Spice or sacrilege?
Famous Kabob1290 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825
The kitchen doors at Famous Kabob are banging back and forth almost as much as Auntie Em’s screen door in The Wizard of Oz. It’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. The main dining room is packed and the banquet room filled.
The belly dancer that is to entertain the private party limbers up while the restaurant’s bald, bespectacled, bow-tie-wearing patriarch barks the occasional command in Farsi to the phalanx of, generally speaking, graceful-under-pressure waiters. It’s obviously a strain to deliver the better part of 30 entrees to the banquet-room folk and cope with the needs of the main dining room. The matriarch directs the waiters from a sheet of paper cataloguing which banqueter ordered what. Several diners in the main room, whose sconces, chandeliers and general décor seem more suited to an Italian, Olive Garden-type place than an Iranian one, are waiting for their bill and glancing at their watches.
A habitué at the table next to me labors to empty a colorful, overflowing bowl of shirazi—diced tomato, cucumber and onion salad. He expresses gratification the joint is hoppin’ so hard. It works out well for SN&R bean counters as well. The modest delay in the delivery of my addassee—tomatoey lentil soup with a nutmeg afterglow—and, later, presentation of the evening’s tab leads the broadly smiling waiter to comp the $3.99 bowl of soup.
Famous Kabob offers 11 kinds of kabobs, including the ever popular shish (beef cubes) and chicken, boney or boneless, for $9.99 at lunch, a handful of dollars more at dinner, as well as a lunch veggie offering for a buck less, which is crowded with mushrooms, squash, zucchini, onions, bell peppers and other delights. All are served with the ubiquitous basmati rice and a grilled tomato.
What arrives quickly is doog, a $2.99 yogurt, water, salt and mint drink that is thicker than tzatziki but with a consistency more akin to a sauce than a beverage. Also appearing swiftly is the appetizer, a plate of pita triangles and a plate of cilantro, mint, basil and 4-inch sticks of green onion crowding around an eraser-sized chunk of feta. What appears to be the same thing on the menu is sabzi khordan for $5.99.
I commit a hideous Persian dining faux pas by asking the waiter for hot sauce. On the first visit to Famous Kabob, this crime prompts the waiter to bring a small bowl of torshi—an appetizer of pickled cauliflower, carrots, garlic, celery and eggplant—to enhance the blandness of my $12.99 gheymeh, a thick beef stew. Let’s just say torshi can’t hold escabeche’s jock.
On Saturday night, the waiter is downright aghast. “Tabasco?” he says, incredulously. “We don’t do that.” No, they sure don’t. The chances of a diner finding a genuinely spicy dish on Famous Kabob’s menu are slim to none—and slim left town. The waiter’s shock means ixnay on the abascotay. But as soon as he delivers a load of entrees to the banqueters, the lentil soup gets salted and peppered with abandon.
The misnamed chicken soltani—the $17.99 No. 7 on the dinner menu—offers, unlike the description suggests, the best of both worlds. It includes a joojeh kabob and a kabob koobideh. Joojeh are orange-colored chicken medallions, the strip of beef that comprises koobideh is a little al dente, probably a function of the feverish action in the kitchen to meet diner demand.
It is presented like a flag, with a fat stripe of basmati above the chicken pieces, the beef below.
Filled up by addassee and sabzi khordan, a hefty portion of the chicken and beef migrates from Famous Kabob to Chez Lucas where, Sunday afternoon, it is slathered with mayo and honey mustard and shoehorned into a hamburger bun with lettuce, jalapeño buttons and red-onion slices to create a sandwich that my waiter would doubtless find sacrilegious, but which I find more entrancing than the plainer flavors favored in Persia.
That said, Famous Kabob dishes out well-prepared, authentic Iranian food, presented smartly by its staff.