Seeing so many positive reviews of the San Francisco Alborz on Chowhound, and itching for Persian food, we decided to visit the Fremont location this past weekend. However, when we arrived at the strip mall there was a new sign for Bijan Persian Restaurant! The server told us that Bijan has the same chef and owner as Alborz, despite the name change, but Im still curious to know if Bijan is still part of the Alborz family.
At 6 p.m. on Sunday the restaurant was mostly empty. Bijan is fairly nicely decorated, and the classic guitarist (the schedule indicates that various belly dancers and musicians perform weekends) made for a refined environment.
Our meal started with a basket of lavash that was served with a plate of feta, raw onions, mint, and basil. We ate the accompaniments with the bread they were welcome since the bread would have been boring on its own. However, it was no Khayyams bread, and this is where I must make my first of many tangents. Khayyams was a restaurant on Solano Ave. in Albany that simply had the best Persian food Ive ever had. Their bread came warm sprinkled with seeds (poppy?), and stood on its own merits. Cold lavash doesnt really make for a good bread that comes before the meal.
I started with an order of crispy rice (usually called tah-dig, which is supposed to be the crunchy rice at the bottom of the rice pot) served with two stews ($6.50). For our stews we chose the fesanjon (dry roasted crushed walnut cooked in pomegranate sauce), which was annoyingly sweet, and the gaymeh badamjoun (tender lean beef, cooked in fresh tomato sauce, lentils and dry limes topped with eggplant). The sauce on the gaymeh was a little on the watery side and the taste reminded me of ketchup. Ive had this dish many times and this was not a good rendition.
For my entrée I had the zereshk polo with chicken kabob ($14.95). Now at Khayyams the zereshk polo that is served with this dish is so impressive that we call it rice mountain. At Bijan it consists of simply basmati rice, barberries, and saffron, and is saturated with oil. Better versions have a more diverse selection of fruits (currants, orange peel) and nuts (pistachios or sliced almonds), but my main complaint about Bijans is that it was greasy and not light and heavenly tasting like it should have been. The chicken kabob that accompanied it was lemony and tender breast meat. I thought it was the highlight of our meal, but my boyfriend was unimpressed. A tiny portion of buttery vegetables (carrots, squash) was served alongside, and made me wish there were more of them.
Friends of ours ordered the fillet of lamb ($16.95) which consists of one skewer fillet of lamb with onions and bell peppers, marinated with a special sauce. Though I didnt have a chance to try it, they rated it highest of all our dishes, and said it was very tender.
Our server was very nice, but made us feel awkward as he slowly explained what our dishes were, and all the ingredients therein as each dish arrived (even though all the information about the preparation is in the menu). Though we didnt order anything from the beverage menu, it includes dough, juices, soda, and beer.
I notice that there have been reports about Alborz in Fremont saying that its not quite as good as its sister restaurant in San Francisco. However, this experience makes me wonder if either the cooking and management have changed with the name change, or if Alborz has generally gone downhill. My boyfriend and I really enjoy Persian food in fact his graduation dinner was at Pomegranate in Berkeley and we hope more and better Persian restaurants open in the Bay Area.
My ranking of Bay Area Persian Restaurants
1. Khayyams Albany (the master against which all Persian restaurants will forever be judged)
2. Pomegranate Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Concord (great barg and joojeh kabob with zereshk polo; pomegranate chicken is good but sweet taste can be cloying)
3. Rose Market Mountain View (rated so highly because of the value; need to re-evaluate because I only had a small sample of food)
4. Yas San Jose (really impressive selection of polos rice mountains but other food is just OK)
5. Bijan - Fremont
Visited and have trouble remembering, but not near the top of the list:
Kabob House Pleasant Hill
Papas - Berkeley
On my list to try:
Maykehdeh San Francisco
Caravan San Mateo (does anyone have an opinion on this place?)
Any other suggestions?
39935 Mission Blvd. (at Las Palmas Ave.)
Fremont, CA 94539
Two belly dancing shows Fri. & Sat. 7:30 p.m. & 8:30 p.m.
Live music Thurs. Sun. nights