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At the Table: Fast-casual Afghan food? It’s here, and it’s very good

At the Table: Fast-casual Afghan food? It’s here, and it’s very good

I have never eaten fish so tender and flavorful
At the Table: Fast-casual Afghan food? It’s here, and it’s very good
Clockwise from top: Naan, kaduna borani and banjan borani at Mazadar Mediterranean Kitchen.
Photographer: Beverly M. Elander

I am no longer an avid shopper. But I have gained increasing respect for strip malls. In the past, if you got hungry shopping, you could duck into a fast-food chain and grab a burger, a slice of pizza or some soft-serve ice cream.

But with our rapidly evolving population, our tastes in food (pun intended) and resources designed to create ethnic meals have spread and grown.

Large cities offered a variety of foreign delicacies, but not so much in the suburbs.

Until now.

For example: Heading east just past the intersection of routes 5 and 155 is Central Square Plaza — not really a square, but a disconnected and irregular strip mall. At the east end are a beauty spa, barber shop, nail boutique and tanning salon.

In contrast on the west end is Mazadar (Persian for “very delicious”).

The name is accurate. The food we enjoyed during a recent late lunch was among the best we’ve enjoyed in a no-frills venue — or any venue, for that matter. Although the large-word graphics (“kabobs,” “chicken,” “sizzle,” “fresh”) in a color scheme of black, red and white were not particularly restful and conducive to dining, the soothing Middle Eastern background music definitely was.

Half-page menus printed in black, red and white on heavy paper were available at the door, and a large animated version was hung above the front counter where the customer placed an order. Food selections were sorted into groups including appetizers; kabobs (and combos); wraps and wings; veggie entrees; salad, desserts; and sides, sauces and drinks.

My motto is, “When in an Afghan restaurant, order Afghan food.” That meant appetizer kadu borani ($5.50) for me and banjan borani ($6) for dependable guest. Borani is essentially a yogurt dip, often with spinach (or other vegetables) and various seasonings. Kadu borani is made with bright orange pumpkin, while banjan borani is made with fried eggplant. The eggplant was served warm while the pumpkin was room temperature.

Both were slightly pureed and then artistically drizzled with a yogurt, lemon, garlic and dill sauce.

We ate the appetizers with forks like a side dish, and dipped and scooped with Afghan naan (much like crispy focaccia cut into 4” squares).

A standard but extremely fresh salad of cucumbers, lettuce, red onion and romaine accompanied our meals, and we opted to use the Afghan sauces (yogurt, cilantro or hot) in various combinations instead of the “regular” dressings, which server Mariam offered.

Old friend chose salmon fish kabobs ($15.95) as his entree. Described as “marinated in our special seasonings and grilled to perfection on skewers,” it was served on a generous bed of Afghan kabuli (long-grained) rice. But it was the chunks of salmon that drove us both wild.

I have never eaten fish so tender and flavorful. Never. Whatever the ingredients of the “special seasoning” were, they created magic.

And to add to our enjoyment, a shaker of ground, dried dark baby grapes (sumac) was left on the table. Miriam explained that sprinkling some on the food would enhance the flavor. I poured a little in my hand and tasted it, detecting only a faint, sweet flavor.

My four small lamb chops had been marinated in the same subtle house seasonings as the salmon. And as with the salmon, the seasoning gave the meat its Mazadar signature flavor. I ate one chop, shared a second with my guest and brought the other two home. The meat was slightly overcooked and therefore a little dry, but lined up on an oval dish heaped with kabuli, the result was quite palatable.

Mazadar offers three traditional desserts: baklawa ($3.95), firnee ($2.95) and cheesecake ($3.95). We chose to share a container of firnee because it was least familiar to us.

Served chilled, this cornstarch pudding was seasoned with cardamom (tiny black specks of seeds were visible like so many pepper grains in the silky, off-white pudding) and chopped green pistachio nuts. The cool, soothing consistency of the firnee was a perfect finish to a fine Afghan meal.

NAPKIN NOTES

Mazadar’s meat is all-natural, grass-fed organic halal. Kabuli palaw is a meal that includes rice, raisins, carrots and lamb, and is considered the Afghan national dish.


Mazadar Mediterranean Kitchen

WHERE: 1839 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12205; 518-464-0800; www.mazadar.com
WHEN: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m-9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $49.85 (for two appetizers, two entrees, three beverages, one dessert) without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Lot parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, 14 tables, takeout, online ordering and delivery.

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