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Pomegranate in Berkeley - Where the Hummus Is Yummus, the Pita Can’t Be Beat-a, and the Joojeh Kebab Is Foojeh Kebab. What?

  • k

I’ve been eating at Pomegranate for the past five years or so, and felt it was time to finally post about it since there is hardly any talk about it online. We hold the Persian food at Pomegranate in such esteem that it was the restaurant my boyfriend chose for dinner the night he received his PhD.

Pomegranate calls itself a Mediterranean restaurant, and indeed the menu has a lot of traditionally Greek dishes, as well as an amalgam of salads, pastas, and pizzas, many of which have Mediterranean influences. While I haven’t tried the Greek dishes, I always focus on the Persian food, and believe that the chefs must be Persian because they carry harder-to-find Persian dishes than that of the generic Greek variety.

First of all, when ordering stick to the Persian stuff (all around $15 for entrees). Don’t get cute and try a pasta (I think I had the chicken linguini the one time I made this fateful mistake). My old standard here was the pomegranate chicken, which is a marinated half chicken topped with a pomegranate sauce, and served with wonderfully creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables. The only problem with this dish is that while the sauce is a nice and interesting addition, the sweet taste becomes cloying.

Here’s what you should order: Barg and joojeh kabob with zereshk polo. However, that’s not what they’re called in the menu, so it may be a little tricky. I believe their barg (unfortunately not pronounced “barrrrrrrg” as though you’re a pirate) is called “filet kabob.” It consists of several pieces of supremely tender filet mignon pieces, with a lovely light spicing, served with saffron-touched basmati rice. My only complaint last time was that the accompanying green beans, carrots, and broccoli were too buttery.

Their joojeh kabob with zereshk polo is called something generic here like “chicken kabob” or possibly “joojeh kabob” (though it might be with Cornish game hen instead of chicken so be careful). This dish consists of large pieces of moist breast meat that has been skewered and marinated so it’s a lovely yellow color. The zereshk polo (or “rice mountain” as we call it) is a stellar basmati pilaf with barberries, sliced almonds and other goodies (I forget what else is in theirs now, but currants and orange peel are good guesses), providing little explosive nuggets of flavor.

Wonderfully warm house bread is standard, and on our most recent visit the server brought us a complimentary order of hummus. On one visit we scored a free order of baba ghannooj but I don’t think this sort of swag is typical. I’d love to be wrong though. The hummus was perfect, or should I say – yummus, with a nice roasted chickpea flavor. This is in start contrast to the hummus on Mivan’s menu in Burlingame that tasted like a homeless man’s armpit.

Service has always very professional and attentive, with the exception of our last visit. The boyfriend and I sat for half our meals with empty water glasses, trying unsuccessfully to get the attention of our server. Yet each time she’d fly by us not making eye contact. She appeared to be the only server that night for 15 tables.

The restaurant is pretty and elegant with sponged yellow walls. The boyfriend and I have vague memories of there being a piano in the first room, but we can’t remember if anyone played it while we were there. (Then again, we’ve always been seated in the second or third rooms).

There are locations in Walnut Creek and Concord. We’ve eaten at the Downtown Walnut Creek restaurant, which is much smaller but has an eating area in front of the restaurant which is nice on warm nights.

My Ranking of Bay Area Persian Restaurants

1. Khayyam’s – Albany (the master – now closed - against which all Persian restaurants will forever be judged)
2. Pomegranate – Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Concord (great barg and joojeh kabob with zereshk polo; pomegranate chicken is good but sweet taste can be cloying)
3. Rose Market – Mountain View (rated so highly because of the value; need to re-evaluate because I only had a small sample of food)
4. Yas – San Jose (really impressive selection of polos – “rice mountains” but other food is just OK)
5. Bijan – Fremont (food too oily, and stews either too sweet or too ketchup-y)
---
Visited and have trouble remembering, but not near the top of the list:
Kabob House – Pleasant Hill
Papa’s - Berkeley

On my list to try:
Maykehdeh – San Francisco
Shalizaar – San Mateo
Alborz – San Francisco (though I worry the food here will taste exactly like Bijan’s food, since Bijan was formerly an Alborz location)

Pomegranate Mediterranean Cuisine
1585 University Ave. (near Sacramento St.)
Berkeley, CA
510.665.5567

Lunch
M-F: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Dinner
Daily: 5:00 p.m. – 9:45 p.m.

http://www.shopinberkeley.com/p/pomeg...
Prices are several dollars lower on this site than they are now. Not all dishes on current menu are included (such as the ones I recommend).

Link: http://www.shopinberkeley.com/p/pomeg...

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  1. Thanks for the report. You also need to add Mariam Restaurant in Fremont to your list of Persian places to try. I liked the fesenjoon-very moist chicken w/ the sweet pomegranate sauce, domas are good, eggplant app are good, and so are their kebabs.

    Mariam Restaurant 41043 Fremont Blvd. Fremont, CA 94538 Phone:(510)623-9484
    Fesenjoon, Mariam, Fremont: One of those simple combinations of ingredients -- chicken, pomegranate juice, walnuts, a few aromatics -- that over time blends into something rich and strange.

    Mariam Restaurant
    11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., Sun.-Thu.; Fri.-Sat. 8:00 p.m.
    Payment: Cash, V, MC, ATM
    Mariam
    Mast-o-musir $3.49
    Tahdig $5.99
    Assh reshteh $4.49
    Koobideh platter $9.49
    Three-kebab combination $26.99
    Fesenjoon $10.99

    Mariam
    41043 Fremont. Blvd. (at Irvington Ave.), Fremont, 510-623-9484

    1 Reply
    1. re: Arlene

      I'll definitely keep Mariam in mind. I believe Jonathan Kauffman of the East Bay Express wrote a positive review of it within the last year. I love fesenjoon, and other savory stews served over tah dig ("crunchy rice bottom"). My favorite renditions were put out by Khayaam (which closed in 2000 or so).

      Unforunately these dishes are not on the menu at Pomegranate. I last tried them at Bijan (not too far from Mariam) in Fremont, where the fesenjoon was annoyingly sweet and the gaymeh badamjoun tasted like watery ketchup.

      Thanks for the recommendation!

      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    2. r
      Robert Lauriston

      You're right, the owners are Iranian.

      My favorites are the baba ghannooj (many people complain that it's too rich), the tzatziki, and the gyros pizza.

      I've never been impressed by their hummus. Never noticed a "roasted chickpea" flavor, either, can't imagine where that would come from.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Hrmmm... I wrote this a few days ago, so I'm not actually sure what I meant either by "roasted chickpeas"! Either I meant roasted garlic (which I don't know if they use) or I had roasted chickpeas on the brain since I made some recently as a snack.

        Hummus = Yummus

      2. Khayyam, oh Khayyam, the only restaurant where you could be completely satisfied with a serving of rice.

        Thanks for the nice report on Pomegranate, right up the street and I've never tried it. Now I shall.

        1. c
          Cyrus Farivar

          Next time you want to go to Maykadeh or anywhere else Persian, lemme know. Glad to see that non-Persians are loving our food!

          And yes, fesenjoon is amazing at Pomegranate. :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cyrus Farivar

            What? Fesenjoon is on the menu at Pomegranate?! I don't remember seeing it (I know it's not on the old menu I linked to). We might have just headed automatically to our usual orders though when we were there last. Do they have ghormei sabzi, too?

            The boyfriend and I are all about the Persian food. When we met our (now) ex-roommate, and found out she was half-Persian, we immediately peppered her with questions about Persian food. She told us if we took her as a roommate, she'd cook us a Persian feast with zeresht polo sometime. We took her on as a roommate, but alas! never saw that promised Persian food!

            I'm definitely going to have to try Maykadeh. I'll let you know next time I go Persian food spelunking. Might I suggest you bring some yummy Persian food to the ChowPicnic?

          2. r
            Robert Lauriston

            The best Persian food I've had in the East Bay is at Zand. Just a deli with a few tables, closes early, but very good food.

            Maykadeh is worth the schlep to North Beach.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Is that the little deli on Solano west of San Pablo about a block and a half?

              1. re: Shep

                I think the one you're describing is called Nick's market. I've heard that the "Persian" sandwiches on Acme bread are great, but so far, no chowhound confirmation of that.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Two different places both have Persian. Zand link is below. Here's a link to SF Magazine about the sandwich at Nick's (scroll way down) which Christopher Lee of Eccolo mentioned liking:

                  "They make wonderful sandwiches at Nick, a Middle Eastern grocery that I frequent ... I particularly like the koko sabzi, an herbed frittata on an Acme roll."

                  I read there are vending carts on Bancroft near the university that sell Persian food. Anyone know about this?

                  Hmmm ... lot's of Persian in this area. Another cuisine to add to my list that begin with the letter "P" ... Polish, Portuguese, Peruvian, Pakistani ... I guess I should finish Pakistani first, but it would cover all cuisines starting with that letter.

                  Link: http://www.zandpastry.com/

                  1. re: rworange

                    Well, now I'm going to have to try Zand's. Reading the old Tribune article on the website, It seems Zand's sells Iranian Ice cream.

                    That is quite a little ice cream section on Solano.

                    Pretty inspiring story about the owner too in that Trib review.

                    Link: http://www.mashtimalone.com/Ingredien...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks for the link. By now you probably know that bastani is just the Persian name for ice cream. At Zand you can get the yellow pistachio ice cream sandwich mentioned by Cyrus J. Farivar in your linked post.

                        The wafer is sort of like a thin cream cone and a little like those wafer cookies that Nabisco makes. It is very nice.

                        Zand’s also sells faloodas ($3.95) and since I had a light lunch at Tangerine I decided to finally try one.

                        I think that falooda just refers to the noodles since I had some by accident at Bombay Ice cream earlier this week. The Asian food dictionary says it is:

                        “An exotic Indian milk-based drink flavoured with rose syrup (sharbat gulab) and named for the strands of cornflour vermicelli that float in it. The vermicelli are not easy to make at home. An acceptable substitute is agar-agar jelly, flavoured with rose and coloured green or red”

                        At Bombay Ice Cream, I was after the kulfi (Indian ice cream molded into a cone shape).

                        To my surprise it was topped with rosewater pink dyed noodles that reminded me of pancit. I am guessing those were made with agar-agar jelly version.

                        After the kulfi was unmolded, it was chopped into pieces and topped with the noodles. I really prefer Zee Foods kulfi that can be purchased at Indian markets to the Bombay Ice Cream version. I ordered the cardamom and the flavor was undetectable at Bombay while the flavor of the Zee Foods Kulfi was full of cardamom wonderfulness.

                        Also took the bullet and sampled Bombay Ice Cream’s chaat. Just say no. There are no curries or naan even though the website lists them. Just puris and samosas.

                        I only tried pani puri one other time. I think I have had the best(Lovely Sweets, Sunnyvale) and the worst versions now to compare all others. I doubt that Bombay Ice Cream will ever lose it’s ‘worst’ standing.

                        Put together out of a warmish steam table … I don’t know the correct names … but the sauces were anemic with a scattering of canned chick peas, some cubed potatoes and sort of cripsy thingies (puri?). Not a fan of samosas anyway, I took one bite of the leaden samosa with the flaccid wrapper and donated the rest to the seagulls at the Marina Green. Stick with the ice cream at Bombay.

                        The Zand version of falooda was a whole different thing and a totally lovely, refreshing experience. Here the noodles had the texture and mouth feel of shredded coconut, so it was probably the cornstarch based version. I guess the texture in these noodles is the thing rather than the taste. There really isn’t any in either type of falooda. A scoop of Mashti Malone rosewater sorbet was placed in a glass of clear rosewater. A shot of lemon juice was on the side to add if preferred, so it was added. Great contrast to the mild rosewater taste. Given the texture of the sorbet, the dessert was hinted of lemon ice. It was a dessert, it was a drink. Sort of lemonade with a scoop of sorbet … and coconut like noodles.

                        Zand also sells saffron Moshti Malone by the scoop as well as varying sizes from ½ a pint up to a half gallon. Another flavor available was orange blossom.

                        Don’t know if you ever got the story about the reason for the ‘Malone’ in Mashti Malone, but the Iranian brothers who bought an ice cream shop called Mugsy Malones couldn’t afford to replace the entire name on the original sign, so the Malone part stayed. By coincidence, the maiden name of Mashti’s sister-in-law was Malone. According to the LA Times Mashti told her he bought the store for her.

                        My favorite description was from the LA Times article on the Mashti Malone website which said the ice cream had “flavors so exotic they sound like poetry, and ingredients that sound as if they must have been harvested from a Persian garden.”

                        The LA Times article is really a great read. There’s even a song called “The Legend of Mashti Malone”.

                        Gosh, all this started with that kulfibar from Double Rainbow.

                        So, now I’m into this kulfi / falooda thing. I guess falooda is like the word sundae in the US. It can have a pretty wide range of forms and ingredients. Although it probably won't get any rsponse, this is more of a general board discussion ….

                        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. re: rworange

                          Thanks for the word on the ice cream scene. While I've enjoyed take-out from Zand's, I haven't stepped in the store myself yet.

                          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    1. re: rworange
                      m
                      Morton the Mousse

                      I like the hummus and falafel at Zand. Just make sure to ask them to fry your falafel fresh, they only do it on request.

                  2. re: Shep

                    Zands is on Solano, but it's about 4 blocks East from San Pablo. They have good desserts too.

                    J

                2. Shalizar is not worth the bother. There is a good place in RWC on Jefferson near the old post office and across from the new theatre under construction. Tarboosh.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Greg
                    j
                    Joan Kureczka

                    I disagree. Had very good joojeh kabab at Shalizaar. Very moist and delicious.

                  2. I'll give Pomegranate another go following your recommendation. You sell the Pomegranate Chicken short. I find it to be the best value and most consistent dish on the menu. The last time I went there my kabobs were dried up and tough.

                    I miss Khayyam's too, with their great flatbread and minty doog (sp?), but I like Maykehdeh better.

                    Also Kabob House in PH is no more.

                    J

                    1. Btw, I recognize your post from livejournal. :}

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Autumn

                        I recognize your name from LJ. I think I added you a couple weeks ago.

                        I realized I wasn't contributing to sf_eats on LiveJournal, and then I realized - I am writing a lot on food. Maybe I should add it there. :)