Al Baraki is one of the best places to eat in the Capital Region. You may be surprised by that statement, but you shouldn't be: consistently, immigrant and 'ethnic' restaurants in this area outpace more traditional (read: white) eateries for freshness, originality, and heart.
What is heart? Heart is that personal connection to food, that sense of emotional nourishment and connection we get when we eat food prepared with care and love. Too often, that quality is missing from overly corporatized chain restaurants and overbuilt, overly fussy places that try to pass as gourmet, like Provence in Stuyvesant Plaza.
At Al Baraki, you get garlicky, fresh food with great variety and a down-home feeling. Paul and Simone are the proprietors, and the restaurant is situated in what used to be a pizzeria. Apparently, Paul started out selling pizza pie, but was encouraged to prepare foods that reflect his Lebanese heritage. It has been working, and I for one will be going back for more. They had a very successful Lebanese festival recently and they tell me they plan to do it again next year. Also, students, be on the lookout for a promotion in the fall.
Today I had the sampler platter, and usually with these types of platters, I'll like one or two of the samples while the rest are pretty bland. But on the Al Baraki platter, I *loved* everything: the baba ganouj was light and garlicky; the stuffed grape leaf and the makdous (baby eggplant stuffed with walnuts and peppers) were topped with Al Baraki's stupendous, home made garlic mayonnaise (which sometimes you can buy to take home in jars); and the tabbouli was full-bodied with mint and lemon. Another one of their signatures is the homemade turnip pickle. It doesn't sound like much, but it packs a wonderful flavor punch, and they use it as a garnish/side on a lot of their dishes.
They also offer meat dishes such as shawarma (chicken or beef), home made pies (lahm-ajeen, which is ground beef with tomato; or goat cheese pie, which I want to try next); and hot vegetable dishes like mousakaa (this looks like a vegetarian version, with onion, eggplant and chickpeas) or loubieh (green beans cooked with onion and garlic).
Their hours are:
Daily 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday 10:30- 9 p.m.
Today it was nice, so I sat at an outdoor table, but they also have seats inside. Go to Al Baraki; it'll make you want to become a regular.