Well, I've been taught once more never to get my hopes up, as they're dashed every time. Yes, that's "glass half empty" of me, but it comes from experience. Like our experience at Zaytoon (San Pablo at Solano, Albany) Monday night. Granted, it was their second night in operation, so it's possible that things will change. We'll go back there in a few weeks to check. And granted, there were a couple of hits in our dinner, but also a lot of misses. All in all, not so good.
Between four of us (three Iranians and me, non-Iranian) we had Zereshk Polo w/chicken, Barg kabob, Soltani (combination plate of barg & koobideh kabob), and Baghali Polo w/lamb shank. Oh, and a Greek salad and an order of mast-o-khiar (yogurt with mint and cucumber).
The Zereshk Polo (rice with barberries, kind of a cross between a currant and a cranberry) was...fine. The rice was nicely done (no self-respecting Iranian restaurant could do bad basmati rice, I'm convinced) - grains separate and distinct as they should be, a handful of goldenrod yellow saffron-dyed rice grains sprinkled on top. And the barberries weren't too sour (which is a hazard when cooking zereshk - you have to add a lot of sugar to counter their natural sourness). And I liked the addition of pistachio bits in this dish. But there wasn't enough butter in it! This was a problem with the whole meal, we all agreed. Traditional Iranian food is generally pretty unhealthy (lots of butter and oil and tons of rice), and if you want to go messing with that and make it nouveau, that's fine, but these were ultra-traditional, standard dishes, just made with less grease. And consequently not as delicious as standard renditions.
The chicken served with the Zereshk Polo was as dry as anything I've ever eaten. I took my first bite, unsuspecting, and chewed and chewed and chewed, finally managing to get it down my arid gullet. Couldn't really eat any more of it. But we're going to try again tonight (we brought home the leftovers) and see if it's moistened at all in two days. Ha. I think this dish was about $8.50.
Barg kabob was another terrible dish. Barg is usually marinated and grilled filet mignon (or a less tender cut of meat marinated longer and tenderized via a beating). This seemed like a highly inferior cut of meat, and didn't taste marinated at all. It was also dry and chewy and not buttery like it should be. Very disappointing. (Around 12 bucks, I think.)
Apparently the Soltani was more well-liked by my father-in-law, because he cleaned his plate. I didn't get to taste his koobideh (ground, seasoned beef kabob) but it was pronounced "very good" by both my husband and my FIL. I might go back to try just the koobideh. (Soltani was around $17, I think.)
Baghali Polo (dill rice with lima beans) w/lamb shank was half-half. The rice was pretty sad the night we were there (dill was quite obviously not the fresh herb, but the dried one, and it was added with a heavy hand, plus there was the problem of not enough butter or oil in the rice). But Ali said it was quite delicious as a leftover, so maybe the dill just had to be toned down by a day of melding with the rice. Still, this is a much better dish with fresh dill. The lamb shank, though, was excellent. Lots of fat on it, but that helped seal in all the flavor and moistness. I believe the lamb shank is boiled/stewed, but I'm not sure, never having made it. Anyway, it's darn good, and I'd recommend it. Nice stringy meat, not too gamey. (About $10)
Unfortunately, the dish of mast-o-khiar (yogurt with cucumber and mint) we ordered on the side was teeny-tiny! At $3.50, I say bring your own from home. But it was delicious, made with thick, high-fat yogurt and very very flavorful.
The doogh (yogurt drink with mint) was pronounced very good by my mother-in-law (I'm not a fan). It was huge and freshly made (as opposed to from a bottle), so not a bad deal at $3.50 or so.
Service is funny there - our young waiter was a little clueless about the menu (which I can totally forgive since it was only the second night they were open) and said promptly, "I'll bring you the check," when we said we were done with our plates. No dessert or tea offer! Oh, well. Next time we'll try their desserts (standards like faloudeh, baklava, and Persian ice cream).
I really want this place to succeed, but so far I'm not hopeful. They have special nightly khoreshts (stews), but unfortunately my favorite, fesenjoon (walnut & pomegranate w/chicken) was not available on Monday because it was Labor Day and hence, not a real Monday (whatever).
I believe Zaytoon is run by the guy who runs the small Iranian market around the corner on Solano (west of San Pablo). Our thought was that Pomegranate (on University near Sacramento) is actually better for kabob, even though they don't bill themselves as a kabob joint.
Hopefully someone else will have a better experience and will post.
They don't seem to be listed yet in the Yellow Pages, but the restaurant is on San Pablo just north of Solano on the west side of the street (next to the Ivy Room).
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