Wood-Fired Middle Eastern BBQ at Sajj, San Bruno
Stopped into Sajj on the main drag in San Bruno for a quick lunch before a flight out of SFO airport. The lamb shawerma plate was great, esp the grilled pita. What looked even better as I waited were the grilled kebabs and made-to-order falafel balls. Any experience with those?
Last week I had a chance to stop by the newly reopened Sajj in San Bruno. Here’s what it looks like from the street, next to the international grocery store. I found out that it is Jordanian-owned and serves up some Lebanese and Egyptian specialties. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniewong/3405872661
This is more than a simple kabob shop and offers table service. The earth-toned interior is attractively decorated with momentos of the home land. It reopened two months ago after some remodeling. I decided to take a seat and eat-in instead of my to-go plans.
First up was the ful maddamas. Fantastic, glossy with buttery green-gold olive oil, a hint of garlic mingled with nutty sesame nuance, and good texture to the rehydrated fava beans and the occasional chickpea. Served hot, the thickish pureed portion pulled everything together in comforting mouthfuls. The menu describes this as served with mixed pickles. I asked for some of the typical violet-colored turnip pickles and was disappointed that none were available, only cucumber pickles here. The sandpapery pita bread was grilled until tough, maybe would have been better cooked until crackly like a chip. It too had the scent of the grill and tasted smoky, but the texture was painful. I’d thought I’d read on its website that the bread is made in-house. Maybe they ran out. Or if this is it, I’m not a fan.
I asked for a sample of the lamb shwarma, and it was gladly offered. Just terrific, moist meat with crusty edges, and a nice kick of chili and tartness that complemented the gamey flavor. You can see the dried chili flakes.
I had noticed the raw football-shaped orbs of uncooked kibbe in the unlit deli case. The other party had them, and I saw them fried to order. Lucky me, I got to try one, compliments of the chef, from that batch. Being freshly fried, rather than cooked ahead and reheated, made this much better than the norm. In addition the seasoning of the ground beef, the core of pinenuts stuffed in the middle, and the tasty tahini sauce sprinkled with sumac served on the side took this over the top. I’d say this is a must-order for any visit here.
My mixed grill benefited from tasty seasonings and quality meat, but turned out overcooked, coarse in texture and dry. I’d ordered the lamb medium-rare but this barely had any pink in the center. The chunks of chicken breast were so dry, as to be painful to chew. The ground lamb kabob was lacking in moisture. I liked the scent of the wood grilling, but this was a waste of $18. Garlic sauce is just garlic and mayo with no distinct character and I’d say below average quality. Rice was gummy and had some dried out hard edges. Veggies had some grill marks but were hard and undercooked. Stepping up to a “plate” order didn’t provide value here in the side dish department.
I had my leftovers packed up to take to my sick-at-home brother. I also got him an order of the stuffed grape leaves. These are served warm and are simply phenomenal. The leaves themselves are quite tender. The moist rice had sticky and chewy individual round grains, not too hard nor too mushy, just right. These seemed freshly dressed as the lemon vinaigrette was very zesty but was just on the outside and hadn’t permeated, so each mouthful tasted just a little different, which I liked.
William concurred with my opinion on the ful, a dish he’d not had before. Very comforting and just interesting enough to awaken the appetite of a shut-in. Like me, he liked the smoky scent of the pita bread, but also thought it was awful. And the mixed grill was deemed to have good flavor but back texture. He seemed disappointed that I hadn’t ordered the falafel, as he’d read good things about them. I was able to relate seeing a big lexan tray of cooked chickpeas, a mound of parsley, and some green onions go out the front door, then return a few minutes later ground into falafel fixings. From where I was sitting, I could also watch the fry-station cook forming the falafel mounds in the traditional way with the two hand tools. Observing this, I’m sure they’re as good as their reputation.
Any other reports?