In some ways, this will be a pretty easy review since others have already done a really good job getting photos and the backstory of this new spot on Madison – Kismet Mediterranean Grill. Head over to All Over Albany for great pictures. Visit the Times Union blogs for a pretty comprehensive backstory. Visit the restaurant’s own website for a menu, etc. All I have to do is report on our trip.
First, let me say that we visited with friends on a Tuesday night in the summer and it was reasonably busy, which is a fantastic sign. The place is gorgeous inside, featuring authentic Turkish lamps over the tables. As noted in the TU Pine Hills blog, the owner/chef grew up in the Soviet Union (now Azerbaijan) and studied cooking in Turkey where he fell in love with the food, which is where the heart of the menu resides. We know this because he came out and introduced himself and stopped to chat for a few minutes after we had finished. He talked to other tables as well. Seems like a really earnest, nice guy.
So, without all the preliminaries, I can dive into the food. To keep it simple, let me just say that everyone enjoyed their meal. At least I know my wife liked her choice and our friends certainly had no trouble cleaning their plates. I thought it was OK and a bit overpriced, like many of the reviews you’ll see online for Kismet.
My wife and I shared sigara boregi – Hand-rolled phyllo dough pastry, stuffed with feta cheese & dill, golden fried, served with tzatziki sauce. I had wondered if these were like the cheese beoreg we get at the Armenian Festival and the answer is ‘not really’. ‘Cheese in dough’ is the only real similarity. Beoreg at the festival are triangles of flaky phyllo, these may have been phyllo, but thick layered phyllo if so. They were tasty, the feta went well with the finger-thick, crisp rolls of dough, fried to a very deep gold. The dill was mild. Kismet’s tzatziki is delicious, on the thinner side of the spectrum, but not runny or overly garlicky. For $7 you get 4 rolls (a decent 3-4 bites apiece, I would say) and a little vat of tzatziki.
Our friends got the dolma for $9. I would point out that the menu says they are served warm or cold and they were not asked what they wanted. I believe they came cold. That price gets you 3 typically sized dolma. It sounds like lemon was the predominant flavor – I could smell lemon. They came with pita and tzatziki.
I’ll start with my entree since it might have been the least successful (I’m sort of nitpicking here, it wasn’t bad, I just wasn’t blown away, which is probably an unnecessarily high expectation for any restaurant, let alone a new one). I got the shish kebab lamb (of course I did). It was nicely presented, which is a real strong point for Kismet, everything looks really nice without looking pretentious. I want to say there were four small-to-medium kebabs. Also on the plate was a triangle of pita (nothing special), a small salad (fine), another little container of tzatziki and one of a thin spicy tomato sauce, a molded serving of rice, and a little tangle of pickled…something. I didn’t try it. Onions maybe? Sorry – bad, bad reviewer! The lamb marinade was tasty, but the lamb was a little dry and overcooked. The kebabs are cooked to order and I was asked if I wanted something other than medium, but that sounded good to me. These were medium well, not really overcooked, but the lean kebabs couldn’t handle it without getting a little dry. I make a big deal out of this because just about every item on the menu raves about how it is “perfectly” grilled. This was not. The tzatziki helped. The spicy tomato sauce was interesting and also was nice on the lamb. It wasn’t fiery, but it had a little kick to it at the back of the throat. I wasn’t a fan of the rice – chewy to the point of some bites being legitimately tough. The flavor was fine, it was just too chewy for me. My wife enjoyed it a lot.
She had the chicken kavourma – Stir-fried chicken with seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, & garlic. Cooked and served on a hot iron pan with rice and house salad. This is small pieces of seasoned chicken stir fried with the items mentioned and served around the perimeter of a metal plate with rice in the middle and a salad on the side. The plate is raised on an interesting contraption that keeps the food hot – you can see pictures online. The chicken was a little peppery to my wife, who doesn’t tolerate heat well. I tasted a piece and could taste the pepper on it, but it wasn’t “spicy”. She ate most of it and took a bit home.
Our dining companions had the lamb kavourma (the same thing with lamb) and the iskender kebab (Our classic gyro with tomato-butter sauce on top, over a bed of pita, served with homemade yogurt, along with rice and house salad). This was a really interesting, attractive presentation with the pita lined up along the plate, the gyro slices laid atop them, then the sauce covering it. They both seemed to enjoy their meals.
We didn’t get dessert (baklava with or without vanilla ice cream). Beverages were unsweetened iced tea for me and my wife (tasty, mild, hit the spot on a hot night), and an apple tea (hot and reportedly apple-y) and a beer for our friends. Before tip the bill was around $100. Not crazy for the quality, size of the place, and location. But not a bargain.
I want to make a point to compliment our server. He knew the menu and was really nice and just attentive enough. We got refills just before they were needed and our water glasses were always full. Service was really a plus.
I’m not going to say I’m in love, but Kismet is worth your time if the menu appeals to you. Flavors are good and preparation is stylish and thoughtful. The place itself is, again, gorgeous. Give Kismet a try.