Saturday, August 2, 2008

Honest Simple Persian Food on the Peninsula

Most people, when they think of Castro Street dining in downtown Mountain View, picture the blocks between the railroad and El Camino, where you can see a Thai family listening to nuevo flamenco playing in an Indian restaurant or locals dancing salsa to juzz music and chasing tapas down with a mojito in Cascal. It's all about show, entertaining, and 'fusion' cuisine, not about taste. As long as the interior decor is interesting, plates are fancy, the waiters are attentive and napkins folded nicely, noone cares if the tomatoes are underripe (even in the middle of the summer, right next to the farmers market full of perfect ripe tomatoes, cheap) or the soup comes somewhat cold.

Dont't take me wrong. I love fusion cuisine, in fact, what I cook at home is mostly fusion. And I believe that dining should be entertaining. But the flavor comes first. And what makes a flavor are the quality of ingredients and balance in putting them together (that comes naturally in classic cuisine, but has to be carefully thought of in fusion), and I saw these two essentials sacrificed more than once here.

For no-frills authentic flavor, cross El Camino. You will see a thick column of smoke coming from a corner of an old building. It's called Rose International Market, and it's a persian grocery store.

The smoke is produced by a hole on the wall, facing the parking lot. The hole contains a large smoking grill and three guys (Mexicans, of course) busy filling orders for kabobs and grilled vegetables. You go inside to order and to get a bottle of water or a yogurt drink from the fridge, and a number. Your order will be ready in about 10 minutes, and you pick it up from the hole and sit at one of the plastic tables on the sidewalk to eat (or get a takeout). Don't forget to order vegetables or other side dishes and the yogurt dip - they are not included automatically. A bunch of fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, parsley) comes with the order. For-here orders come on a plastic tray lined and covered with lavash bread to keep warm. The part of lavash that is under the meat absorbs the juices and becomes a treat. Tear a piece of bread and wrap meat, herbs and vegetables in it. Plastic forks and knives are available but not required.

Pictured here are grilled vegetables, two orders of kubideh, chicken kabob, and lamb liver. Everything fragrant with mediterranian spices and done to perfection (the liver was a bit overcooked to my taste though). A good-size lunch for two, relatively hungry.
Price: $

Cross El Camino back to the "official" part of Castro for an excellent espresso at Spica.

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