Almost famous

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m about as familiar with Persian cuisine as I am with the cuisine of Burkina Faso or the Tubuai Islands. But I have had pita bread, of course. And when I was a kid and my dad was barbecuing, instead of just throwing the meat on the “Q,” he would cut it up and put it on sticks first, claiming it was called “shish kabob,” which I understood to be somehow nebulously associated with Middle Eastern food.

What I’m trying to establish here is that I was fairly well out to sea as I perused the Shandiz menu the other night. Well, except for the kabobs and pita bread, of course.

But the wait staff seems to understand and expect this ignorance among its customers. When we attempted to order items not listed under the kabob section of the menu, we received various looks of incredulity, surprise and/or downright fear. For example, one can ostensibly order a “pitcher of doog” at Shandiz for only $5.50. I saw no reason why I shouldn’t apply myself to a hearty serving of the house doog (an herbed yogurt drink), but the waiter had different ideas. He tried to warn me away casually, saying it was “just something to drink,” as though that would fill me with distaste for the stuff. After a bit of grappling, I convinced him to bring me out a little bit in a shot glass, which I made a point of openly savoring, even though it was a bit nasty. It had this bubbly, fermenty mouth-feel to it, and it was savory, not sweet. But I’ll be back for more, you can be sure, just to stir things up.

Much to the waiter’s chagrin, I then ordered an appetizer, tah deeg ($4.50), which, the menu tells us, literally means “bottom of the pot.” This dish consists of the rice that has stuck to the bottom of the pot during cooking, which is then scraped up, put in a bowl and then covered with stew. Shandiz has three kinds of stew, and you can choose which one you want on your rice. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sample the stew; the waiter won this battle. I think he had me pegged as a troublemaker after the doog incident, so this time, though he couldn’t conceal his consternation, he just pretended to take the order and then never brought it out. Craftily, he brought our entrees first, conveniently skipping the offending appetizer.

For entrees, we ordered a kabob selection (after all we were at Shandiz, aka Famous Kabob) and a polo, or pulau (transliteration not standardized), which is a rice-based dish in which various meats and veggies have been stewed.

The kabob barg ($12.95), consists of skewered and grilled pieces of filet mignon, and as such was tasty and tender, with hints of lemon and garlic. This was served alongside a substantial mound of fragrant basmati rice. All in all, a good dish, though perhaps a little too simple, consisting only of meat and rice, with a grilled tomato on the side.

The loobia polo ($9.95) consists of a hefty pile of tomatoey saffron-basmati rice, which houses morsels of stewed beef, ground beef and green beans. Flavors leapt out of this dish; a healthy, but not overbearing, dose of saffron mingled well with the flavor of roasted tomatoes and beef stock, and it was a lot of food, enough to take home and eat for lunch the next day.

Despite our waiter’s well-intentioned shenanigans, or rather, partially because of them, we had fun at Famous Kabob/Shandiz, and I feel I can recommend it for a pleasant evening out. We weren’t floored by the food, but we did enjoy it, and, what’s more, it was interesting and informative to order new things, harry our waiter and to get a better sense of what’s available in the Persian line of foodstuffs.