($18), which is cooked in a zesty spice blend of sumac, sesame seeds and oregano, or the shawarma platter ($18), which features a broiled lamb and beef loaf.

Eggplant, lamb and chicken feature in other entrées, including a three-meat lasagna ($19). And, of course, there’s moussaka ($21), one of the best cold-weather casseroles.

If you’re not steering a heart-healthy course, there’s a display case of toothsome desserts. Because I suspected I’d already done too much dietary damage to myself, I courted virtue by avoiding the cakes. I suspect that restraint will evaporate by the time of my next visit.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

New World Bistro Bar (300 Delaware Ave., Albany) was one of only 16 restaurants in the United States to win a 2010 Santé Restaurant Award in the Innovative Food category. The 13-year-old Santé Awards program is the only peer-judged national restaurant competition in North America. Chef consultant Ric Orlando previously won a Santé Award in 2006 at his Saugerties restaurant, New World Home Cooking. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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