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Mazadar is a must visit

For a change I’m going to write a review when it’s really fresh instead of trying to wrack my brain later.  We literally just got back from our first, but definitely not last, visit to Mazadar Mediterranean Kitchen in Albany.  I didn’t feel like taking pictures, but you can find a lot of good ones over at Yelp.  The restaurant is conveniently located on Central in a strip mall sort of across from Kohl’s near New Karner.  The space is bright and clean and roomy.

When we were there, dinner time on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, it was steadily busy, which is a great sign.  The clientele was really mixed as well, which is nice to see.

The cuisine, though the restaurant is vaguely titled “Mediterranean”, is fundamentally Afghani.  We’ve been more or less chasing the various Afghani restaurants as they’ve come and gone for the 15 or so years we’ve lived here ever since we found, then lost, our beloved Afghan Grille in Latham.  Really I think I’ve been chasing that Afghan-style kebob since they closed.  Still the best lamb of my life.

In modern parlance, Mazadar would essentially pass for ‘fast casual’.  Come in and order off the limited overhead menu and pay, then have your food brought to you at your table.  Although ‘fast’ is only a so-so description.  Moderately busy (and none of the people there before us seemed to have gotten their food yet, so they were all ahead of us), it took maybe 20-25 minutes to get our entrees, although my appetizer came out much quicker, probably within 10 minutes.  I had only finished it for maybe 5 minutes before our entrees arrived.  I see there are complaints on Yelp about the time, but these people need to get real.  The food is grilled to order, I’m sure, and having frequented many similar restaurants, the wait was right on par.  Food is described by the restaurant as Halal.

(Update: we’ve been going here a LOT and the wait has gone down quite a bit)

So let’s get at it, how was the food, right?

We both got fountain drinks (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Orange Crush, some teas, couple others), they also have some bottled beverages.  I got the mantu appetizer, described in this incarnation as “dumplings filled with seasoned beef and onions topped with yogurt, tomato sauce, and mint”.  These were the best thing I got by a country mile and that’s not disparaging the rest of the meal, they were just really, really good.  I poked and prodded at them to try to determine if they were likely house-made or not and my best guess is that they are.  I didn’t notice much tomato sauce, they were mostly coated with their delicious yogurt/sumac/etc white sauce, but it wasn’t missed.  There was a generous sprinkling of mint over the top, but happily it wasn’t overpowering for this mint non-lover.  The wrappers were soft with good structure.  The beef filling, mixed with some onion, was packed with flavor for a small bite.  I cut each of the 5 or 6 dumplings in half first to examine, then to savor, them.  Considering how small they were (again, two bites), they packed a ton of flavor into these and just the slightest bit of heat, enough that it barely lingered, just enough to remind you that it was there.  Finished with a sprinkling of chickpeas, this is a winner, if just onto the pricey side for what you get for $6.50.

Entrees were the chicken kebob for my wife and lamb kebob for me.  Both came with heaping piles of rice, a salad, and a slice of plain naan.  There’s salt and pepper, along with a shaker of what seemed to be za’atar, on the table.  Along with our meals came three squirt bottles: the aforementioned white sauce, a cilantro sauce that was left untried, and a hot sauce.  The hot sauce was nice, not too hot, flavorful…OK, it did sort of taste like buffalo wing sauce…if it started with a base of Frank’s, I wouldn’t bat an eye.  Taking a cue from The Persian Bite, mixing it with the yogurt sauce is a delight.

The rice was heavily seasoned with cumin.  It made for a good bite at first, but wore just a little thin as the meal went on.  However, it did work really well in a bite with the meat, which is likely the point.  It also played well with the yogurt sauce.  Not sure we’ve encountered cumin rice with Afghan food before.  Very smoky.  A quick search online reveals that it’s not so unusual.

The small side salad was undressed (add some yogurt sauce!) and consisted of a couple of slices of cucumber and tomato plus crisp romaine.  Everything was fresh, which is a nice change when, even at this time of bountiful local harvests, restaurants too often serve you old cucumbers and pale, lame tomatoes.

The bread was the one big disappointment.  My money is on bagged, potentially supermarket, naan.  I can live with toasted/warmed pita from a bag if you’re not going to make fresh bread (like Indian restaurants or even the tasty stuff from The Persian Bite), this just didn’t work with the quality otherwise on display.

The chicken was reported as still juicy and good, although nothing earth shattering.  Classic yellow/orange with turmeric, I noted that the color didn’t penetrate all the way through, indicating perhaps a shorter marinade than at some restaurants.  The lamb was good, well seasoned and decently grilled.  However, the cuts were not quite ideal, although I wouldn’t describe them as tough by any stretch.  They spent probably a whole 60-90 extra seconds on the grill, just enough to take away most of the pink from the center of the kebobs.  A bit quicker hand and they’d have been notably better, although these were good as is.  A bit longer marinade would have helped these as well with the tenderness.  Both came with 6 or 7 reasonably-sized kebobs on their mountain of rice.  Yelp complaints about not enough meat are ludicrous and obviously from someone that has never been to this type of restaurant before.  If anything there were 1 or 2 more kebobs than is typical and the entrees are reasonably priced for what you get.  I couldn’t finish my rice and my wife brought home half her rice and a kebob or two.

Overall, big thumbs up from us and we’ll be back.  Mazadar has seasonings locked down.  Service is efficient and friendly.  Prices are more or less in line with the area and what you get.  Clean up just a few hiccups with the meat preparations and this goes from solid hit to home run.

(Again, we’ve been back a LOT, as we eat here probably more often than anywhere except Blue Ribbon, our go-to when we don’t want to go far place, and most of the rough edges are totally smooth. Mantu is still delicious, kebabs have been a perfect medium, and personally I’ve pretty well locked in my white-to-hot sauce mix 🙂 )