Barg + Koobideh = Kebab Soltani
I'm a huge fan of koobideh, and whenever I step into a Persian restaurant, I'm so fixated on it that I hardly even glance at anything else on the menu in these places. So when a Persian acquaintance of ours mentioned how kebab barg is actually more popular than koobideh, I was intrigued and had to give it a shot. In that regard, we hit up Shiraz at Clarke Quay last night, suspecting that their "Shah Kebab" was just a local Shiraz dialect name for barg that he didn't recognize (they didn't have any kebab barg listed on their menu). It turned out that it wasn't barg...instead, it was huge chunks of tender (but too salty) filet mignon on a skewer, something that our Persian friend told us is not really that authentic.
He knew better though - he ordered the soltani, which literally meant that it was fit for a king, he told us. And what was included in such a royal meal? None other than a combination platter of barg and koobideh (hey - that's the best of both worlds!). How did this come about? Kebab barg is a flat contiguous piece of meat, as opposed to koobideh, which is made from minced meat. As you might suspect, the former is considered to be more upscale (and hence why it's more popular and desired), while the latter is more for peasants. So why does the King's platter have food of the masses sitting on it? Because apparently the King also enjoys the taste of the minced stuff, even if he won't be seen in public with it. Fair enough - who could resist the taste of koobideh?
Unfortunately, I didn't like the barg half of the meal as much as the koobideh. While the barg was tender and lean, it was also so lean that it really lacked the taste that I was hoping for. In contrast, koobideh usually just bursts with flavor (even before biting into any raw onion). Just to be sure though, we came to Shiraz's competitor Banoo tonight to try it from a different angle (the photo at the top was our plate from Banoo, BTW...not Shiraz). Now, Banoo didn't have the soltani explicitly listed on their menu, but it was easy enough to construct it on our own. We simply ordered the kebab barg (yes, this one they *did* have) and added an extra skewer of koobideh ...what could be more simple? The barg here was a little more moist and a little tastier than the one over at Shiraz. But in the end, barg as a whole was still just too lean (and hence boring) to me. My preference is still by far for a full-fledged koobideh meal instead. Oh well, I guess I'll never be the King.
Oh...and since we dined at these two Persian rivals here on back to back nights, it's worth noting that Banoo may now be the more preferred choice. The service at Shiraz last night was so spotty to the point that it got frustrating, be it their rather unpolished staff or their peculiar process of waiting until after we finished our appetizers to ask us if they could start grilling our kebabs (and hence, another 15-20 minute wait). Banoo, on the other hand, was much more down to earth (not to mention cheaper). Unfortunately, the crowds don't seem to agree. Shiraz was completely packed to the brim last night (and apparently they have been in soft launch mode this entire time), whereas Banoo was nearly empty on a Saturday night. I hope this doesn't force Banoo out of business...I'd rather go there now than Shiraz.