Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service – 10 •Food – 10 •Ambiance – 6 •Price – $
By Danielle Pitanello
My first impression upon entering this restaurant on North Allen Street in Albany was that it was spotless, warm and smelled great. Owner/chef Rita Rahal was behind the counter with a broad and beautiful smile. In business for less than a year, she is enthusiastic about her restaurant and having guests try her wonderful food.
Our group of five visited the restaurant on a cold weeknight, but we were instantly warmed by the welcoming atmosphere and great smells.
My friend is Lebanese and is quite familiar with this healthy, wholesome way of cooking. Before we arrived, we already decided on appetizers and some “must have” dinner items to share. With my friend’s knowledge, he served as our host and guided us through the menu. We had additional guidance from Rita and her husband Tony, as well as our wonderful waiter, and settled on our main entrees while trying hard to sample as much as we could.
We started with Labini, Hummus and Baba Ghanous spreads with baskets of pita bread that flowed throughout the evening. We also shared a platter of Grape Leaves. Here, they are served with olives, pickled turnip and lemon sauce for dipping. By far, the Labini was the table favorite. Made with yogurt, mint and garlic, it is light and has a very refreshing taste. These items are on the cold appetizer list on the everyday menu, as well as some hot appetizers, like meat pies and spinach pies.
Not on this menu, but served from time to time as specials, is Hashwey, made with rice, ground beef, shredded chicken and walnuts. Rita explained that it’s a layered chicken dish with dressing, served with a light garlic sauce. I thought that it was great on its own, as it was full of great textures and flavor. We also shared some Lubi, green beans with tomatoes. It was excellent and I highly recommend this side dish with anything on the menu.
Constant companion and my friend ordered the mixed grill kebab. It consisted of chicken, beef and kafta kebabs. For those unfamiliar, kafta is ground beef with parsley and onions. My two cousins had the Kibbeh Sineyeh, a baked dish with a crust of ground beef and bulgur, filled with ground beef and onions. You couldn’t help but think that this dish was true Lebanese comfort food. Since the portions are so large, they were looking forward to enjoying it for lunch the following day.
I loved my choice of Mjadara. It’s made with lentils, rice, onion and spices. Like the other entrees ordered, it was full of spices, but did not overwhelm you.
Each entrée is served with a generous side salad (fatoush) with Rita’s own dressing comprised of garlic, lemon, mint, cinnamon, and I suspect, some secret touches. It is a new favorite of mine and if she ever bottles it, I will be her first and best customer!
Though we all had leftovers and were quite full, my friend insisted that we share Rita’s Baklawa (Baklava). Most of the Baklava that I have tasted is made with honey and is very sweet; this version is made with rosewater. The end result is a fabulous nutty desert without all the teeth-aching sweetness. Because I’ve been spoiled, I doubt I’ll ever enjoy Baklava any other way.
Two of us finished with cups of anise tea. The strong vibrant taste of anise was a terrific way to end the meal. The tea is soothing and stomach settling.
Dining at Rita’s was a night of many explorations, and like many mind-opening experiences, we are all better off for having enjoyed it. This food is not only excellent, it’s good for you!
Worth noting: No alcohol is served. Portions are very large. There are approximately 8-10 tables for inside dining. All foods can also be ordered ahead by fax or phone.
Rita’s Lebanese Restaurant is located at 188 North Allen Street, Albany. For more information call 434.3543