A respectable chicken kabob. Kolbeh.
9514 Miramar Road, San Diego
Just another strip mall restaurant.
Kolbeh sits in an inauspicious strip of mall on the corner of Black Mountain Road, across form the north gate of Miramar Air Station. Stepping inside, the first thing you notice is yourself, staring back at you from mirrors surrounding the room — it's really more of a mirror pattern, with small squares of reflective glass arranged decoratively on every wall.
I took a seat and watched the lunch clientele file in, mostly men who greeted the host familiarly. I take the sight of lots of regulars to be a good sign, even when a third of them have shaved-bald scalps and mustaches. Or, especially when I'm in a Persian joint.
The chicken kabob won the battle of cravings I experienced poring over the lunch menu, though any number of the mixed rice polo dishes sounded good: the zereshk polo — basmati rice with barberries and saffron, served with boiled chicken was a close second, and should probably be tried on a return visit.
As it turned out, the kabob and plain basmati rice tasted fine, beautifully cooked, but I would have rather had the additional seasoning to fall back on. Much more interesting, to my limited Persian food experience, were the bread service and drink.
Doogh, and the unlikely bread service. Kolbeh.
When the bread service arrived, the following were placed on my table: a basket of flatbread, a bowl of butter packets, and a two quarters of raw white onion. I had to assume these were meant to be eaten together.
I waited, watching other patrons to see what to make of this. Sure enough, I saw men at other tables spreading butter on the very thin flatbread, then wrapping the whole thing around a piece of uncooked onion and taking a bite. So I followed suit.
The combination tasted a little more satisfying than I'd have expected. It helped that the onion in question was relatively mild, and that I did not go easy on the butter. Certainly, it went down easier than if I'd attempted to merely eat a piece of onion by itself.
Feeling emboldened by this, I scanned the beverage menu for something a little more authentic than coca cola, spotting the enigmatic word "Doogh." "What is this?" I asked the server, when he came to take my order.
"Doogh," he said, pronouncing it with a soft g. "It's a yogurt drink."
"Any special flavoring?" I asked.
"You won't like it," he said, and hurried away to help a less-curious customer. Of course, the moment he said that I had to try it, determined to at least tell him I loved it, whether or not it was true.
Doogh turned out to consist of yogurt and club soda mixed with ground mint leaves, making it quite obvious why he didn't expect me to like it. And it took a few sips to get my head around it. A few more to get my tongue on board. But paired with the flatbread and onion, and bites of that succulent kabob, it kind of started to make sense. Presuming anything about all this made sense to my palate.