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Most boring one-dimensional food - Persian Kebab and rice!

Charles Yu Sep 30, 2010 08:27 PM

Based on yelp.com's recoomendation, just had a ' Sultan Kebab' dinner at North ( Persian ) Restaurant at 100 Steeles West. Two skewers of dry tasteless ground beef and veal kebabs next to a pile of plain pilau rice and a single burnt tomato! What a BORING plate of food!! And they charge a whopping $18.99! I should have head over to Sababa instead! Better food for less
I've never enjoyed Persian food from the first time I had it in Paris years ago to the present. After tonight, guess it'll be my last!

-----
Sababa
390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

  1. f
    FrankD Sep 30, 2010 08:34 PM

    Completely agree. My wife and I tried three different Persian restaurants, since so many are springing up in Richmond Hill, and boring and dry were the ways we felt about the food.

    And it's not like we don't like kebabs - we've eaten in many Middle Eastern restaurants, here and in Detroit, and enjoyed them, but those were all served with sauces, interesting and tasty vegetables, and even the starches were elevated. The Persian places scored very low in all respects.

    1 Reply
    1. re: FrankD
      mrsleny Sep 30, 2010 09:09 PM

      Whew .... it's not just us who feel this way. We've tried several in Richmond Hill but were never very impressed. I thought maybe we just didn't like Persian food.

      Would recommendations for good restaurants. esp those with veg options. Thanks!

    2. f
      FrankD Sep 30, 2010 09:57 PM

      Actually, I just read a review of two Persian restaurants in Montreal. One sounds like the same food that I tasted in the Richmond Hill spots, while the other actually sounds interesting. Maybe like many cuisines, there's a lot to the execution:

      http://www.midnightpoutine.ca/food/20...

      1. estufarian Oct 1, 2010 02:42 AM

        Of all my travels, the country with the worst food was Iran.
        Since then there have only been a couple of dishes I even like - and then only in Los Angeles (or at home - AmuseGirl makes a mean Fesenjan).
        BUT the fresh dates (especially from Bam), consistently available in Toronto are among my favourite 'tastes' from anywhere.

        PS Best food anywhere - considering all levels, was Vietnam. (Obviously not best individual meals - but never had a bad/unfresh ingredient).

        2 Replies
        1. re: estufarian
          Charles Yu Oct 1, 2010 06:57 AM

          Hello Estufarian! You must have watched Anthony Bourdain's 'Food Porn'!! Vietnam is his fav too! The pho overthere is simply different and out of this world!

          1. re: Charles Yu
            estufarian Oct 1, 2010 07:29 AM

            Believe it or not, I don't watch TV Food programmes! If I did I wouldn't have a life, so it's 'Just say No'!
            The Pho, the noodles - in fact, everything!

        2. haggisdragon Oct 1, 2010 03:19 AM

          My Persian friend says that there are no great Persian restaurants but the food his grandmother cooks is wonderful.

          1. shekamoo Oct 1, 2010 05:52 AM

            You guys have not had and as things stand will probably never have a passable, let alone a good or excellent persian kebab in your life. sad but true. there are no good renditions of the dish in canada or europe or even in tourist traps in Iran. I tried all the 'big' names in both regions before forever giving up. the ingredients and knowhow are simply not there. the beef cattle raised in northern Zagros. the smoked rice of the northern regions cooked with aromatic animal fat from south west. a chef who knows how to prepare the meat to keep the tenderness or how to cook the rice to capture the aroma.
            ah forget it. most everything else about iran is subject to abject misrepresentation and insult these days, with no small measure of fault on the iranians themselves. no reason for chowhound to be any different.

            just for fun, and at the risk of incurring the Charles' wrath , lets see how this works:

            Most Boring and One-Dimensional Food: Japanese Sushi and Sashimi

            I had this dish at Mandarin the other day. oh my god. the fish was such low quality and tasteless. the rice was bland and boring. I have had this dish in some ichiban locations in europe as well. even the sushi in Paris is god awful. this is my last time trying this dish.

            22 Replies
            1. re: shekamoo
              t
              Tatai Oct 1, 2010 06:25 AM

              Touche, shekamoo. I've had wonderful Persian food but I go for the "stewy" khoresh dishes rather than the kabobs, which can be dry and boring in the renditions of any country, not just Iran.

              I've had good meals at both Pomegranate and its sister restaurant Sheherzade, on College St. Give Persian food another try, but go with the more complex dishes, some of which incorporate pomegranate molasses, ground walnuts, peas and beans, dried fruits, etc. Take a look at this listing from Wikipedia for an idea of the fabulous nature of Persian khoreshes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoresht

              www.pomegranate.ca

              1. re: Tatai
                Charles Yu Oct 1, 2010 07:04 AM

                My brother-in-law had a ' lamb shank stew'. Though the meat was fork tender, the overall taste was bland with just a hint of tumeric and cummin. And the gravy!! So diluted and the colour so unappealing!

                Tatai, I too tried dishes incorporating ingredients you captioned above whilst I was living in Paris. Still, for my palette, they were still not very tasty?! To each his own, I guess!

              2. re: shekamoo
                estufarian Oct 1, 2010 06:51 AM

                I'm with you on Sushi (not necessarily Sashimi). 60-70% of each 'dish' is rice - the same rice prepared the same way, with the same condiments.

                1. re: estufarian
                  j
                  jamesm Oct 1, 2010 07:02 AM

                  Kind of agree, I'd rather eat at pomegranate than many sushi restaurants. I don't mind sushi but I do find the cuisine to be fairly monochromatic.

                  1. re: estufarian
                    skylineR33 Oct 1, 2010 07:03 AM

                    "60-70% of each 'dish' is rice, same rice prepared the same way, with the same condiments."

                    Yes, that's true with sushi at Mandarin and many other places in Toronto.

                    1. re: skylineR33
                      shekamoo Oct 1, 2010 07:17 AM

                      well I was trying to give an example of how applying Charles' logic could lead to absurd results. Thats why I used sushi as the topic because to me sushi done well is the closest thing you could get to minimalist perfection in food, and as such it has almost a sacred quality for me(and I thought there was such a general consensus on sushi on this board as well). my meal at Urasawa was life transformative, and I look at my planned Tokyo trip next winter as something of a pilgrimage. But if my experience had been limited to mandarin and ichiban (as the OP's experience is limited to North and the like) and if I permitted myself to generalize based on that limited experience, the result would be the final paragraph of my post above, which is in the same vein as the OP's judgment on persian kebab.

                      and I thought all of this was clear from my first post by the way. my bad

                      1. re: shekamoo
                        estufarian Oct 1, 2010 07:39 AM

                        My meal at Urusawa was boring food (mostly), arrogant service ("You WILL order this sake for this dish"), and the worst value of any meal I've ever had. Of course there were some highlights within that.
                        Another example from that 'experience' - when another couple got a dish that I didn't (so I asked what it was), I was told that " it went with the sake they had ordered" - there's no wine (or sake list) available!

                        However that's off topic for this thread, so won't respond (here) to any further responses.

                        But to save this post and back to the topic at hand:

                        Persian Kebab's have almost always been disastrous. I had a dried-out sturgeon kebab in the North - at least it was slightly different. And the only passable version was from a street vendor (I think in Shiraz) which was basically offal - heart, kidney and some stringy bits/intestines, cooked over charcoal.

                        1. re: estufarian
                          shekamoo Oct 1, 2010 12:52 PM

                          I have great respect for your views, specially for continental european cuisine(like your posts on the spain/portugal board, although you never posted your top 10 meals there...) so I simply repeat my position that you have unfortunately not been served the good version of persian kebabs, even in Iran(which happens to most tourists unless they have extremely well-informed guides and are willing to venture into unchartered terrains, something I would not advise in any case). of course you do not have to take my word for it on this one.

                          1. re: shekamoo
                            estufarian Oct 1, 2010 01:05 PM

                            You're right - never posted my top 10 'formally' (although I have posted on several places as 'included in my top 10'). You can search for my contact address and I'll send the formal list!

                            I did manage to get an invite to a private home (sort of - certainly home-cooked, but my guide bought the protein ingredients separately and delivered them for cooking) - and that was an entirely different matter. So I do appreciate the 'cuisine' - and also have had some creditable versions in Los Angeles.
                            But a 'casual' tourist faces huge challenges - and in North America I admit to have completely given up on finding 'acceptable' kebabs (Iranian version) - actually I can almost expand that to most kebabs. Price seems to take preference over quality.

                            1. re: estufarian
                              j
                              juno Oct 1, 2010 01:32 PM

                              To get back to the OP's main point, North is an overpriced dud, and has been for years. I gave it three kicks at the can before giving up on it. What baffles is that it has managed to stay in business. I guess a lot of expatriates have nostalgia for overgrilled kebobs on a huge mound of bland rice. Indeed, almost every Iranian joint I tried on that north Yonge Street strip was a washout. If the Pomegranate/Sheherzade team ever opened an uptown branch, it'd cause a lot of well-deserved bankruptcies.

                              Aside to the OP: you were right to wish you'd gone to Sababa, a long-standing Middle East joint on Steeles Ave., a short drive west of North. I was there last night. It's a dreary, barn-like room, but it has always been strong on starters, salads and hot appetizers. Two can dine handsomely on those, spend no more than $25 (tax and tip included), and walk out eminently satisfied. I've never tried their kebobs, though. No need to.

                              -----
                              Sababa
                              390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                              1. re: juno
                                shekamoo Oct 1, 2010 01:39 PM

                                well-deserved bankruptcies indeed.

                                one thing about North: it has ONE dish that is passable on a good day, and that is Kebab Torsh(basically Kebab marinated in pomegrante paste with some other ingredients), which is a Northern specialty. this is the only dish I EVER order if I have to go to North. if you get this on a good day and add the side orders that come with Polo Kebab (Smoked Fish Egg, Raw Fava Beans, Walnuts), you will have an ok dish, and even a good one if you do take out and do the rice yourself(like I do, smoked rice with aromatic animal fat, yumm).

                                1. re: juno
                                  satoorisme Oct 2, 2010 09:11 AM

                                  Sababa sounds good because I'll be in the area tomorrow. Juno, if it's not too much bother, please do tell what Sababa's must-have items are! Does it compare to Me Va Me (the one at 330 Steeles Ave W, Thornhill)?

                                  1. re: satoorisme
                                    j
                                    juno Oct 2, 2010 03:05 PM

                                    Happy to be of service.

                                    The trouble with Me Va Me is that it's so deservedly popular that you often have to wait a half hour or more at dinner for a table. When the wait's that long, and I'm still hankering for Israeli/Middle East nosh, I make my way to Sababa, about a five-minute drive east from Me Va Me - where it's hardly ever crowded because everybody's trying to get into Me Va Me. In my view, Me Va Me is superior to Sababa in main dishes - kebobs, lamb chops, rainbow trout, that sort of thing. But I regard Sababa to be superior in vegetarian starters, dips, salads and appetizers, of which it has a large number, and you can easily make a meal of those. Sababa has a combination special at $10.99 that allows you to select three from among more than a dozen assorted cold starters, dips and salads. Also included at that price: four (hot) falafel balls, a pickle platter and warm pita bread. It's more than enough for two. I'm partial to the tabouli salad and the mashed red pepper mix, but just about all of the varied choices are strong. Easy to select what you might want because the menu lists the ingredients of each dish. If you yearn for something hot as well, order one of the hot good-to-share appetizers at about $4.50 - they're all pretty good. Or add a bowl of lentil soup ($2.95), which is satisfying if not great. All the Middle East restos in town do a respectable lentil soup - it's easy to make - and there's little to choose between them. Service is good, though the place seems understaffed at times. Maybe Me Va Me hired all the busboys in the neighborhood.

                    2. re: shekamoo
                      f
                      FrankD Oct 1, 2010 10:53 PM

                      Oh, please.. judging Japanese sushi by what you get at an all-you-can-eat Chinese/Western buffet? Whereas two of the restaurants we visited prided themselves on "authentic Persian cuisine", according to the menu blurbs, and we specifically asked for help in choosing the most flavourful dishes. This comparison holds no water at all.

                      1. re: FrankD
                        t
                        trombasteve Oct 2, 2010 04:07 AM

                        Not to put words in shekamoo's mouth, but I think the point that he/she is trying to get at is that you can't judge Persian food from a few bad restaurants any more than you can judge Japanese cuisine from all-you-can-eat sushi.

                        Not every food culture is restaurant-centric, and any restaurant of any level of quality can "pride themselves on authenticity." Heck, how many places offer a "signature burger" that's A: in any way distinctive, or B: is a fair and accurate indication that burgers are inherently less good than other foods?

                        1. re: trombasteve
                          l
                          Learn2CooknEat Oct 2, 2010 05:11 AM

                          In regards to restaurant-centric, I've been eating persian food as good if not better than many kebab restaurants from home cooked food my Persian friend's mother makes. In many years I barely hear him eat out at Persian restaurants.

                          I guess we have to keep in mind that some of us are fortunate enough to grow up in a food culture that embraces astronomical dimensions while some simply consume food more as a necessity and others inbetween the two extremes.

                          I had same thoughts as Charles when I had my meal at North, but my Persian friend(noted above) said he'll take me there one day so I'm kind of surprised to say the least. What's boring to Charles and myself is not boring to my buddy.

                          1. re: Learn2CooknEat
                            shekamoo Oct 2, 2010 06:10 AM

                            the traditional Iranian model of consuming food out of home does not translate well into the western conceptual organization of restaurants/bars/cafes. It is rather centered around and integrated into the bazaar model(a topic for another day).

                            In that sense, Iranian culture is not restaurant-centric at all (in fact, in Persian, the phrase "outside food", referring to western-type restaurant food, is a pejorative, and equivalent of unhealthy or low quality food)

                            this does not mean the culture is not a foodie culture, or that cooking nuances are lost to the general population. they just cannot be transfered into the western model, which would be one of the reasons for the catastrophic persian food scene abroad (and inside what tourists will visit in Iran, which is 'restaurants' cooking 'outside food')

                            as for your persian friend wanting to take you to North, the funny truth is that there is a general consensus that North, while a very poor presentation of persian cuisine, is still the best of the bunch.

                            now, why would you take a 'foreigner' there? because Iranians are generally also convinced that the quality of their cuisine is so astronomically superior to the general western cuisine(or any other cuisine for that matter) that their clueless 'foreigner' friends will not realize that this is actually not an acceptable rendition of persian food.

                            Rightly you ask, how could they possibly think that? 3 main reasons come to mind:

                            1-a widespread sense of cultural(in the very broad sense that would include the cuisine) superiority to the rest of the world. (have you ever heard the very widely used persian saying "Art is an exclusively Iranian phenomenon"?!)

                            2- a resultant unwillingness to venture too far beyond the familiar, which feeds back into 1

                            3- the already mentioned pejorative sense with which western-style restaurants are associated, leading people to expect being served subpar food in any restaurant

                          2. re: trombasteve
                            f
                            FrankD Oct 2, 2010 10:01 AM

                            "but I think the point that he/she is trying to get at is that you can't judge Persian food from a few bad restaurants any more than you can judge Japanese cuisine from all-you-can-eat sushi."

                            I would have given s/him more credence if he/r had cited even an AYCE Japanese spot. But Mandarin is not Japanese at all, and doesn't claim to present "authentic" Japanese food (I remember my daughter being horrified at one location where the sign over the sushi station said in bold letters "NO FISH"). Whereas the Persian places I referred to both made extensive claims on their menus about the authenticity of their dishes, and how carefully they were prepared.

                            The OP's original comparison is ludicrous, like to trying judge Carolina pork BBQ on the basis of a McRib. There are plenty of places in Toronto where you can get reasonably (for a place 1500 miles from the ocean) good sushi, which, while it pales to what you might get in Tokyo or Vancouver, still gives you a fairly good idea of the tastes, textures, and diversity of Japanese cuisine. These were exclusively Persian places, fairly upscale and expensive, and what they served was horrid.

                            1. re: FrankD
                              t
                              trombasteve Oct 3, 2010 02:22 AM

                              A: When you refer to the ludicrous comparisons made by the OP, I'm not sure I see what you have in mind. I don't see any comparisons in Charles Yu's post.

                              B: If you're referring to shekamoo's facetious suggestion that sushi is boring and one-dimensional because Mandarin sushi is - I think the point is that it's ludicrous to extrapolate from a few bad restaurants to an entire food culture. So, yes it is ludicrous to judge BBQ from a McRib - that's the idea. If you had a bad restaurant experience, then that's too bad, and I'm sorry to hear that, but that's not a reflection of all Persian food.

                          3. re: FrankD
                            shekamoo Oct 2, 2010 05:45 AM

                            refer to Trombasteve's post!!
                            I dont want to dwell on this because that post says all the right things in a more gracious manner than I would, but seriously, since when is the menu blurb significatory of quality and representativeness? I mean does Mandarin advertise itself as CRAPPY BASTARDIZED ASIAN FOOD, or do the ichiban sushi places advertise themselves as INAUTHENTIC IMITATION OF TRUE JAPANESE CUISINE?

                            1. re: shekamoo
                              j
                              jamesm Oct 2, 2010 10:05 AM

                              Shekamoo, I think you're making your points clear and can't say I disagree.

                              1. re: jamesm
                                b
                                braisinhussy Oct 2, 2010 10:27 AM

                                Agreed, on both counts.

                        2. l
                          Learn2CooknEat Oct 1, 2010 08:45 PM

                          Charles, you should read those 2.5 star recommendations on North.
                          That's how yelp becomes useful although sometimes pain to read.
                          Maybe need some Persian fusion? :)

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