If you love Mediterranean restaurants but feel like all the popular places around the Capital District are too similar, Ali Baba in Troy might just have the variety you need. With a focus on Turkish cuisine, Ali Baba has standard Mediterranean items like hummus and stuffed grape leaves and kebabs on the menu, but also a lot of dishes that you may not have heard of before. The physical menu at the restaurant is mostly a collection of pictures that requires you to guess what might be good without a lot of description to go on. Spoiler alert: just about everything is good here.
I’ve said this before, but I love a meal that’s focused on dipping bread or pita into some sort of spread. Which is why I really enjoy the mixed plate of appetizers at Ali Baba – a choice of five for $10.95 or all ten options for $16.95. The large plate is not only a great way to sample lots of items that are temptingly showcased in the restaurant’s big counter display, but also probably enough food for a meal by itself.
My favorites from this plate were the smokey roasted eggplant spread (the green clump right in the middle), the barbunya (giant white beans with olive oil and lemon), and the ezme (a dense mixture of mashed tomatoes, parsley, red pepper, olive oil, and lemon). But truthfully they were all pretty good. The hummus was very light and spreadable, the stuffed grape leaves had a nice classic consistency, and the shredded carrots in a yogurt sauce were surprisingly light. I would eat all of these again, and recommend you just go for the big plate, because choosing only five would be a real struggle.
One of the best parts about ordering the mixed salads is that they are served with a giant lavash bread fresh out of the wood fired oven and some yogurt sauce for dipping. The lavash is almost like a giant pita that comes to the table steaming hot and all puffed up. It is delicious in its own right, but also the perfect vessel for sopping up bits of all the appetizer salads.
One of my other favorites on a recent visit was the doner kebab pizza, which is topped with pieces of gyro meat and mushrooms. This is definitely not a traditional NY style of pizza, but the crust had a great flavor and char from the wood fired oven. The toppings were flavorful and applied in a nice ratio, although the whole thing was a bit juicy and hard to eat. But worth it.
I also really liked the meat pide. I would not have been able to guess exactly what the ingredients were from the menu picture or when it was brought to the table, but it was tasty – especially the bread that enclosed everything. According to the online menu, the filling includes ground meat, beef cubes, tomato, green pepper, Turkish pastrami, egg, and mozzarella. It seemed more like an indiscernible jumble to me, but a good one nonetheless.
In general, everything that came out of that wood fired oven with a bread component was top notch, and that’s where I’d suggest focusing your energy when trying to sort through the menu at Ali Baba. The appetizer salads were diverse and interesting, but really stood out because they were paired with the freshly baked lavash bread. The pizza had a great supporting crust with just the right texture and amount of chewiness. And the pide had a lovely crusty exterior.
That’s not to say that the other dishes weren’t good too. We tried a few kebabs that were nicely marinated and tender, and a baked veal casserole with vegetables that had some nicely developed flavors in the sauce. But a few of the dishes bordered on being a little heavy. And with so many filling options to choose from, it just seems like it would be a mistake to skip the excellent carbs that are being freshly churned out from the oven at Ali Baba.