Name, Same Comfort
Central Ave., Albany, 465-0333. Serving buffet lunch 11:30-2:30
Mon-Fri, noon-2:30 Sat-Sun, full menu 11:30-10 Mon-Thu, 11:30-11
Fri, noon-11 Sat, noon-10 Sun. Dinner buffet 5:30-9:30 Fri-Sat.
Free local delivery. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $9 (vegetable curry) to $14 (shrimp biryani)
rudimentary but pleasant
an appropriate reflection of the times that Indian cookery
can become comfort food. Entering LaZeez—opening the storefront
door to leave a chilly downtown Albany sidewalk and embrace
a swirl of pleasing pungency—is a reminder that a lifetime
of Indian restaurant visits has turned the experience into
something that invites settling in, relaxation.
Add to it the particular history of this place, which opened
nearly 20 years ago as Shalimar and immediately became a staff
favorite. Soon thereafter, owner Qasim Bhatti opened a Shalimar
in Troy. He sold them both six years ago to take a breather
from the business, and family member Leo Ashiq was among those
spreading the Shalimar empire, adding similar restaurants
in Clifton Park and Delmar. But Bhatti retained the Albany
building, so when Ashiq closed the flagship eatery last year,
Bhatti decided to get back into the madness, and thus LaZeez,
which takes its name from an Urdu word for “delicious.” Bhatti
also has opened a Shalimar in Latham at the site of the former
What with the cookie-cutter aspect of many Indian eateries,
does LaZeez show distinguishing characteristics? It does.
Service is unusually gracious and accommodating, for starters.
The tables, like the dining room as a whole, are comfortable
but not fancy. We were swept to a likely spot with splendid
courtesy and it was immediately determined not only that we
wanted an order of naan but that the bread should be of the
That’s because we arrived on a Friday evening and discovered
that LaZeez serves a dinner buffet—as well as on Saturday
nights—for the astonishingly low price of 10 bucks, and that
includes the naan. We’re used to the lunchtime buffet, which
is a staple of Indian restaurants and is indeed featured here
every afternoon of the week. The trade-off for what might
not be the hottest and freshest food is getting in and out
quickly—and the ability to sample a lot more than if you were
ordering a la carte.
As it happened, we were a little rushed, and those extra few
minutes saved were a boon. Also, the buffet is well-tended
and the various preparations often are such that they don’t
mind a bit of time in a chafing dish: items like a vegetable
korma, which was one of the nine main-course elements
available, in addition to starters and dessert. Korma is a
preparation so light and creamy you’d hardly know there are
curry seasonings lurking within, and it derives some of its
surprisingly rich texture from ground nuts. It can accompany
all manner of meat or fish, but the flavor of a vegetable
array keeps the dish light and well-matched to a serving of
rice (also, of course, available and decorated with its own
Sometimes, at a sit-down Indian meal, you get a starter of
papadum, crisp lentil wafers served with a trio of
dips (mint, tamarind, spicy onion). Here it’s on the buffet
table, alongside a basket of pakora, which are deep-fried
vegetables in chickpea-flour fritters. And there’s a (largely
negligible) green salad. Had we been more menu- minded—and
the full menu is always available—we could have spent from
$3 to $5 for samosas as appetizers in various guises;
everything else that’s listed was on the table.
Entrées are built around various meat and seafood items, with
a healthy list of vegetarian options as well. Thus there’s
chicken, beef, lamb, salmon or shrimp served with spinach
(palak) for $10 or (with seafood) $14. Every item has
its curry; some get the do piazza treatment, which
puts tomatoes and onions in the mix. Chicken tikka masala
($11) was also on the buffet, and takes korma a
step further with a tangy marinade flavoring the bird. Another
tasty option, not on the menu, is goat curry (on-the-bone,
of course), presenting a flavor many layers deep.
Clumped as it is in one of many chafing dishes, it’s easy
to overlook what makes a biryani special. This noble
rice dish combines a wealth of aromatic seasonings with a
long preparation time and the inclusion of vegetables and/or
a meatstuff. Here the deep yellow vegetable version offered
a meal in itself. Slop korma sauce on it and I’ll slap
gobi aloo (cabbage with potatoes) offered a good contrast.
It’s a cabbage dish, lightly seasoned. And there was a non-menu
stew of mushrooms among other veggie-based offerings—more
than enough, in other words, to satisfy both appetite and
curiosity. Except that I longed for something spicier, and
so ordered a serving of lamb vindaloo ($10). It was
spicier, which was nice, and a well-balanced representation
of this dish. But how I wish they’d cut loose in the kitchen
some time and really believe me when I say I want it hot.
With fresh-baked naan to maneuver around the plate, we enjoyed
way too much dinner to even dip into the kheer, a thin
rice pudding set off with pistachios and almonds. This $10
weekend buffet is the bargain of the neighborhood—and beyond—and
I’m delighted not only to find Bhatti back in business here
but to have a reason to stop in on concert nights.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
digging in as much as you are in order to eat
well while money is scarce. So I thought I’d share
some tips and techniques, and will do so over
four weeks at the Arts Center of the Capital
Region in Troy, with a class called Cooking
for the New Economy. Make your shopping trips
more efficient and plan menus without waste. Can
I cook anywhere as well as those I criticize?
Find out and enjoy some (putatively) tasty food
over the course of four Mondays (Jan. 24-Feb.
14) from 6 to 9 PM. More info at artscenteronline.org.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.