As you might have seen, Zaitoon Kitchen is now open, though still in a bit of a shake down, just past the Latham Circle. We were looking forward to trying it and did so recently.If you want a brief background on the location, you can get it via Steve Barnes here: link.
I never saw the inside of the location before, but it’s certainly nice, if not overly large. They have it fixed up nicely for what is essentially a (slow) quick serve location. There are 6 small and one larger table. There were constant pickups of phoned in orders the whole time we were there, though, so that already seems to be a popular option.
Ordering is done at the front counter and 15-20 minutes later your name (or number, for some reason they were mixing and matching while we were there) is called and you pick up your order on a tray. Utensils (plastic) are available at a small side table along with more napkins, although there are napkin dispensers on the tables.
Beverages were rather limited to a couple of bottled teas and a few sodas or bottled water. I think they may have had coffee and tea, also. The menu board mentions fountain drinks, maybe that’s not in, yet. There was just a cooler behind the counter with bottles ($2).
As exciting as it would be for me to recount the menu, you can just check out the link above and all the claims about their meat. Being me, I of course wanted to try the lamb kababs, but they were out. Not great. It wasn’t late, so maybe they had a big lunch crowd. It’s their first week, I guess I have to cut them some slack for not yet having a great grasp on demand. I went with the beef kabab rice plate, instead and my wife got the same with chicken. We both had the spiced rice.
The spiced rice, spiced with warm spices like cumin, was the second best thing on the plate. The first was the fluffy, soft, chewy pita. Can you see where this review is going?
The salad – lettuce, onion, tomato with an herbed yogurt dressing was tasty enough. Both meat selections were fine, cooked decently, although the beef was on the dry side. With the rice it was OK, though. More than anything, both choices were simply underseasoned. If they were marinated, they didn’t really give much sense of it. I didn’t taste much. Each came with a small plastic cup of spin sauce, which tasted mostly of cilantro. If that’s your thing, it would definitely liven up the meat. It helped a little with the bit I had, but as I don’t dig cilantro I didn’t use much. I have to say I’m a little surprised. For what is reportedly an experienced operation to run with such flavorless proteins threw me for a loop. I expected better. That’s on me, though, expectations.
I doubt we’ll rush back. I guess I might want to try a wrap with lamb kababs, although I’d try to get something besides spin sauce on it.
I will say this, it’s a pretty good deal. You get a really big portion of rice and a decent amount of salad. The pita is quite large and they didn’t skimp on the protein. All in all, compared to local restaurants selling similar food, I would say the price is commensurate with quality. They’re a little cheaper, but I find the quality similarly lower. And, yeah, the wait was a bit much. We waited a solid 20 minutes, which seems like a lot for grilling small kababs. Honestly I’m not sure what took so long, especially with…I think there were 3 to 5 guys in the kitchen. I don’t understand what took so long. Were they making rice to order? If so, that’s a bizarre choice.
I don’t want to make it out that it was bad. It wasn’t. I’m not aware of similar places in that area around the circle or even Latham, so I can see it being popular, especially with those prices. Maybe we’re just spoiled by existing favorites like Persian Bite in Schenectady and Mamoun’s in Albany. And new crush, Lalah Restaurant, also in Schenectady (oh, that kabuli palow! The rice is literally Christmas in your mouth – cinnamon, raisins, and shredded carrot for sweetness…mmm).
I’d say give it a try. Maybe some of the other choices are a little more flavorful. Honestly, if the meat was a little more tasty it’d be a home run, but since they play such a big role and they talk about them so much, they need to be stronger.