This pile of rice, chicken and veggies should taste better. Zereshk polo. Soltan Banoo.
  • This pile of rice, chicken and veggies should taste better. Zereshk polo. Soltan Banoo.
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Soltan Banoo Persian Eatery & Tearoom

4645 Park Boulevard, University Heights

Some of the most enjoyable salads I've eaten have come from the kitchen of Soltan Banoo, a Persian restaurant maintaining a low key presence on Park Blvd in University Heights. The place never seems to get much press coverage, and most often when I bring it up to friends they've never heard of it. El Zarape they know. But not this welcoming restaurant across the street. Maybe it's the low-key sign.

Why would anyone walk past this lovely storefront?

So when lunch plans with a friend involved that part of town, I jumped at the chance to show off my deep-cut recommendation. We grabbed a seat in the sun porch dining room. Airy and well-shaded by draped tapestries, the room adeptly captures the elegant sensualism of Persian culture. I've never been with a party large enough to recline on the pile of decorative cushions along the small banquet table at the far end of the room, but it looks sufficiently indulgent. I almost requested it for the two of us, as we had the whole place to ourselves.

That might have been where the problem started, I just didn't realize at the time.

The menu carries baba ghanoush, dolmehs (stuffed grape leaves), and kebobs, but I always check first to see which polo plate is available. Banoo offers a rotating assortment of this pilaf dish, which usually incorporates dried fruit, vegetables, sliced nuts and herbs with a choice of tofu, lamb or chicken. A couple of the daily polos have earned a permanent spot on the menu, one of them being zereshk polo, which features dried cranberries, barberries, orange rinds, almonds and sweet carrots. I ordered it with chicken, as a "Healthy Half Plate" lunch, which pairs a smaller portion of the meal with a serving of salad for well-balanced 9 bucks.

Opulent dining atmosphere, affordable meals.

It's been a few years since I moved out of the neighborhood, and I haven't been by much, so I forgot to upgrade to a goat cheese or strawberry tabouli salad, some of those great salads I referred to earlier. The typical green salad I got instead was green enough, but too typical not to be a letdown. I remember their salads as being well-made, whereas this felt tossed together.

Unfortunately, this carried over to my beloved zereshk polo, which carried the same list of ingredients I remembered, but lacked the cohesiveness. It's a dish I've ordered many times and enjoyed enough to recommend, but if this had been my first visit, there wouldn't have been a second.

Which brings me back to the problem. Why did we have the dining room to ourselves at noon on a weekend? It's not like everybody went to Coachella.

Soltan Banoo has all the pieces to be a great restaurant, but maybe it's fallen victim to inertia. Maybe the fewer people who show up, the harder it is to maintain consistency of preparation, and quality of ingredients, which makes it harder to attract people? Vicious cycle, perhaps.

I'll probably get over my downer meal at Soltan Banoo. At least, I hope. Because if people stop going, it'll just get worse and eventually go away. And who'll make me a strawberry tabouli salad then?

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HonestGovernment May 5, 2014 @ 4:40 p.m.

What a nice-looking place. I'd like to try it. Can you describe a bit more what was wrong with your zereshk polo? By lacking "cohesiveness," do you mean that the rice didn't have the textural quality that you prefer?

Or, if it was lacking in flavor, how so? What do barberries taste like? Do you know where can they be purchased in San Diego?


Ian Anderson May 5, 2014 @ 10:36 p.m.

You got me there – I could no sooner describe the taste of barberry than the scent of fresh buckwheat, but the menu tells me they're in there, and I believe everything I read. On this visit, the chicken was stringy and dry compared to previous orders, and the polo, once balanced and flavorful, struck a relatively single sweet note. I still plan to eat here, but will definitely be inclined to go with a lamb dish next time, as it's never before let me down.


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