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photo: Joe Putrock

Coming of Aegean
By B.A. Nilsson

A Taste of Greece

193 Lark St., Albany, 426-9000. www.atasteof
greece.biz. Serving Mon-Thu 11-9, Fri 11-10, Sat 2-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Hellenic

Entrée price range: $9 (pasticio) to $18 (Thalasina – snapper and shrimp – special)

Ambiance: Sasual neighborhood joint

Clientele: Neighbors and other connoisseurs


When the gyveci ($12) finally arrived, it managed to top all the appetizers. Probably because a tender, meaty lamb shank was hidden under all that cheese, nestled among the little torpedoes of orzo pasta. Lamb shanks require a long, slow oven session, so they end up sharing a lot of flavor with whatever is baked with them; the cheese, Greek kaseri, is a sheep’s milk blend often served as flaming saganaki.

And the cheese has a robust flavor, good enough to go up against the cinnamon-spiced lamb, picked up by the pasta and spreading a satisfying warmth as you make your way through the dish.

A Taste of Greece has occupied its Lark Street corner for more than five years, at first as a casual eat-in-or-take-out joint, and now, after a change in ownership, a little fancier with its menu offerings.

The changes were eased into place by Dino and Kella Kacani, who bought the restaurant from the original owner four years ago. “I was the chef when the restaurant opened,” Dino explains, “but I had no control over what was happening. Eventually, I was in a position to buy out the owner.”

Although the traditional fare is still very much in place, Kacani has added some of his own creations, like the melixana brizola ($11), in which slabs of sautéed eggplant are served in a creamy garlic sauce, topped with mushrooms and onions, or the $18 thalasina (from the sea) special, topping shrimp and red snapper with a creamy spinach and tomato sauce.

Heading page three of the four-page menu are the gyros, available with a lamb and beef combo or with ground beef alone. You’ll want the former, the original, the mother ship of gyrosity, the meat that’s carved from an upright rotisserie, wrapped in an oversized pita, daubed with tzatziki, decorated with tomatoes and onions. It’s $6, or $10 in a platter that ups the size and adds potatoes.

You can get seafood or chicken or even vegetables in a similar presentation, and if that’s your preference, I’m sure you’ll be delighted with the flavors. I just can’t wrench myself free from that original lamb and beef loaf.

But let’s talk vegetarian for a moment. Sure, this would seem to be a meat-
intensive cuisine, and when I imagine those hordes of baby sheep being felled in and around Athens I’m not sure whether to get hungry or sleepy, but just think about spanakopita, another famous Greek dish (spinach and feta baked in crunchy phyllo pastry) and you can see the veggie possibilities emerge.

Saganaki, for instance, a tomato-rich casserole with squash and mushrooms and feta, or a vegetable shishkebab ($11 each). Spinach baked with feta and rice (spanakorizo, $8) or vegetables topped with béchamel sauce for a moussaka variant ($10).

I’ll confess that I didn’t try the regular moussaka (also $10) because it’s made with ground beef and I was in a lamb-hungry state when checking out this menu. But it’s offered, along with chicken or lamb or pork scallopini ($10-$11) and a number of seafood dishes like swordfish, grilled ($12.50) or served over a spinach-cream sauce ($16), and snapper, broiled ($12.50) or served in a salad that also features spinach, feta, beets and pepperoncini ($13.50).

But you probably want more of that saganaki experience. Head for the shrimp or scallop saganaki (Our Prize Dish! the menu exclaims—$13) and again there’s that melange of zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, feta and more, this time (as my friend Sharon preferred it) with a generous helping of shrimp mixed in.

After five years of successful business, there’s no point in making fun of the restaurant’s name. Especially when it offers something as great-tasting as “A Great Taste of Greece”—an appetizer option ($11) that’s a combo of four appetizers. Spanakopita ($5 alone) is not only an excellent version of the dish, but it also anchors the plate nicely, giving a crunchy contrast to the stuffed grape leaves (dolmades, $4.50), which are as you’d expect. Two meat dishes finish the collection: keftedes ($4.50), which are meatballs with a more dramatic flavor than you might expect, and lukaniko ($4.50), the star of the plate, a sausage sweetened with the unexpected flavor of orange zest.

A half-dozen Greek dips ($5 apiece) include the cucumber-and-yogurt tzatziki and a garlicky baked eggplant mash. We selected a threesome (there’s a combo platter for $12) that arrived with a heaping platter of hot pita slices. Tarama salata mixes pink roe with cream cheese for a unique, salty flavor; revitho salata is a cousin to hummus, and tirolafteri is a deliciously spicy creamed feta dip.

We even sampled the grilled octopus appetizer ($10), which is a tasty, slightly chewy dish that also worked well sliced cold into a salad the next day.

But you don’t even have to take my word for what’s good here. A Greek buffet is served at dinnertime the third week of each month, Monday through Saturday, and is terrifically popular.

Baklava was the appropriate finale, not-too-syrupy squares of the nuts-and-phyllo dessert. By then, you have such a good sense of well-being that you feel as if you might be in a European café (inspired, possibly, by the mural that takes up one wall of the restaurant, depicting a view from the Greek coast). Service is fast and friendly, and more than likely you’ll end up chatting with those sitting near. There’s everything here except xenophobia, plenty of which lurks outside.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets, Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown library to include a new children’s center, gallery and performance space. Samples of food made by area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the country to see what they were reading and eating; the result is a collection of 100 entries, each focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from 6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of talented culinary teams take on the challenge of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext. 105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com)


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

What you're saying...

I 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.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, 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 the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I 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!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your 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..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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