Friday, April 19, 2013

Restaurants in Tirana, Albania

Other than street food, your dining out options in Tirana are pretty limited. On my recent visit I went a good slice of them.


At the Taiwan center there's a Steak House and a Fish House. I went to the Steak House:

The fuckers were out of draft beers. Whatever, save room for food.

The waiter brought us this plate of meat to preview their t-bone for the night. Somehow, it didn't entice any of us to order it.

Their complimentary bread isn't bad - soft, warm, brown bread - but don't fill up on it because there's great food to be had here on the cheap.

Steak house salad - 500 Leke: Chicken, sunflower seeds, Arabic dates, cous-cous, and olive oil with herbs. This is a must-order. It is so good, so big, so healthful, lightly sauced. It's a perfect fucking salad. And it's the equivalent of less than $5 USD. 


Exotic Salad (500 Leke): Green salad, apple, avocado, pineapple, sunflower seeds, and sauce - It was a fun salad, but it was too sweet. The sauce might have just been pineapple juice.





"Krem Salmoni" - Salmon cream soup - 400 Leke - delicious!

The best thing there: Veal Filet Baked in Volcanic Stone (1000 Leke): Tender as only a little baby animal can be and clearly grazing on real fucking grass and shit, this was the best veal I've ever had. Not only was the quality spectacular, but the volcanic stone is the best thing ever and I want one at home now. I got to cook my own meat! Which meant I got to make it perfectly rare! I wanted everyone at my table to have a piece, so I was cooking six people little slices to order.


Oh oh oh.

 Ignore the pointless watery ketchup sauce, give your cute little potatoes an extra sear! Take some of the bread and toast it on your stone! It stays hot forever. I squeezed a bit of lemon juice on it after half an hour to see, and, as my sister would say, "Ooooh, sizzle!"

Fileto Vici me Salc Porto e Portokall (1000 Leke): Veal filet with orange port sauce - Unfortunately, I couldn't taste any orange, and the sauce just wasn't that good.

Left to their own devices, your veal will be medium well, so just get the volcanic stone.


Cheesecake (300 Leke): With a jello-like texture, it was like a hospital version of cheesecake. It was less like a graham cracker crust that as animal cracker crust.

Tiramisu (300 Leke): Every day they have a different tiramisu on the daily specials menu. This day was strawberries. It was pretty tasty, but the cup situation meant the proportions were all wackadoo.

In sum: Start with the Steak House Salad and get the veal on the volcanic stone. Skip dessert. Stop at a store and buy some figs or a nice dark chocolate bar that would be three times as much in the U.S.




Another restaurant, Era, offers traditional Albanian food, as well as Mediterranean, Italian, and a coupla "Mexican" and "American" things.



Skip the bread

Alegria salad (430 Leke): lettuce, iceberg salad, rucola (arugula), slices of green apples, radish, strawberries or kiwis (strawberries that day, obviously), and lemon sauce - a nice, light, refreshing salad

The mixed platter for 2 (750 Leke) was awesome, enough for 4 of us to try 1-3 bites of every appetizer.


Fergese with liver (440 Leke), "a traditional dish from Tirana": What my friend who's lived in Albania for several months now neglected to mention before letting me order this is that it's a big bowl of basically cottage cheese. I'm severely lactose intolerant as was running out of lactase in a region of the world that didn't* seem to have any for sale, plus some liver pieces. I'm not sure that I'd ever tried liver outside of pates before, and I learned that I don't care for it in clumps. It's just so gamey, with a texture only slightly more tender than an eraser.

Salantino Pizza - Prosciutto, parmesan, dried mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, ricotta and mozzarella thin crust pizza - Quite good, except the muhrooms tasted so earthy, more like the taste of fun shrooms and the prsut was a little pungent for me.

"Oven baked pork (oven baked in clay roasted wrapped in layer of dough) 690 Leke - Unlike nowadays in America where almost every restaurant lists almost every ingredient of almost every dish, a lot of ordering in The Balkans involved guesswork. You never really knew what you might get. This was one of the more pleasant surprised. It turned out to be a big and awesome bread bowl full of a rich stew of pork, onions, olives, and tomatoes. This was the best things there.
Advice for Era: Order the mixed sampler and a regional dish with a type of meat you enjoy.




On my first night in The Balkans, my friends Cortney and Bobby took me to Piazza, a fancy-looking Italian restaurant.

Beautifully decorated 

Perhaps the best thing about Piazza is the free bread. It's an addictive hearty, walnuty, loaf. I proceeded to be served so much shitty, airy, white bread in The Balkans for the next two and a half weeks, that I came to appreciate how good this bread had been.


This cucumber, parmesan, something or other salad was okay, but get the arugula one if you go.

Seafood Special Soup - Tasty, healthful, light, lots of seafood.

Tomato Cream Soup - Tasty, but Trader Joe's Tomato Basil soup is one notch better.

Asparagus Cream Soup - Cortney likes it because it's creamy. It's pretty good, but it could use more flavor.


Lamb Rolls - We were all wondering what Bobby would get when he ordered "Lamb Rolls," but no one predicted their resemblance to cinnamon rolls. All savory here, though. They weren't bad!

Sea Breams - Healthful, light, nothing particularly interesting going on

Mushroom Truffle Ravioli - Because it only cost about $8 in USD, it was great! Had I paid $18 in Boston's North End, I would've said, "Meh. Another North End disappointment."

Frozen Tiramisu - That's how it's actually presented on the menu. Whatever, it tasted pretty good, though it's not something to go out of your way for.


The three of us each paid about 2,000 leke aka $20 after tip (which is only about 5% for dinner in Albania). The food was great... for Albania.

Advice for Piazza: Enjoy the bread, order the arugula salad, and order a nice fish entree. That will balance out to a healthful meal and be very enjoyable. Ditto on the dessert advice from the Taiwan Center Steakhouse.






Albania doesn't have any of American's fast food chains, but it has its own versions of them:

 AFC! Albanian Fried Chicken!

The "Box Master"
And then there's Kolonat. Now serving spaghetti!




Words to know in Albanian:
Thank you: Falemenderit
Bye!: Mirupafshim
One: Një (pronounced between "knee" and "nyee")
Espresso: Expres
Water with gas (Sparkling water): Ujë me gaz (pronounced Oo-ee-may-gahs)
Water without gas (Bottled still water: Ujë pa gaz (pronounced Oo-ee-pah-gahs)


*I finally found it - Mezym:



I asked a dozen different pharmacists in three different countries before the lady at this Farmaci knew what I was talking about. After that, I showed the box to another pharmacist, and, wouldn't you know, he had it right there. So write down "Mezym" and hand the paper to a pharmacist.





Next: An Albanian road trip