Tara Kitchen – Schenectady, NY
I think it’s really fun to see businesses start small and have limited distribution in places like specialty markets and farmers markets and then reach the point where a store front is necessary. For the past few years, I’ve seen food from Tara Kitchen at both the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market and the Schenectady Green Market, and I’ve always meant to try some but never gotten around to it. (You know how that goes.)
Recently, since Cassie works very close to Tara Kitchen’s restaurant (located at 431 liberty street in Schenectady), we took the opportunity to have dinner there on a Saturday night while she had to work. It was fairly early, about 5:15pm, and all of the tables were occupied. We didn’t have a reservation, but there was plenty of room at the counter.
A young lady behind the counter poured us glasses of a delicious, warm house blend tea. It was sweetened with honey and laced with mint. It was a great way to warm up for a meal.
The menu has a heavy Moroccan influence, and, for dinner, most of the entrees are prepared in a tagine, a clay apparatus designed to cook on relatively low heat with little additional moisture. They have a very distinct shape and come in various sizes (and look like they also may be sold at Tara Kitchen).
If you’re eating in the front portion of the restaurant, most of the prep area is visible except for a separate raised area. The kitchen is equipped with a few burners and a griddle for the fish dishes. There’s also a cold station.
As an appetizer, I picked two items to try.
The first was spicy harrisa marinated picholine olives ($4). These were great. Harrisa is a red pepper sauce that has some sweetness, some heat, and some smokiness. Along with the olives and thinned with some light but delicious olive oil, it was amazing. It’s the type of thing where you savor every bit of the harissa as it dissolves on your tongue and then you bite into the salty olive and discard the pit.
I also ordered the eggplant, roasted garlic and tomato dip with pita bread ($3). This dish was served slightly warm but wasn’t as outstanding as the olives, but it was very good. I thought it lacked salt, but the textures and flavors were interesting.
As my entreé, I tried the chicken with preserved lemons and green olives ($16).
It arrived at the counter with the dome, which the young man who ran it over lifted the dome before my eyes. Out poured an almost unbelievable fragrance of lemon and parsley.
With both preserved lemons (which are basically lemons pickled in salt) and brined olives, I knew this was going to be an assertively seasoned dish. The flavors penetrated the chicken pieces all the way to the bone, and everything melded together nicely.
I think there was about half of a chicken in the dish, and the preserved lemons, olives, and herbs cooked down to make a tight sauce that was rich, salty, acidic, and delicious.
A few moments after the tagine was served, the young man brought over some pita bread and couscous. The couscous was served cold. The raisins were plump and brought a burst of moisture to bites of the otherwise dry couscous. The pita bread was great to sop up the sauce around the chicken.
Throughout the meal, they refilled our tea a number of times. It was delightful.
While we were there, we saw our friends, Valerie and her husband, Drew, who looked like they were enjoying their meal. In fact, all of the patrons seemed to be having great meals. What a great place!