Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Persian food, Russian music

Tonight I went to a new Persian restaurant on South Grand Blvd. in St. Louis. Its name is "Kabob Cafe," but what actually attracted me to it was the brightly lit "Open" sign as I drove by at 9 p.m., starving.

At first I didn't even realize it was a Persian place, because the menu said something about Mediterranean food and it had a lot of Greek stuff on it, like gyros. I was ready to order a gyro plate when the proprietor kindly suggested that I try a Persian specialty: beef kabobs and rice. So I did.

I have had something like these kabobs only once before, at a Bosnian restaurant also in the south side of St. Louis. They were two long strips of well-seasoned, grilled meat which, judging by their tenderness and even consistency, had to have been chopped and formed. It was a lot of meat; I didn't even finish it.

I did, however, finish the rice. It was unlike any rice I've had, be it Indian, Mexican, Chinese, or what have you. It was a tender, white, long-grain rice, topped with a pattern of rice that was exactly the same except bright orange. At first I thought it was shredded Cheddar cheese, but it was rice. I asked about it and the server told me this special rice was cooked in saffron, an herb made from flowers grown in Persia (i.e., Iran). It lent an interesting appearance to the dish, as well as a delicate flavor enhanced by the butter that I added at the waiter's suggestion.

The waiter was a helpful guy all around, bending over backwards to please me. He gave me a free cup of doogh, a homemade yogurt drink spiced with mint and dill. It wasn't bad, but I will need to have a great deal more of it before I'm quite used to it. I've also had aryan at a Turkish place in town, but this was better. Aryan is merely bitter and salty; a bit of dill wouldn't hurt it!

The meal was served with a side of pita bread, which was handy for picking up bits of cut-up kebab and the roasted tomato that completed the spread. All in all, it was an interesting introduction to Persian cuisine. The only thing that discomfited me at all was the jukebox playing Persian music, which fluctuated wildly between not quite loud enough and way too loud, and the music itself can be quite strident.

TONIGHT'S SOUNDTRACK: Alexander Glazunov's Symphony No. 5 (1895), one of the pieces that brought Glazunov international attention. In his day he was considered quaintly conservative, but from the perspective of 100+ years later I find nothing wrong with his musicianship. It's good, solidly crafted, interesting, attractive, late-Romantic music with a slight Russian accent; it ought to be played more often.

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