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At the Table: Enjoy authentic Turkish cuisine at Ali Baba in Troy

Sunday, August 28, 2011
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A generous portion of the Turkish flatbread lavash is puffed and hot from the oven at Ali Baba Mediterranean-style restaurant in Troy. (BEVERLY M. ELANDER/FOR THE SUNDAY GAZETTE)
A generous portion of the Turkish flatbread lavash is puffed and hot from the oven at Ali Baba Mediterranean-style restaurant in Troy. (BEVERLY M. ELANDER/FOR THE SUNDAY GAZETTE)

— We greatly appreciated the authentic food at Ali Baba Mediterranean-style restaurant, but a word of advice if you’re new to Turkish cuisine: Bone up on the names of dishes you might want to try before you go.

Ali Baba’s menu has pictures of the dishes with their names under them, but that’s not very helpful if you’ve never heard of, say, barbunya or ezme or ajuka.

Nevertheless, if you enjoy adventurous dining and tempting food that you’re expected to eat with your fingers, Ali Baba’s the place for you. We went on a weeknight and found the staff friendly if rushed and, sometimes, a little tough to understand.

Besides Turkish food, Ali Baba also sells pizza that, from the traffic we witnessed, has a lot of fans in the neighborhood.

Ali Baba

WHERE: 2243 15th St., Troy. 273-1170, www.alibabatogo.com

WHEN: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted.

COST: $59.30

FESTIVE AND WARM

A word about the place: It’s a storefront operation not far from the local mosque, and the patrons on the night we visited ranged from Muslim families with women in hijabs to a group of RPI students and their dates. The atmosphere is festive, the noise level high and the temperature warm (there’s no air-conditioning and there’s a big ceramic oven within sight of the dining area).

Everybody’s dinner begins with a generous portion of lavash — Turkish flatbread — which arrives hot and all puffed up right out of the oven. The lavash, with black and white sesame seeds on top, is also sprinkled with olive oil. We ripped it apart with our fingers and dragged bits of it through the cold, creamy yogurt with dill that was served along with the flatbread.

Dinner date Beverly ordered the “Large Plate” for us to share — a sampler of such Mediterranean staples as baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant seasoned with garlic and lemon), humus, carrot salad with yogurt, spicy roasted red peppers, barbunya (beans cooked and then sauteed in olive oil and served cold in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic, green peppers, onions and carrots), stuffed grape leaves, and a densely flavored tomato paste. The dish — full of contrasting flavors and textures — was easily enough for three or four people, and we carted half of it home with us for a next-day snack.

We also ordered a Greek salad ($6.95), red lentil soup ($4.95) and a lamb “shish,” which was a kebab without the skewer ($9.95).

The salad was composed of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, black olives and red onions and lots of crumbled feta, with a light dressing.

The lentil soup was a hit — savory and refreshing with a hint of lemon. It came with pieces of flatbread, which I tore and dredged through the soup because it’s not only all right to eat this food with your hands, it’s highly recommended.

FLAVORFUL RICE

But the star of the evening was the lamb dish and the remarkably flavorful white rice that accompanied it. The lamb was a treat — savory and tender morsels that we ate with sauteed onions, but it was the rice that kept us coming back for another bite. Let’s just say there were no leftovers.

We concluded our meal with Sutlac, a rice pudding ($4.95) made of milk and rice and spices. It was a lot more interesting than most bland versions of rice pudding with its spicy notes and only a hint of sweetness.

Our tab for two entrees, salad, soup, one shared dessert, soda and a Turkish tea for Beverly came to $59.30 with tax and tip, but you don’t have to spend that much.

Among the menu choices you might consider if you visit Ali Baba is Iskender Kabob, said to be Turkey’s most famous dish and named after its creator, Iskender (Alexander) Efendi. It is thinly cut grilled lamb basted with a hot tomato sauce and served over pieces of pita bread that is slathered with both sheep’s butter and yogurt.

There are also guvecs — meat or meatless stews baked in a clay pot — and the usual kabobs and shishes.

We’ve added Ali Baba to our list of places we must revisit.

NAPKIN NOTES

We elaborated on the bean dish barbunya in today’s review, but not on the ezme or ajuka. Ezme is a kind of tomato salsa that is served as a condiment. Ajuka is roasted eggplant, red peppers and nuts. There will be a quiz.

 
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