When Boston’s only Albanian restaurant closed in 2007, moans oozed from fans of this Mediterranean cuisine thrown into withdrawal. With the opening of Arbri Cafe last month, Bostonians can once again relish such dishes as patllixhan (eggplant caviar) and tave kosi (lamb baked in homemade yogurt).
The owners are new, but the Roslindale location (most recently Boston Brickhouse) and the chef are the same as the last Albanian eatery, Cafe Apollonia. Chef Marlon Hysi is once again cooking his native cuisine from scratch, pickling vegetables, culturing yogurt, and simmering homemade broth.
New, however, is the Medieval-castle-by-
Albanian cooking draws on Greek, Turkish, and Italian cuisines and these influences often mingle deliciously within single dishes. With buttery, grilled triangles of flat bread we scoop up liptao ($6), a creamy, addictive yogurt dip drizzled with fragrant Albanian olive oil. It’s a milder cousin of tzatziki.
Arbri flatbread ($6) tops the same bread with a mouth-watering tangle of caramelized onions, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, diced tomato, and basil leaves. Stuffed grape leaves ($6) mix juicy ground lamb into pillows of dill- and mint-flecked Arborio rice.
With the likes of a flaky, filo-dough-wrapped spinach pie called byrek ($6), and the trio of tangy marinated eggplant, garlicky grilled eggplant, and smoky eggplant caviar ($7), you could make a meal of small plates. Just don’t miss fergese Elbasani ($7), a warm, roasted pepper spread swirled with Albanian ricotta, garlic, and herbs, and dotted with soft squares of gently charred sweet peppers (pictured below).
Entrees run from a favorite Tirana fast-food rotisserie chicken ($16), slathered in a paprika-rich brown sauce, to dressed-up classics such as tender, braised lamb shank in a demi-glace ($17) and on to pasta dishes. We enjoy a potato- and bechamel-topped lamb mousaka fragrant with allspice ($15), as well as juicy, whole trout smothered in roasted onion, tomato, and Meyer lemon ($16). A few hestitations: Salting is a bit heavy-handed, a chicken kebab ($17) is dry, and pasta with brie ($12) has an odd taste.
We finish with cinnamon-dusted baklava ($4), thick with pecans and walnuts, and it tempts us to try more. A good thing, as Arbri serves breakfast, which includes espresso, pace (a broth soup made with beef shanks), and other specialties. DENISE TAYLOR