Sabzi - East Arlington - Persian
Sabzi's (which inhabits the space formerly occupied by Prose) has opened - the owner described it as a soft opening, with not a lot of fanfare. They do dinner service only, and are closed on Monday.
Menu is 1 page, about 10 app selections - a salad, several dips, frittata, etc. We had a tomato/cucumberish salad and an eggplant/carmelized onion dip that were both very good.
Entrees are skewered flame cooked meats - I had an entree with two skewers of beef, my wife a beef and chicken. Every entree is served with grilled tomatoes and saffron rice. The beef was very taste, chicken as well. Maybe the chicken was a tad overcooked, but it was a fine point and perhaps just me trying to be a bit picky.
At present, there aren't any vegetarian entrees, but the owner says they will be adding those soon. They are still getting their operations going, having only been open briefly, so I think they want a shorter menu at present.
Service was good and friendly. Tab was $60 including tip for 2 apps, 2 entrees and 2 glasses of wine. The restaurant looked like it could seat 20-25 ppl.
The ambiance is def more comfortable than Prose was - the window dressing and the lighting make it a far more comfortable place to sit and eat.
A Chello Kebab Tutorial
Sabzi is a new entry into the little understood local Persian restaurant scene.
As a onetime expat, and denizen of actual Persian Chello Kababis,
I'm pretty impressed with Sabzi's 1st week in business.
To their credit (but in a mass limiting way) they have chosen to limit the initial menu offerings
a to strictly traditional Chello Kebab menu. with zero concessions to the U.S. market.
I believe they have done this to get their 'basics' down the way they want them. (they are awfully close already it seems to me) before branching out a bit into more elective fare
Insofar as they've chosen the purist and comparatively ascetic route
I thought I might offer, a few basic concepts to know about this cuisine
that could make your visit more enjoyable:
1. Chello Kebabis (n.pl.) (places serving the Persian national dish) traditionally follow a rather strict and austere format to begin with.(not unlike the protocol followed by US steak houses having to offer creamed spinach & hashbrowns.
Kebabis must offer requisite types of kebabs: (beef chx etc) Bahrg, Koobideh, ju jeh, Soltani...
& together with, and served over, the seriously under-appreciated Chello: unique Persian long grain Basmati, repeatedly washed & long soaked to create the fluffy aromatic result.
2. The entrees themselves will, by their nature, be rather unexciting, (again think of a Palm / Abe 'n Louie's well grilled NY strip) nothing earth shaking, but, with this genre as well, points are awarded/ (or lost), for ingredient quality, and finesse of preparation.
At this Sabzi does a more than competent job.
3. A couple of techniques you will find that may enhance your Chello Kebab experience,
(much like picking among favorite toppings for your cheeseburger) and that will amp up the flavor, are modifying traditional accompaniments to your own individual taste.
Old School Persians, for example, are fond, of adding in a room temperature raw egg yolk to the steaming Chello, and mixing well immediately before consuming.. While that's sometimes a little too hard core for me, It does work! adding a special richness to the already exceptional chello,
(I find I can achieve a fairly comparable effect by adding in a couple of pats of butter to the chello, and melting/mixing that in well too)
*(NB, if you go for the egg trick, let the staff know in advance, for them to be sure the rice is served as hot as possible)
Some other (obvious?) tools would be to find the accompaniments you like best,
for me, the homemade 'torch' or pickles are the bomb. particularly the marinated
and sweet whole garlic cloves! There is also homemade Mast-o-khiar (a cuke/yogurt / mint side) as a dip or eaten straight. to counterpoint the grilled meat and rich rice.
Also very popular in the old country is the addition, at table, of wild dry Sumac:
(you can pick your own to dry at home for free just 6 blocks away, in the marsh, N side of Rt. 2 X Fresh Pond Pkwy before Belmont Hill : - ) (liability expressly limited for pedestrian fatalities)
Its a saffron-y looking herb that provides an almost lemony/ sour kick and may be sprinkled on the Kebab or mixed in to the chello, they provide a little of this dried red herb for you to experiment with.
These little additions, and others as well, may enrich the experience -(and change what seem's an 'ordinary' plain grilled meat dinner, into an extra ordinary one.
As for me It doesn't hurt either, that before even one bite, I am psychically transported back to small kebabis, with those same wonderful aromas, people, sights, and tastes, in Mashhad, Shiraz, Yazd or Ardabil.
Sadly, the commercially available stuff is just not comparable to home-made, and I don't think it's just the age of it. Garlic pickle really takes on a transcendent flavour after 5 years+. I've never had any that are 20 years old, but 10 years is sublime. But somehow, even 2 year+ pickle made in someone's home seems to be much nicer than the ones I've bought in a shot that are reportedly much older.
Abgoosht - have you ever been to Moby Dick House of Kabob in the greater D.C. area? Does this reflect the Chello Kebab cuisine also? I ask because at MDHoK, it was the first time I saw the use of sumac with the long-grain basmati rice that you described. If so, I need to head to Sabzi.
269 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115
re: Bob Dobalina
Yes, have tried one of the M.Dick places in DC, My kid lives w/ in driving distance & surprised me by bringing me there a few years back. It's indeed a pretty authentic chello kababi as well, thought the one we visited (E from Dupont Cir.) had a pretty florescent, cafeteria feel to it. (actually, there are many similar downscale C.Bi's in Persia as well) Their Ch Kebab was as authentic as you can find up this way... and right, tru blu, the sumac is usually there and available, a lot of folks just don't know exactly what it is or what to do with it.
As long as I'm into it again, you might also ask for a wedge of raw yellow onion with your kebab, (traditional in Iran, though less common here)...something about the slightly marinated beef and a single layer or two of raw onion to chew on with it , is pretty special. (again this is me, Y.M.M. Vary ) My wife's more into mixing in the soft char broiled tomato with her rice instead, while I go for the buttered or egg enriched rice qua rice. all by its lonesome. lots of little variations change up the whole experience.
As for Sabzi Arlington, in addition to its exemplary kababs:
(I'd probably go for the Soltani Kabab on a first visit, for a full on, Chello Kabab experience)
The atmosphere is pretty private and cozy, the plate presentation careful and nicely done and simply a nice place to get into the whole vibe overall.
The owners, who seem really bent on doing this right, were happy to share stories. and would likely explain a little more about the food (or 3000 Yr. old Persian culture)
timeline here: http://www.mage.com/TLbody.html) to those expressing an interest.
re: Bob Dobalina
bob, this is weird! i am wondering why in the world there would be 2 parsi restaurants in the u.s. named Moby Dick. Any thoughts? Maybe the Boston owner knows the D.C. place and used the name.... or maybe it sounds quintessential American to the owners? Bound to be an interesting back story!
269 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115
T. Dude - thanks for the reply. I was turned on to Iranian food by a good Bahai friend in D.C. many years ago and was not aware of any places in Boston that hit the same notes. Will definitely get over to try Sabzi - thanks for all the info.
OC - I think you must be on to something - too random to not have some sort of connection...
I believe, but I may be wrong, that there was a famous chelow kababi in Tehran in the 1970s called Moby Dick (at least that is my recollection of the conversation I had with the owner of Moby Dick Boston). After the 'iranian diaspora' following the iranian revolution, I guess two independent restauranteurs wanted to evoke nostalgia with some of their client base.
Ate here tonight, we enjoyed our meal for the most part. SMALL restaurant, only about 20 seats. I posted a full review on yelp. Very reasonable prices with ground beef skewers plate starting at 10.25$. Great value for a good plate. They had a great eggplant spread appetizer that I would recommend. With so many great dining options around this won't be a regular in our rotation but we will be back. Good but not great.
Also to add on to Grant's complaint - Our cornish hen was a bit dry, we thought it was overcooked as well. The beef was cooked well and was juicy. They may need to change up how they cook their chicken.
Ate there tonight. We had the vegetable pickles (good, but quite sour), the yogurt/cucumber (very good -- similar to raita), the eggplant dip (very good), the ground beef kabobs and the combo chicken / tenderloin kebobs. I have no experience with Persian food, but I enjoyed everything quite a bit. Our chicken was well-cooked. I would have liked the tenderloin medium rare, but that may be either inappropriate or not possible with the meat size. Everything was juicy and tender. The rice was simple, but delicious without being fat-laden.
We tried the carbonated yogurt drink. It is quite tart (unsweetened), and an acquired taste. I found it more interesting than delicious. I suggested that they augment the beer selection with a craft choice or two. We didn't try the wines, but they were very reasonable. The baclava was a sampler of 4 different one and was very good. The bill was about $56 for two adults and a child, plus tip.
The service was earnest, prompt, and helpful. There were a few minor rough edges -- areas that still need a bit of training. (They have only soft-opened and are still training staff.) As is, the service was above average for an ethnic restaurant and the rough edges were truly minor and well-meaning. The co-owner is personable and helpful.
The ambiance was warmer and more inviting than Prose. A most welcome addition to the area, and worth traveling to try something new. They expect to do a big take-out business. I will definitely return.
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Well, I tried Sabzi last night and it was, as someone else put it, good not great.
We had the eggplant appetizer and the sherazi salad. The pita bread was really disappointing. Dry and ordinary, almost like a wrap. And I hate wraps. If they got better pita to dip, that eggplant dish would be outstanding. It has a nice depth of flavor and a slight mint tingle. The salad was just tomatoes, cukes and onions with a little mint. Refreshing but nothing special.
I ordered the Soltani kebabs and my friend got the chicken. Soltani is two meat skewers -- one kubideh and one marinated beef. The plates are very pretty and the serving of rice is quite ample but I also found the rice to be ordinary. Maybe I should have gotten up my courage to order the raw egg to mix in, as the Dood suggested. Meat was lightly marinated and tasty, kubideh was better. Juicy and nicely cooked ground beef with spices. Friend's chicken was quite a small portion and as others noted, a bit overcooked. Neither dish had much char on the meat, as opposed to Kolbeh of Kabob which lets the direct heat linger a bit longer on the plate. I like the flavor that kiss of flame imparts.
Service was friendly and efficient and the manager guy was very interested in how we were enjoying our food. The place was packed by 7 which is good for them, maybe bad for us as the tables are really close together and not conducive to private conversations. Decent wine for $5, served in a juice glass, which I always think is charming.
I wish I could RAVE about Sabzi. I think it's good. But there are too many other places that make me swoony to head back anytime soon. Id' probably go back to Kolbeh first. That said, I do hope others will check it out and add to the discussion.
Kolbeh of Kabob
1500 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139
352 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02474
Well just ate there last night too! I really enjoyed our meal, we also started with the Eggplant, which we thought was very complex, layered, quite an eye-opener if you are only used to baba ghanoush. This app has all kinds of spices and flavors going on. The pita is rather ordinary, but I loved the eggplant so much I was willing to overlook it and found myself splitting each pita in half to max out the eggplant!
We had a the cornish game hen, the hen was perfectly done, and split up before grilling so that even on this tiny bird, each section would be perfectly done. It was.
For me, the owner made a special vegetarian kebab, and the amount of char and spices were perfect. So for you vegetarians, there is your option! The owner had the yogurt sauce, which is fairly thick and distinct from either Raita or Tzatziki. I don't quite have a handle on Persian food, but I find the spices and flavors delightful. I can't always figure out the mixes but I love it!
I decided to cheat anyway and got a Kubideh, which was excellent.
Everything was plated beautifully, and the small space is nicely done. They seem new at this game and very eager to get feedback. We had a nice convo with the owner.
So I took pics and put it on my personal flickr account for you to see. There is a shot of the tea, eggplant, cornish game hen, and the special kubideh/veggie combo kebab plates. I'd post them here but the compression of the images seriously degrades picture quality.
I tried Roksana's Kebab Hut in Watertown (133 Mt Auburn St) over the weekend. Same style as Sabzi - just kebabs, but beautifully well done, over rice (there are other options as well). See web site below for details. They also have a small selection of fresh veg and the real-deal skewers for this style of kebab (ground meat packed onto the flat skewer). I thought the beef kebab & rice was delicious. Very moist, good flavor. Liked the grilled tomatoes and the mint/herbs, loved the pickle! Couldn't tell if it was a home made pickle or not but it was excellent. No seating, take out only, for now.
I stepped into Roksanna's this weekend, but unfortunately couldn;t wait the 10 min for them to prepare a kebab (good news actually that these take time). Instead I noticed the hostess had a small paper plate of the crunchy rice at the bottom of the pot and she gave me a sample. very promising that they even offer this (not yet on the menu). SG, they opened last Sunday. i'll be back.
Awesome!! They have Tahdig (Persian crunchy rice)!!!! My DH and I have been looking for this in a lot of Persian restaurants and they do not offer it because it is (1) not easy to perfect, ie takes a lot of heat control and (2) a whole lot of rice can go to waste because you have a big pot of rice with only a limited crunchy bottom. A local Persian friend used to make tahdig regularly, but he has since moved away. We had asked Molana's a number of times whether they would consider making this for us, but above are the reasons they cite for not making the tahdig. (BTW, Limster's favorite Persian rice was at Molana's before his move to London. I'll have to get him to try the tahdig at Roksanna's next time he is in town). Thanks so much for tip gourmaniac!