On a damp Sunday night, eight Chowhounds met at Chopan Kabob ("Original Flavor of Kabobs" brags the logo), a promisingly unprepossessing-looking establishment in the back of a strip mall on Monument Boulevard in Concord. We walk in to the fluorescent glare and various hounds are on their cell phones, helping the rest of our party find the place. If slummy charm were a sure sign of a hidden gem, we'd be in luck. The television was on, but the video had ended so it was a blank blue orb; the boom box varied from heavy metal to ethnic bazouki-like sounds to Mexican rap. The bathroom not only had cigarette butts in the toilet, but ashes on the seat! Asking for water, we were told by the waiter that there was only bottled water, that the tap water had broken (?).
We were all trying to ignore the curiously brief menus tucked under the glass top of the table, but when we were handed copies of the same, we finally had to face the truth: none of the original interesting salads, dumplings or pasta dishes of the original Bread'n'Kabobs restaurant were mentioned. We inquired, and were told that all of these signature Uzbek dishes were not available, that we had come too late, and that we should have called a day ahead to get them. The eponymous Chopan Kabob was also sold out, and what remained were three kinds of kabobs, a combination plate of those three kabobs, and another kind of kabob. It felt a little like a Monty Python sketch.
We tried to convey that we wanted to sample every delicacy they had in their kitchen, in family-style quantities, including any of the special salads their cuisine was known for that they could muster. Our waiter did his best, but his kitchen must have thought we were crazy gringos: he returned after a time, carrying two giant plates of shredded iceberg lettuce! We also got combination plates of all the kabobs with basmati rice, and two orders of the Bolanni Katchalo (potato-stuffed turnover--think aloo naan). And eventually a few plates of chopped onions and tomatoes, and a bunch of halved limes to squeeze over all.
In ascending order of deliciousness: Tekka Kabob was a couple of chunks of grilled beef that were a little dry and not especially interesting. The chicken kabob was very tender, perfectly cooked, yellow from tumeric in the marinade and very mild. These both tasted reasonable when splashed with the table condiment, chatni, which was a mild cilantro sauce. Keema kabob was a cylinder of gently spiced herbed ground beef, very moist and tender and nicely flavored, but kind of mild. The Chapli kabob was the standout. It was a very thin ground beef patty oven-fried to a crusty sheen on both sides, made even crunchier by the chopped onions and lots of whole coriander seeds worked into the mix. Memorably tasty.
As were Melanie's wines. I hope other attendees can chime in with more educated commentary than I can hope to provide on these. We began with the 1993 Arvay Janos Tokaji Edes Szamorodni that she had hand-carried from Hungary, ordinarily a dessert wine but this version low on the residual sugars--tawny in color, still on the sweet side, lots of interesting flavors, almost a madeira tinge to it. Melanie gave us an interesting explanation of the two fermenting processes involved in making this wine, that I've completely forgotten because we had so much delicious stuff to drink! (Sorry.) With the kabobs we drank a 1997 Rochioli "Sodini" Russian River Valley Zinfandel and an especially thick and groovy 1994 Ridge "York Creek" California Petite Sirah. Dessert was a 1997 Dashe Cellars Late Harvest Russian River Valley Zinfandel, which was a wow. Melanie also had another Tokaji from the same vintner from another year, that was meant for dessert, for us to compare and contrast with the 1993, but I was in Zinfandel heaven by then. I do not doubt that these were the finest vintages ever to be carried into Chopan Kabob.
The table was also graced with a generous helping of homemade chocolate chip cookies, thanks to Ruth Lafler. The ones with candied ginger were quite a hit.
It was a very convivial gathering, as always, lasting hours into the evening. Only one other party came in the whole time we were there, so it's not clear that Chopan Kabob is long for this world. When we settled the bill (a paltry $13 apiece for a lot of grilled meat and rice and iceberg lettuce), the friendly waiter urged us to call ahead for a dinner of other Uzbek dishes. He reached for the card holder on the counter to give us the number--but it held business cards for Loan Officer Tariq Aseel of Pleasant Hill. He wrote the restaurant's number on the back. Turns out the place serves as an informal community bulletin board for local Uzbek- and Afghan-owned businesses. There was also a refrigerated case in the front with a few cups of a garbanzo bean salad-type thing that he had not offered us! I also spied a few Costco-sized cans of S&W garbanzo beans on a shelf in the kitchen, FWIW.
And we raised $200 for Chowhound. Viva Uzbekistan!