This weekend, amidst all the turmoil and sadness, I had a profound craving for the most Persian comfort food - Chel-o-Kabab (keep reading).
Now, had I been in LA, I would have gone immediately to Shamshiri. But in SF? Where to turn?
I landed at the only Persian restaurant in the city, hoping against hope that they hadn't bastardized traditional cuisine, and that they would have traditional chel-o-kabab....
We started with "mast-o-khiar", a yogurt dip with cucumbers and dill - very similar to tzatziki - and "tah dig", which literally means "bottom of the pot". It's the carmelized, crispy, buttery rice at the bottom, and we Persians consider this a delicacy. At Alborz, it's served with the stew of the day on top. In this case, it was "gheymeh" -- tomato-based with lentils and beef. They did a great job with it.
Now, a word about this "chel-o-kabab" stuff -- no self-respecting Persian goes to a persian restaurant for the fragrant rice mixtures and stews. We go for that delectable treat that never tastes the same when you make it at home:
mounds of fluffy basmati rice, delicately scented with saffron alongside grilled tomatoes and a crisp onion. Topping it all -- skewers of ground beef, filet mignon, and boneless breast of chicken.
The ground beef was intensely flavored with onions, garlic, and other tasty spices, and was cooked to perfection -- juicy and delicious.
The filet was also delicious -- very tender cut of meat, marinated just right. A great contrast to the texture of the ground beef.
And finally, the true test: the chicken kabob. Marinated in lemon juice, yogurt, saffron and more spices, it was close to perfect. Just a touch overcooked, but not enough to dry it out.
The proper way to eat Chel-o-kabab: Put a pat of butter on your rice. Smush some of the grilled tomatoes into it, letting it aborb all the juices. Sprinkle just a bit of sumac powder (sumac berries are tart, and we grind them into a powder) over the rice, and dig in.
Because we went with a couple of American friends, I also ordered fesenjan, a stew of walnuts and pomegranates to eat over rice. Some people find this dish too sweet, but it's truly a wonderful representation of the diversity of Persian cooking. Alborz does a great job with this stuff -- definitely in the Tehran style (a bit sweeter than the N. Iranian style where it's more tart).
Of course, after dinner, we ordered hot tea to go around, and shared a pastry (zoolbiah), which I could have gone without. It tasted a bit freezer-burned and didn't do much for me. I might have tried the Persian Ice Cream, but frankly, I just don't care for it -- never have. However, many people find it a treat, and it should at least be tried - rosewater ice cream, usually with pistachios.
So, Alborz is definitely a great, authentic Persian restaurant. with a prime location at Van Ness & Sutter. But it seems to have trouble filling up... I just think most people wouldn't know what to order in a Persian restaurant.
Oh, and by the way, we ordered a bottle of Australian Shiraz which was lovely -- Shiraz, of course, is a grape that originated in Iran, and seems to go best with the foods.