Alborz Persian Restaurant
This weekend, amidst all the turmoil and sadness, I had a profound craving for the most Persian comfort food - Chel-o-Kabab (keep reading).
Now, had I been in LA, I would have gone immediately to Shamshiri. But in SF? Where to turn?
I landed at the only Persian restaurant in the city, hoping against hope that they hadn't bastardized traditional cuisine, and that they would have traditional chel-o-kabab....
We started with "mast-o-khiar", a yogurt dip with cucumbers and dill - very similar to tzatziki - and "tah dig", which literally means "bottom of the pot". It's the carmelized, crispy, buttery rice at the bottom, and we Persians consider this a delicacy. At Alborz, it's served with the stew of the day on top. In this case, it was "gheymeh" -- tomato-based with lentils and beef. They did a great job with it.
Now, a word about this "chel-o-kabab" stuff -- no self-respecting Persian goes to a persian restaurant for the fragrant rice mixtures and stews. We go for that delectable treat that never tastes the same when you make it at home:
mounds of fluffy basmati rice, delicately scented with saffron alongside grilled tomatoes and a crisp onion. Topping it all -- skewers of ground beef, filet mignon, and boneless breast of chicken.
The ground beef was intensely flavored with onions, garlic, and other tasty spices, and was cooked to perfection -- juicy and delicious.
The filet was also delicious -- very tender cut of meat, marinated just right. A great contrast to the texture of the ground beef.
And finally, the true test: the chicken kabob. Marinated in lemon juice, yogurt, saffron and more spices, it was close to perfect. Just a touch overcooked, but not enough to dry it out.
The proper way to eat Chel-o-kabab: Put a pat of butter on your rice. Smush some of the grilled tomatoes into it, letting it aborb all the juices. Sprinkle just a bit of sumac powder (sumac berries are tart, and we grind them into a powder) over the rice, and dig in.
Because we went with a couple of American friends, I also ordered fesenjan, a stew of walnuts and pomegranates to eat over rice. Some people find this dish too sweet, but it's truly a wonderful representation of the diversity of Persian cooking. Alborz does a great job with this stuff -- definitely in the Tehran style (a bit sweeter than the N. Iranian style where it's more tart).
Of course, after dinner, we ordered hot tea to go around, and shared a pastry (zoolbiah), which I could have gone without. It tasted a bit freezer-burned and didn't do much for me. I might have tried the Persian Ice Cream, but frankly, I just don't care for it -- never have. However, many people find it a treat, and it should at least be tried - rosewater ice cream, usually with pistachios.
So, Alborz is definitely a great, authentic Persian restaurant. with a prime location at Van Ness & Sutter. But it seems to have trouble filling up... I just think most people wouldn't know what to order in a Persian restaurant.
Oh, and by the way, we ordered a bottle of Australian Shiraz which was lovely -- Shiraz, of course, is a grape that originated in Iran, and seems to go best with the foods.
In Berkeley I've enjoyed two places: Khayyam's Chelo-Kabab on Solano (same block as Britt-Marie), and Papa's on University, which may now be gone. Not being too familiar with Persian cuisine, I mostly take it as it comes--meat dry or juicy, rice flavorful and enjoyable texture, bread fresh and chewy, portions and prices reasonable. Never been disappointed at either place.
I'll drive by on Wednesday and see if Papa's is still there.
re: Melanie Wong
Melanie - it's good to be back! I'm finally back online, and owe you a few things. Look for them in the next day or two.
I have heard of Maykadeh, but the few persian I know who've been there weren't impressed.
I will definitely have to try Kasra. And will diligently report back!
Hope all is well.