a Little Tune
Plaza, Delmar, 439-8800. Serving daily 11-10. MC, V.
Food: * * *½
Gaze through the large windows at the front of the Hidden
Café and you see . . . a white wall on the other side of an
alley. It’s hidden, all right, tucked into the apex of the
two major wings of Delmar’s Delaware Plaza.
The Hidden Café opened less than two months ago in a space
that “unassuming” hardly begins to describe. A dozen tables,
a long bar, a register near the door, white walls, few decorations:
It’s a place in the throes of first life, but it’s eager and
the food is good (and dinner business, the owner assures me,
is already taking off).
The lunch menu leads with the welcome surprise of omelettes
($4.25-$5.25), with even more welcome variations. The house
omelette, for example, sports garlic and mozzarella, seasoned
with cumin and cilantro; the “oinking omelette” has bacon
and ham. Burgers, wraps, salads and specialty sandwiches are
all priced under $7, and scaled-down versions of dinner specials
also are available.
Those burgers, wraps and salads are repeated on the dinner
menu, some priced slightly higher to accommodate more side-dish
offerings. Among the specialty sandwiches are grilled chicken
breast with pesto sauce ($8), Reuben ($7) and grilled veggies
(onions, carrots, portobello mushrooms and zucchini, among
other ingredients, $7).
But it was the listing of Mediterranean dishes that grabbed
my attention. Spanakopita, falafel, souvlakia—the classics
are here and they’re $8 apiece.
It was a largish party with which I visited, once again my
wife and kid, my friend (and midwife) Vicki and her infant
child, and friends Susan and Steven and their child.
Had I seen a party like this arrive where I was dining five
years ago, I would have muttered silent curses and fled. This
is nature’s revenge.
We arranged ourselves around a pair of pushed-together tables
and struggled to put together an order, which becomes exponentially
more difficult with this many adults and children involved.
Beverages were chosen—no liquor here yet, although a wine
and beer license is in the works—and ideas were tossed around,
culminating in a good sampling of the Mediterranean side of
Chef-owner Joseph Soliman hails from Egypt. He is almost apologetic
about the fact that he spent only a couple of years in the
restaurant business before this. “But I’m the one who cooks
at home all the time,” he says.
He has no reason to be modest. Everything we tasted was terrific,
starting with the Mediterranean Trio (this one’s only $7).
I forgot to specify that I wanted it as an appetizer, so it
arrived, after bit of a wait, with the entrées—two of them,
in fact (another plate went to the far end of the table).
With plenty of sliced, warm pita bread to accompany it, you
can dig in to a lemony, fluffy version of hummus, one of the
best I’ve tasted. Baba ganouj, an eggplant-based paste,
had a nice hit of spiciness, and a tzatziki dip (yogurt
and cucumbers are primary ingredients) gave a contrasting
and welcome sourness that was very refreshing.
Steve ordered spanakopita, a mixture of chopped spinach and
feta cheese, “warped in phyllo dough,” as the menu declares,
sliced into easy-to-eat portions. It’s a simple dish, but
profoundly buttery and thus rich: Even Steve’s hearty appetite
was challenged. A Greek salad garnishes the plate, offering
more feta amid an otherwise straightforward mix of lettuce
and carrots and olives and such.
Vicki had alerted me to this place based on her previous happy
experiences here; she had worked her way down the menu to
the pasticcio, a smallish soufflé dish of penne baked in a
meat sauce and topped with what’s listed as a “pashmeel” sauce,
which turns out to be a béchamel: milk-based, rich and creamy
when heated with roux. It’s peasant fare, relying on big flavors
that were well in evidence here. A salad is served on the
My spouse is a falafel fan, and we enjoy it at home when I
think to get the ingredients (chick peas, parsley, tahini,
the right spices). How nice to find it so expertly prepared,
with far more of a flavor range than I’ve ever given the dish.
Leeks and dill are added to the mix, and it’s served with
a tahini sauce, lettuce and slices of onion, cucumber and
tomato. Although fries are the default side dish, Susan had
it changed to a pasta salad.
Lily, meanwhile, decided she needed an entrée of her own,
and poked at a shish kebab of chicken breast pieces with chunks
of onion, green pepper, tomato and mushrooms sharing skewer
space. It was straightforward, tasty and filling, served over
rice, but Lily was so busy with the hummus that the kebab
came home and became both breakfast and lunch the following
I chose a chopped Angus sirloin dish: kufta, in which
the seasoned meat strips are skewered and grilled and served
in a style similar to the falafel. The cilantro-rich seasoning
also sported cumin, which imparted a deeper flavor than your
standard-fare burger. I passed on the proffered fries in favor
of rice as well.
By the time I was finishing, each kid had long since persuaded
a parent to venture outdoors. Those of us who remained had
the leftovers packed and joined them.
This is a small operation, so service gets slow when customers
pile in; Soliman is looking forward to increasing staff size
as more people discover the restaurant. At this point, while
the restaurant is still somewhat hidden, it’s the best bargain
in the area.
Dinner for six, with tax and tip and soft drinks, was $85.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Fresh & Fabulous: Chefs Make a Local Feast is
the moniker for the sixth annual fund-raising event
for the Regional Farm & Food Project; it’s
a terrific display of what’s achievable through the
ongoing work of this organization, calling attention
to the many local farmers who raise their crops and
animals with sound ecological and organic techniques.
Sustainable local agriculture is a boon to the area
in many ways, from nutritional and flavor advantages
to the vital sense of community it promotes. The fund-raiser
will take place at 6 PM Monday, Sept. 23, at Saratoga’s
Canfield Casino, and features more than a dozen local
chefs, each of whom will team with one or more farms
to create dishes with homegrown products. All of the
fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, eggs and meat will
come from the area, and New York wine and beer also
will be presented. A silent auction will be held throughout
the evening as well. Tickets are $55 per person ($65
after Sept. 16), and are available at Celtic Treasures
(Saratoga), the Open Door Bookstore (Schenectady) and
the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza (Guilderland). For
more info, call 427-6537 or check out www.capital.net/~farmfood.
. . . The Charleston (517 Warren St., Hudson)
welcomes Bruce Lieberman as chef. Lieberman has worked
in kitchens since he was 15, most recently as executive
chef at Fifi’s in Toledo, Ohio. His new summer menu
at the Charleston features produce from area farmers,
as well as greens, tomatoes and herbs from the restaurant’s
own garden. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.
fax info to 922-7090)