Phoenicians Restaurant

Where do bloggers go when they’re near Wolf Road but looking for some place local? I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear that Albany John and I were hanging with Daniel B. one night. We got peckish, and I looked at Daniel and asked “So, where are we going for dinner?” When you have a fussy friend, it takes a lot of decision making out of the equation.

We went to Phoenicians – we’d never been and had heard some tasty things. Short story – it was okay, but I’m not sure I’d go back for dinner.

When we were seated, they had this non-alcoholic beer in a few different flavors on the menu – raspberry, apple… I asked our waitress about it, and she said she had no idea what it was. She showed me a display bottle, but it would have been nice to know things like what the beer tasted like, or if it was popular… Not just “Well, you can’t buy it at the grocery store,”
We left the ordering up to Daniel B. We got a bunch of plates to share. These are the tiniest dolmas I’ve ever had. At over $1 each, I was surprised by how tiny and exploded they were. They were about the size of a knuckle. I’ve never seen dolma so tiny before!

They were warm and quite lemony. There was a white sauce with them, but the lemon flavor overpowered it for me.
Daniel B said the baba ghanouj came highly recommended to him by a friend. It was okay – pleasantly smooth, smoky, and creamy; but the pita they served us was stale. The price tag was a little high for the portion, too – $7.99 for an app plate’s worth.
The spicy potatoes were a surprise. The menu listed them as potatoes with garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. What came out were some excellently fried squares doused in Frank’s red hot sauce. The fry job was commendable, but dude – what’s up with that description vs reality? This seemed more like diner food than a Phoenician side dish.

Wraps! With some pretty decent rice on the side. Falafel wrap is on the left, Kafta is on the right. They were kind of skinny.
Again, falafel left, kafta right. The falafel didn’t have much taste. I was kind of like “Hey guys, what did we order for the one that wasn’t meat? I didn’t taste much of anything besides the veggies.”


The kafta was savory, and the better of the two. The pita wraps were, like our earlier pita, stale. Pita delivery in this area isn’t a daily thing, but I wish there was a way to have non-stale pita bread when it’s not a delivery day.

The service was okay throughout the meal – a bit unpolished and kind of awkward. When our server was clearing our plates at the end, she started bussing up bits of rice with her finger tips. That kind of thing can wait for after a table leaves, and is easier to do with a rag/sponge than it is with your fingers.

I’d prefer to go to Beiruit in Troy for similar fare with better service (friendlier, knowledgeable), lower prices, and better food (flavor & portions). The three of us ended up leaving a bit peckish and underwhelmed.

Marmora Cafe

Went to Marmora Cafe in Troy (203 River St, Troy, NY) when Albany John’s cousin came to visit. They have a couple of websites up… not sure which one is official. But all in all, they’re Egyptian-influenced Mediterranean cuisine.

We split some stuffed grape leaves (meat, pls! But they have vegetarian grape leaves available) – good stuff. It came with a yogurty dip and a peeled tangerine. Around $6.

Albany John went light on the lunch and got a cheese dip app thing… I kind of forget the name, but it was feta cheese mixed with other stuff, and strawberries on the side. Came topped with a few pine nuts.

I wasn’t crazy about it since there were red bell peppers in the mix. There were so few ingredients in the dish, I’d have thought they’d include this in there. But bell peppers seem to be the hidden veggie that is never listed in many Cap Region menus.

Cuz got the falafel platter (something like $11-13?). Their falafel were interesting… smaller than I’m used to getting around here, and rolled in sesame seeds before frying. They were okay, but not my fave in the area. Still, can’t beat the presentation. This dish came with teeny scoops of other dips, too.

Presentation is really nice here, though.

I got a beef wrap. No lamb, *sadface*. The beef was fine, but it was wrapped in a spinach wrap that was gummy. Not my favorite. I’d rather it be wrapped in pita. Not some green gummy wrap.
Came with some veggie fries and a peeled mandarin/tangerine.

I think the prices are a tad on the higher side (maybe just a dollar or two more than I’d ideally like to pay) given the portion sizes, but the presentation is pretty nice. There’s also a bit of extra thought given to the touches – like the peeled tangerines.


Service was very friendly, but a bit spacey – I think it was the owner? It took a while to get the bill, even though we were the only ones there. You definitely won’t be rushed here.

Albany John thinks the name might be why they always seem like they’re on the slow side instead of busy with customers. He thinks it’s kind of hard to pronounce. I don’t don’t really see much competition when Beirut (right down the street) serves many of the same dishes that are a little bigger portion-wise and have more flavor.
I think they should play up more of their Egyptian side and have more Moroccan and Egyptian dishes, instead of competing in an already busy(ish…) field. Either that, or have some different menu items.

St Basil’s Greek Festival


I finally got around to checking out St Basil’s Greek Festival this year! It’s a small Greek Orthodox church in Lansingburgh (909 River St, Troy, NY 12180), and boy was it ever packed with people!

I liked the dancing – they had a tent set up outside with dancers, and some hot and cold food stations.

This guy caught my eye. Hello roasting lambykin! We didn’t get any though. They also had an indoor section that had other meals and pastries for sale. I really wanted to try some, but they were a little on the expensive side for me. Honey pastries are never really cheap. It was $2 for a small triangle of baklava, and $2.50 for this pastry cream phyllo thing that also looked really good, but was about the size of a mini hot dog.

And then Albany John made puppy eyes and said he really wanted a chicken souvlaki, so I got him one. I swear, one of these years I’m going to grow an immunity to puppy eyes.


This was $7. The souvalki was okay, but the ratio of meat to bread was off. Soft, fluffy pita, yes, but too much of it. There was a thin line of skewered, grilled chicken, tatziki sauce, tomatoes, and onions. It was too much pita (and I love my carbs). Everything else just got overwhelmed by it. If there was more meat, I think it would have been evened out.

I guess that’s festival prices? I don’t know – I don’t think the foods were outrageously priced, but just a little higher than I’d have hoped for since it was held by a church.

The admission was also free, so it was a nice opportunity to see a glimpse of Greek life. Some folks jumped in with the dancers and tossed out some singles. Make it rain – Greek Style!

Aashiana with Friends


Yesterday I got to meet up with a bunch of my friends for Aashiana’s lunch buffet. Their buffet is quite the deal at $6.95 per person. There’s always a good selection of vegetarian and meat items on their buffet, and plenty of fresh naan delivered to each table by perennially positively predisposed owner Saleem (seriously – he’s always so upbeat, he puts me in an even better mood! If you’re having a bad day, definitely go to Aashiana!). Yum!

What started out as a facebook “Hey, does anyone wanna do lunch?” quickly evolved into my pals Celina, El Profussor, Renee, and Panda saying they were in. How lovely! I love it when things come together like that, all spur of the moment. We totally took up several tables and it was great!

So we all agreed to meet there, and we had a great time catching up over a relaxing, delicious lunch. My favorite buffet dish at Aashiana is the chicken meatballs. These were in a korma type sauce with breast pieces as well. So moist, tender, and fluffy. I’ve never had meatballs like this before, but man, they are so flavorful and good!

I also had the tandoori chicken – they put lots of onion slices with it – so good. Tasty palak paneer. And the hummus? Delightfully lemony and smooth as can be – it’s a treat to eat with the hot and fluffy naan. Don’t even ask how much naan I had because the answer is “several basketfuls”.

Oh Aashiana, you’re my favorite lunch buffet in the area. So good. So, so good. Lots of options, and everything tastes so fresh.

BTW, was it just me, or was the cake a semolina cake?

The Profussor’s kiddos were really well behaved and cute. I’ve never seen a baby fuss over getting more beans. I mean, cake, sure, but beans? Woah! Aashiana is totally kid-friendly, if not kid-loving.

(Aashiana is located at 31 Central Ave, Albany, NY 12210)

Chicken Gyros


Margarita and my Bro came over for dinner. Margarita and I had been planning on doing a cooking thing together, and she wanted to do gyros. I really love cooking with the fam and trying out new recipes! Whenever we’re at each other’s houses we’ll usually just stick around the kitchen and watch the other one cook, and end up trying to help out anyway.

Guess what else? Margarita is preggo! G’bye to margaritas for a few months, then!
We’re all excited for them. It looks like they will be moving to Mississippi to be closer to her family (who can help out more) and have better career opportunities. It totally sucks that they are moving, but they think it would be much more difficult to raise a child here in NY. Having a kid really makes you re-prioritize your life.
I get to be both an Aunt and Godmother. I consider myself truly honored that Margarita asked me to be their godmother. Also considering that I would fight tooth and nail to take care of this kiddo should the need arise, this Godmother-ing makes that a whole lot easier. Them having a kid actually makes me realize I need to re-prioritize my own life and start doing more with myself.

Okay, I’m getting all emo on you guys. But suffice it to say, their time here in New York State has an expiration date, and I am trying to spend as much time with them as possible until they leave.

Margarita and I went grocery shopping at Hannaford. Kind of a mistake there, but we could only stop at one place. Chicken breasts were on sale for $1.99/lb (boneless, skinless), which was good even if they were the factory farmed kind. The killer was the price of pita bread. It was like $3.29 for a 6 pack of them. Jeezum crow, that’s freaking expensive for some pita! But it was good pita.

Once we got in, we marinated the chicken boobs in spices, plus red wine vinegar and olive oil. Just enough to make it seem like a cohesive marinade. The seasonings we just added to smell – it smelled really good, and then we made the boys sniff it and drool over it, and then we tucked them in the fridge to marinate. I know you can’t really see the pictures of the chicken itself, but trust me – it came out really well. Super moist and juicy. It made me think “Hmm, maybe I can cook with these factory farmed breasts as long as I marinate the crap out of them,”. This is probably not good from an environmental/hippie/green standpoint, but it is lighter on the wallet. Conundrum.

After letting the chicken marinate, we made tatziki sauce. We hung some plain yogurt to drain. This is much cheaper than buying Greek yogurts, which are thicker. We drained it by lining a sifter with a coffee filter and filling it with yogurt. We actually did this part before we started with the chicken breasts so it would have time to drain. About 20-30 minutes and then you have thick yogurt! It’s not exactly the same, but for recipes like this, I think it works just fine. And it’s much cheaper.

Then we let the tatziki sauce sit covered in the fridge while we turned on the broiler to cook the chicken. I didn’t make any pink chicken this time. Woo hoo! I really like the broiler. I’m getting pretty good at cooking chicken. We let the breasts rest for a bit after cooking them, and then we sliced them into strips to assemble our own little chicken gyros. Margarita is used to broilers being electric inside an oven, and I’m used to it being the thing on the very bottom. I remember when I first moved to TN, I was like “Why are you putting pans in here?! They’re going to melt as soon as you turn the oven on!”, and when she came here, she was like “Why are you putting food in the bottom of the oven drawer?”.

We also boiled some orzo and just ate it with butter or tatziki sauce. I made Albany John drag his butt away from video games with my Bro to make a salad. He did all the green stuff you see above, and it was delicious.

The tatziki was the highlight of the night! It was super yummy, thick, and creamy. I could just eat this stuff on pita bread. Or on anything else. We had a lot of leftovers.

Mediterranean Chicken Breasts
8 Chicken Breasts
½ head of garlic, minced
½ T black pepper
1 T oregano
1 T marjoram
1 T thyme
juice of ½ lemon
½ – ¾ C red wine vinegar
½ C olive oil

Put them all in baggies and shake it up to combine. Let it all sit and marinate in a refrigerator for 1 hour. All the measurements are more a guess – just combine them so it all smells irresistible to you. Don’t forget the lemon – it’s key.

Broil to cook.

Tatziki Sauce
1.5 C plain yogurt, hung to drain
1 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded, and shredded/minced
juice of ½ lemon
2-3 cloved minced garlic or a few shakes of garlic seasoning (I have this blend called GarlicGarlic! that worked wonderfully)
1 t salt

Mix all, let sit to combine 30+ minutes.

Kibbe

Albany John sated a bulgur craving by making kibbe recently! It was an experiment with delicious results.

You know what I like about this guy? Aside from his mop of cute hair and the fact that he puts up with my messes on a daily basis, is that we both like to experiment with multiple variations on a dish at the same meal.

He used some ground beef, since it’s what we had on hand. For some reason I thought kibbe/ kibbeh was vegetarian, so my nose was going wild “OH MY GOSH – IS THIS WHAT BULGUR SMELLS LIKE?! I WANT BULGUR EVERY DAY”. And then he told me it smelled beefy because of the beef. D’oh. Hee hee.

First he tried frying the kibbeh. It fell apart in the deep fryer, so at least the ground beef bits in the oil will be working to combat the fried chicken fat in the oil. I’ll get around to changing it eventually.

The other method he used was baking it. One was heavy on the bulgur, and the other mixture was more a spiced meat and onion baked meatball thing. Both were delicious.

I liked the texture of the bulgur in these – chewy yet tender, it was a nice consistency and really absorbed the beefy flavors well. The bottoms crisped up too, so there was light and fluffy orbs of kibbeh, and crispy crunchy bits as well. Very cool consistencies.

Here is the baked meatball thing. It was very tender. The meat was falling apart, and I loved the onion chunks as well. I liked eating the meat ball with the kibbeh, that way you could get a little more meat with the kibbeh if you wanted too.

I also like kibbeh’s spelling, it’s like it was created for cute purposes. Kibbeh. Kitteh. Cuteh. Aweseh.

Taramosalata

Albany John made dinner from the leftover odds and ends in our fridge last night. I was quite impressed! What really impressed me was his plating! He got so fancy last night!

Up front is a rice dish he made entirely in the rice cooker (rice, can of tomatoes, some chorizo-style sausage [it’s actually not that bad], red potatoes, and probably more I’m forgetting). I really enjoy dishes made entirely in the rice cooker since I am prone to mix everything up, and when you cook in the rice cooker it mixes everything up and the flavors meld nicely. We added some hot sauce to spice it up a bit.

To the left is a bowl of green beans (that were 77 cents a pound in NYC!!) simply cooked with some garlic cloves and sesame seeds. They were raw sesame seeds and toasted up nicely in the pan with them. The green beans still had lots of crunchiness to them and were very good. I could definitely have eaten 5 or 6 of these bowls! We also got these 2 white plates/bowls from Albany John’s grandmother when she moved into a smaller place. I really like their design and shape – very simple and pretty. (And totally appreciate our awesome Auntie for shipping them to us after spending a week cleaning and prepping the move!)

In the back is a frittata with zucchini. Simple and very good. The eggs were still soft and the zucchini was still slightly firm! How does Albany John do his kitchen chicanery?

Ok, y’all! I went to Roma Importing Company / Roma Prime Meats in Latham, NY yesterday. Look what I found! Real tarama / Carp roe caviar! This 10 oz jar was only $6.75, which I thought was a good price.

They also have a very knowledgeable and friendly butcher who was there when I was who answered all my questions perfectly! Hooray! They also changed up the store so the meat and importing stores are now connected, which I think is awesome and much easier. All of their pork is antibiotic and hormone free. Sweet. More on that later. Let’s open up this jar of tarama and see what it looks like.


This was filled to the brim of salty, slightly smoky tarama. Yummy. It smelled briny and fishy (in a VERY good way) and all of the balls of roe were bright and fresh looking.

Know what I like to do with fish roe? Taramosalata! That delicious greek dip! I didn’t have any bread handy so I just mixed equal parts of cream cheese and sour cream and added a squeeze of lemon to combine.

Next time I will add some cooked potato or bread and see how that works!

Albaraki


My baby sister has done it again. She turned another year older!

YAY PARTY TIME!

Haha, okay, or not. But I did want to take her out for some celebratory dining, the only catch being that it needed to be vegan.

I’m not terribly familiar with vegan/vegan-friendly restaurants in the capital district (if you do, please let me know!), but I thought Albaraki in Troy, NY was a good bet.

And woo! It was!

The baby has recently started college, and she is quickly learning the joys of cafeteria food. Heh heh. No, actually she said she was sick of “just salad or rice and beans” being her only option, and that the cafeteria admitted to mislabeling their foods and adding dairy to the vegan options. Poor kiddo.


Anyhooooo, I decided to stuff her (like I wasn’t to begin with) with non-salad-y goodness. We ordered the large sampler platter for $18, and it came with a whole ton of goodness, including the tabbouli you see above.

Woah baby, am I glad we got this! Albaraki was very accommodating – they made sure everything was vegan, and answered all my sister’s questions. At $18 this is the most expensive dish on their menu. Most meals tend to top out around $12, and the wraps and smaller plates are $4-7. There are sodas and bottled water as well, and they are under $2.

I ate most of the tabbouli – it was a very lemony, bright, veggie-tastic salad with minimal olive oil. I really enjoyed that, since then I could taste all of the flavors of the salad instead of it potentially getting weighed down with olive oil and tasting heavy.

Going clockwise from the bottom left corner:

Big blop of Baba Ghannouj – this eggplant dip was excellent and had just the right amount of smoky flavor. Creamy but not too heavy, and barely any eggplant seeds in the mix.

Big blop of Hummus – creamy, salty, and you could really taste the chickpea flavor. I wish I could get my own hummus as smooth as theirs.

2 pieces of Eggplant with some kind of spice in it. Really descriptive, I know. But it almost tasted like pizza. At first I thought they were like stuffed mushrooms, but I’m fairly sure it was eggplant. Not my favorite thing on the plate, but quite entertaining for the mouth.

2 Dolmas covered in garlic paste (I think). It was a really weak garlic paste (if that’s what it was) and went very well with the dolmas. The dolmas were firm and it tasted like brown rice or maybe bulgur even. (I AM SO NOT HELPFUL WITH DESCRIPTIONS) Either way, this pair was nice, with the garlic paste adding just a wee bit of happiness.

4 balls of Falafel slathered in a tahini sauce. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. They are large, fluffy and cooked perfectly through. LOVE. EAT. ENJOY.


Here’s another view. You get a better view of the falafels, stuffed eggplant bits, and dolmas.

Oh, we were in heaven. Nommy, nommy goodness was had. This also came with some cut up triangles of pita, which were perfectly chewy. I have no idea why, but I think pita bread just tastes better in a restaurant. They just never taste as good at home.

The aftermath. Yum, yum, yum. Oh, and those pink bits are really tasty pickles. Mmmm. Pickles. You can pickle anything and I’d like it, but when it’s neon pink I will LURVE it!

This platter was a great way to try some of the food from Albaraki. Next time I might supplement it with a wrap or two, just to fully ensure we have to waddle out. If you’re looking for safe vegan eats, Albaraki is one place I can definitely turn to in Troy, NY (and also their Lark St, Albany, NY store). And for amazing lebanese dishes as well. My next mission is to try their meat dishes. I’ve always stuck to vegetarian dishes when I go there. It’s so hard to resist the siren call of the garlic paste. (It goes something like this: “Ooo OOO ooo OOOoooh. I’m sooooOOOooo tastYYyyyy”)

Seriously. Get the falafel.

And the garlic paste.

And the halva.

And the baba ghannouj.

Oh man, now I’ve made myself crave a trip to Albaraki.

Aashiana Restaurant

Aashiana is located on 31 Central Ave. You know the area. It’s bookended by Ghandi and Shalimar. The last business that held up for a few months that I remember was Frenchie and Aroo’s, which died pretty quickly.

Aashiana took its place. I think it used to be located in Schenectady.

They have a lunch buffet until 3 pm every day they are open (closed Sundays). It’s $6.95 on the week days, but when we went on Saturday, we were charged $7.50. I think that’s the norm – most places charge more on Saturdays for the lunch buffet, if they even have it.

Their lunch buffet features 4-5 vegetarian dishes (which looked passably vegan as well, but don’t quote me on it), 2-3 meat dishes, sides, and naan.

It’s set up on 2 tables, but the owner has said he’s been spending his Sundays working on a buffet table. Woah! He is one busy guy, and it’s obvious he takes a lot of pride in his restaurant.

Here’s plate number 1 – going clockwise – I got some chicken (bottom left), tabbouli, salad, chicken meatballs in cream sauce over yellow rice, and spinach and chickpeas. Yum. Everything was so well spiced and fresh. The chicken meat balls were my favorite – they were packed with spices and seasoning.

Everything also seemed very fresh, and it was much lighter than the Indian food in the area. Aashiana is listed as a Mediterranean restaurant, but they are also heavily influenced with Indian food as well.

Like the fresh naan here. Yum. The owner brought some freshly made naan for us. We actually exercised control and only ate one naan apiece, but he offered more. And for that, much love.

The naan was excellent too – it tasted buttery, and was so incredibly light. Much lighter than other places around here. It was like a soft, soft, pillow. Not overly chewy, and just perfect.

I couldn’t resist a second go at the tasty Mediterranean and Indian buffet, so I got basically more of the same, but I also tried out some raita and a cauliflower/green bean dish. Seriously, get the meatballs, though. SO GOOD. I don’t know how anything in a cream sauce could taste bad.

I finished up with some kheer. Again, it was very light, maybe runny to some in comparison to the kheer at Indian places around here. I really enjoyed it – the cardamom actually tasted good (normally I can’t stomach cardamom), and the fresh pistachios were very nice.

Actually, after I snapped this one, the owner wanted to see the pictures I took too. He’s so sweet – he’s really welcoming and was all up for me telling all my friends (this means you!) about the place. There was no one else in the place eating when we were there, so definitely go check it out. Also, he’s usually the one waiting on you and in the general eating area (haven’t seen any other staff before), and he doesn’t really rely on tips since he’s the owner. So yea, tip or not, I don’t think it really matters here.

You guys know what a sucker I am for good service, and people who enjoy being there, but that aside, Aashiana is a great place for affordable, flavorful food. Their falafel wraps are also really good, and none of their dishes go above $8.99. If you really want a bargain, go check out the buffet. So freakin’ good! I’d go again this Saturday, but I have stupid wedding crap to do, and after that it’s the Justice/MGMT free concert in Altamont, NY sponsored by SoCo (which is absolutely gross as a booze, but hey, if someone throws a free party, I’m game).

Unrelated to food, but I really like the decor: simple tapestries (they’ve got little mirrors in them so they sparkle), and sparkly fake flowers on the sides. I’m also a sucker for sparkles.